Thursday, February 10, 2011

With apologies to my Meissen, my Dresden, my Sèvres, too

A lady one thinks of, first, as a mother, wrote in not long ago on the matter of a fashion she thought to be extinguished. But it is not. The cigarette still burns, as we have once before averred; and flourishes in blogs we literally cherish, but for their prosperity by its imagery. They know who they are, and it is on the matter of their presenting intrigue in its vapour or character with its inhalation that we put our better china, the comity of blogging's generous relations, at some hazard by any indelicate remark in this entry. Still, blog for yourself, they say, and so we turn to the failure of style in narcotic imagery.

The other day, a fellow rued in the comment space, the absence of a half-generation from the beaches where he played in a not-very distant youth.

If there is an instrument calculated to achieve that barricading consequence for his nephews, it is the cigarette. It has no virtue but the capacity to acquire dominion over the span of life, no dint of energy in its promise of premature death by disfiguring agony and unrelieved cruelty, and no lack of blessing by those same evangelists from the tobacco states who exalted and profited from HIV's ascendancy. 

If anyone is nostalgic for the health crisis of 1980-99, then he should light up immediately. If anyone coming near the subject of humanity presents a cigarette as an amenity, he should be cured of any self-deception that his act is immunised by morally neutral observation or artistry; if his subject is not humanity, his observations and his dreams lack the stature of smoke.
That an artist, even to marvel or to typify, should dilate upon this unambiguous menace is simply an unsustainable betrayal of humanism. There is no having of it, both ways, as suicide is countenanced.

What lesion would the artist have us find this morning, on that proving ground of his device? What form is it that never freshens, but feasts upon the others with such greed? I wasn't there, I didn't do it, he replies, lifting glossies from their fixer bath, to mount them for our wonder.

The last thing good china can tolerate, is the form, should. We detest it, too, as incongruous in a city of coffee. And this is a nasty little jeremiad, of the most sus-piciously bitter kind. We all happen to know, however, youths who have something to offer on this point.

This is our china, stacked in our shelves for generations of cancer, emphysema, heart disease, grief. Our idea is no less brittle, but it has a provenance of greater antiquity - to ask of our own Gainsboroughs -

Don't you care for him at all?

Jeremy Young as Jonathan Buttall


  1. Mmm! That one should use one's Sevres for extinguishing a cigarette I feel is sacrilage in your eyes?

  2. Baccarat made my cendriers, and I've packed them away. I don't know about sacrilege, which calls for expertise I doubt exists. But we all know existence, well enough. :)

  3. Having given up the evil habit years ago (thank God), it is now a great rarity to find a cigarette smoked in our house, and always brought by a visitor. While we have an extensive collection of ashtrays and tobacciana at Darlington stowed away in cupboards (too lovely to get rid of), if a receptacle for ashes is desired by a guest after dinner I will often bring out a Chinese export or English porcelain saucer dating from the first decade of the nineteenth century for them to use. So pretty, and practical, too. If one must smoke, it should be done with style, I think.

  4. if there should be barriers, these should only be the ones we raise for ourselves!

    in art, in love,in smoking, in blogging

  5. An amiable line is supplied to this entry, by your distinction between the promotion of the cigarette (the primary agent of risk), and the protocols, mode, and even timing of its enjoyment among others. This diatribe (as I hope, frankly, it was), is confined to abetting subservience to it in others. I would not give a friend a Cartier lighter, as a late fiancée kindly did to me, but I would stop short (as you have done) of tossing out my grandfather’s cigarette cases, empty as they’ve been for decades. I very much share your permissive disposition toward the conduct of smoking at home, aware as everyone is that its vapour is sociopathic.

    The question then comes down to extending gracious accommodation to a catastrophic foible. Of course it is appropriate to admit of no decline in the standards of the house, in any aspect of the act. Beyond that, the natural reluctance to besmirch anything pretty, ought reasonably to be counted on to inspire moderation. As to whether self-destruction can be exhibited with any style, we’ve never denied it; and so it remains only to be regretted, that the cigarette so famously lends itself to self-expression. :)

  6. Dear Infant, I had not seen your entry as I replied to RD. With your first observation, I agree within the limitation of doing no harm to others. Even if you ignore or reject that possibility in the promotion of the cigarette, you are still left with the ethical obligation to be conscious, to the best of your ability, of harm you might cause.

    Now, as for art, love, smoking and blogging, I'd say you set a poor example for any barrier dividing the 1st, 2nd, and 4th of these behaviours. I don't know why you would trifle with a distinction. :)

  7. I say, nicely done Laurent. A most excellent response, sir!