Utterly Pedestrian Observations
I thought that, tired as I am from what I suppose I should call a major 9-hours a day fundraising effort if I wanted to 'big it up', I would just be honest about this post. I have been supplementing my usual doings with law and economics tutoring across the capital, and frankly I'm a little exhausted. Still, I'm not so exhausted that, in between the mental hail marys and the quiet voice behind my eyes that tells me no thing of beauty is as lovely as the women I have known, or the fierce love in my girlfriend, I can't help but reflect about art.
I like art. Specifically, I like the feeling that I have when I look at it, decode it, contextualise it, and then reflect that I am a person who likes art. It is an utterly solipsistic and somewhat philistine narcissism, aided and abetted by my low-to middlebrow tastes and somewhat neurasthenic palate, which drives me. It has, however, led to a good bit of reading of serious art tomes, and the occasional insight, as well as a few bizarre blog spats, as when that silly randroid turned up after my first day at the Baroque exhibition ended with a spider-man compendium in the bath.
I like the Baroque and the Byzantine, but am fascinated by modernism and vorticism and surrealism and futurism in a sort of arms-length way. They're all reactions to the bursting twentieth century, and mostly Edwardian or pre-Depression in sensibility. Is fascism Edwardianism without hope?
I get the point, I think that vorticism was about the brutality of the present and the lack of a redeeming future, rather than some science-fiction attempt to focus forward, and that it overlapped with the modern, as did futurism. Indeed, one immediate observation that springs to mind is that my earlier suggestion that the Labour Party had been a modernist project lacked an understanding that a sort of brutalism and romantic indulgence which corresponded to futurism was wrapped up with it.
But, well--doesn't Jacob Epstein's road-drill not half look like a clone trooper from Star Wars? Or a Cylon, if you want to keep your American-left sci-fi chic. I came across the sculpture in a little gem of a Brian Sewell review the other day, and discovered it on the web (the picture at the top of the post, that is) here.
Yes, I know. George Lucas, and utterly derivative schtick? I am shocked--schlocked in fact--that I could even propose such a thing. Yet his films have been politically important in shaping the quiet consciousness of generations who let his words and images slip in beneath their thinking as surely as any Byzantine was formed by a glance at the art in a wall. Or by a wall, in fact.
People overlook the backward-looking streak in Star Wars. They can't understand why it and Superman The Movie reflected the Reagan revolution much more than, say, THX-1138 or Barbarella reflected the sixties, or Zardoz and Alien the despairing nonsense of the seventies.
But once you get the point that star wars is a sort of combination of The Wizard of Oz, American Graffitti, Shane, and a chocolate-dip version of futurist and modernist art, you're halfway to understanding why it is so deeply Reaganite. It isn't conservative, at least not in an original, Edmund Burke sort of a way; it functions more in a sort of facilitating-total capitalism-through-neoliberalism way. That it manages to unite mystical elitism with a colossal narcissism looked forward to the eighties alliance of an anticommunist and polish vatican with the washed out but ultimately successful activist Liberals of the CIA.
There's a certain chic to that. It only failed to connect with the nineties in the prequels because of the rubbish dialogue (it's better in French, or German). Imagine if the people who wrote the dialogue for The Empire Strikes Back had written the rest; or, for that matter, J Michael Straczynski, or the Sex and The City crowd. What films they would have been then!
And just think what I could have done if I followed the most curious thing about the rock-drill, which is not the hard maleness of the outside but the child it carries within, conceived in the intellectual air that a living Freud breathed, and written about it. But I'm not really capable of that at this time of night. Or proper short sentences. Well, just a bit. See.
This is the bit where I acknowledge that three blind beetles would get the point. Plenty of other, much better, writers on culture have--you can find one here, for instance, and another here. I'm not telling you anything new. I thought that, at the end of an anniversary year for Marvel Comics, I would indulge myself a little.
So much of what characterises us as people enters with the stories and cheap art of our childhood that I don't mind reflecting on mine on the blog. After all, if it had not been for the liturgy, the Church, and good public libraries, I would be a total Philistine except that I would retain some ability to communicate with whatever it is that beauty and the symbolic represent through science fiction and comics and films. And, of course, the mental world of Law and History. Which I understand best through comics. What's the Thames Magistrates, where I have occasionally hung out as an observer, but the Savage Land of Ka-Zar and Kraven?
And why, while I am at it, did Stan Lee keep putting gay-style people in the jungle? Was it some Rousseaian thing? You know, like, Rousseau and that, civilisation as repression. Then again, all his 'straight' male characters spent their time in masks, swinging about cities dressed in tights looking for women defined by exaggerated female characteristics. Real men stood attendant in suits in the background and got on with things, except for the hulk, who spent his time behaving like a hopped up gym teacher. As in life, one suspects that they went home and quietly resented things, or such.
In any event, I wouldn't be me without the brightly drawn figures jumping somewhere around the scaffolding of my head.
I remember the first time that I saw a really good, deep film; it was Takovsky's Andrei Rublev, and I was already quite mature. I was living in a Balliol graduate house up the Banbury Road. There was a very devout Russian who'd been tortured by the KGB next door; a French photographer and national security man with a passion for poetry on the other side of me; a very beautiful, and funny Italian woman whom I came to experience a very deep friendship with below, a couple of drug dealers one of whom was on the run from the army, and a stint in Broadmoor (as a guard, he said), down the hall, and a blond German aristocrat in search of some philosophical panzer in the kitchen. An American girl and her boyfriend, nice, well-rested people, lived in her bedroom, and occasionally surfaced half-naked for some sustenance. They were so comfortable in each other, and I supposed so intensely disinterested in how they looked, that they made us so. I like it when men and women are natural together.
One night--I remember the snow going orange in the light outside, and the face of the house lady downstairs, who battled cancer and to whom I brought porridge when she was undergoing treatment and whom I once scared by checking for burglars from the wrong door and turning a corner with the light behind me and my bulk in front of her, and a woman I liked stretched out on the floor like the arms of St Peter's basilica or some beautiful undulating mountain range made of langorous curves and blondeness and brains, enjoying some cake or pie or bread and butter pudding that I'd cooked--I lost myself.
Totally and completely. In Takovsky's odd, strange tale. I think that I spent the next free hours watching Les Enfants du Paradis, and I'm sure some Kurosawa was involved too. My God, I may even have tried Last Year At Marienbad in an initial taste of what would become many encounters.
But you always remember your first. Things blend together in the memory. It probably took me ages to watch them, just as it took moments for some smirking thieves to steal an old nineteen fifties missal from which I learned my latin prayers and creed, and my only pictures of my grandparents, and some of my father, that were contained in a long kesh wallet made by the prisoners we'd picked up on some holiday in the long ago.
You know, I used to be the sort of person who didn't belt out cliches and then write volkisch things like 'you know' as though that made it acceptable. However, I have long sets of notes and guide papers and so on to write tonight, and a full day from nine to nine tomorrow, so I am allowing myself the indulgence.
Anyway, you've been warned. I have to read a paper on Trusts now, followed by one on sex crimes, and then one on Jersey criminals. All good fun at midnight. But it's nearly Christmas, and you know what that means. I'll be hanging about the galleries soon, and if you don't like the consequences, don't look at this blog. Just say no, and go and watch something much worse instead.
'Night, my friend. Good luck to you in finding that....