Friday, November 13, 2015

Aesthetic Spectatorship

J.M.W. Turner, "The Angel Standing in the Sun", 1846. WikiArt.

Shorter David Brooks, "The G.O.P, at an Immigration Crossroads", November 13 2015:
Will the Republican Party learn to see the immigration issue the way J.M.W. Turner saw the English landscape, glorious in conception – unfathomable in knowledge – solitary in power – with the elements waiting upon his will, and the night and the morning obedient to his call, sent as a prophet of God to reveal to men the mysteries of this universe, standing, like the great angel of the Apocalypse, clothed with a cloud, and with a rainbow upon his head, and with the sun and stars given into his hand? They need to do that, and they have six months.
OK, not really. But that's what's implied, I think, by the fancy Ruskin citation (Modern Painters III, 1856) in his paragraph 5:
The second question Republicans have to ask is: Can the party see reality? The great Victorian critic John Ruskin once wrote: “The more I think of it I find this conclusion more impressed upon me — that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.”
As Brooks would have known if he had pulled it from someplace more contextualized than Brainy Quotes. Because it looks like he thinks it's referring to something like the fake-homespun artlessness of his own writing, but if you want to ask Ruskin. "The more you think of what?" the answer is the paintings of Turner, and the prose and poetry of, oddly enough, the genial baronet Sir Walter Scott, who Ruskin thought was a better writer than Wordsworth or Goethe (the latter two classified as among the thousands who can think, where Scott sees). The Republican view of reality should discard considerations of form for flashes and broad strokes of color, with individuals dwarfed into insignificance in a shadowy foreground under the immensity of a roiling sky. That should win them an election or two.

What he actually wants to say today is almost too dreary and predictable to bother with: that Republicans will never win another national election if they don't figure out some way of showing themselves able to accommodate to the needs of immigrants, which is certainly true, except that it's only half the story. And he leaves out the other half, namely that they also won't win another national election without the enthusiastic participation of their own voters, who object to anything that will make immigrants more comfortable in the strongest possible terms: according to the new Economist/YouGov poll, for example, fully half of Republican voters think Donald Trump is the best candidate on immigration—

—65% of them agree somewhat-or-strongly with Trump's characterization of Mexican immigrants as rapists etc., and  you can only get 16% to agree with JEB!'s formulation of undocumented status as lawbreaking out of love (respondents weren't told that Bush said it, and they might have been a little less negative if they'd known, but still).

Republican honchos have known for at least four years that they're finished if they cannot figure some way of picking up Latino and Asian American votes, but they haven't been able to get anywhere toward doing it, because the monster they have created over the past 40 years with their endless demonization of foreigners alongside that of blacks, hippies, women who enjoy sex, Christians who don't interpret the Bible literally, and so on, will not put up with it. That's why JEB! is at 4% in the primary polling, because of the excessive generosity of his reform proposal. It's not a program that's going to get him any Latino votes, either, because it's in fact a piece of Republican crap, with a path to citizenship that could take 15 years, but it's way too kind for the Iowa GOP.

Brooks can drop in all the high-tone decontextualized Victorian adages he wants, and be as sarcastic as he likes with the yahoo caucus and those who try to win it—
I’m sorry, Ted Cruz, but going back to the gold standard is not reality....
I’m sorry, Marco Rubio, when your party faces a choice this stark, with consequences this monumental, you’re probably not going to be able to get away with being a little on both sides.
I'm sorry, David Brooks, but you got here too late. The old party has drunk-stumbled over that cliff already, and it's time to let it die (instead of continuing to fill House and Senate with members from its persistently vegetative wing).

Ruskin's case for Scott being like Turner is detailed, and strangely persuasive (Modern Painters III, part IV, XVI, par. 42).
J.M.W. Turner, "Holy Island, Northumberland", Victoria and Albert Museum.

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