Friday, July 18, 2014

Don't look now, but your pyre is empurpled

Vital Update 7/19/2014

Beth has gone on beyond mere aesthetics to John C. Wright's HOT SEX ADVICE. There is nothing for me to add but you have to read it.

Note 7/19/2014

As Smut Clyde gently suggests in the comments, John C. Wright's name is actually John C. Wright. When I first hit "publish" on this piece, he was also referred to as "Spencer" a couple of times for reasons I will not attempt to analyze, and on reading it I felt it would be more effective if his name was the same throughout, so I got rid of "Wright", which was the wrong choice.

Cold Majesty. For a film project by Malado Francine Baldwin.
A hilarious manifesto of conservative aesthetics by one John C. Spencer Wright is arousing indignation over at LGM under the gleeful direction of bspencer, for its suggestion that these dreadful young Leftists like Marcel Duchamp have "raped beauty" from out of our midst:
The most precious, profound and important of the great ideas which the Left has raped from us is beauty. I need spend no time on the proposition that life without beauty is a nightmare..
Well, that's a mercy. Anyway there is some political interest in this essay that bspencer (no relation to John Spencer Wright, I assume) and the commenters don't really manage to address, partly because there's so much wondrous bad writing to work one's way through first.
...those who have seen true beauty – sublime beauty, if even for a moment – have nothing to which they can liken it except the ecstasies of mystics and the transports of saints.
So I guess Spencer Wright hasn't seen it, because he manages to liken it to comestibles:
beauty is like food and wine, and men who live surrounded by ugliness become shriveled and starved in their souls.
And so on. Leftists hate beauty because they suspect good taste may be racist:
According to the Left, beauty is a matter of taste, and arbitrary taste at that. There is no discussion of taste because to give reasons to prefer tasteful to tasteless things is elitist, nasty, uncouth and inappropriate. To have taste implies that some cultures produce more works of art and better than others, and this raises the uncomfortable possibility that love of beauty is Eurocentric, or even racist.
And no wonder, because the most beautiful things ever are Northern, like
the song and splendor and Northern sorrow of Wagner’s “Ring” or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
as opposed to Desilu productions, which are popular and useful, or at least more useful than LOTR:
Popular art is meant for entertainment; it is meant to please the eye and wile away the time. But an episode of I Love Lucy is not made for the same purpose as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Art is not meant to be useful.
Lucy had a lot of wiles, for one. Nature is wily too, of course, but it's beautiful because it's full of adjectives:
If you see a sunset clothed in scarlet like a king descending to his empurpled pyre, or wonder at the gleaming thunder of a waterfall, if you find yourself fascinated by the soft intricacy of a crimson rose or behold the cold virgin majesty of the morning star
(where I believe we have a deconstructed reminiscence of Mallarmé in the unspeakable translation of Mr. Henry Weinfield
Crime! torture! ancient dawn! bright pyre!
Empurpled sky, complicit in the mire,
Crime ! bûcher ! aurore ancienne ! supplice !
Pourpre d'un ciel ! Etang de la pourpre complice !
but let that pass). I know if I ever descend to an empurpled pyre I'm wearing white. Scarlet would totally clash. Though I always think of pyres as being upstairs, like Brünnhilde's in the song and splendor and Northern sorrow of Götterdämmerung.

Marna Benton Daugherty (undated), Gleaming Thunder.
Anyhow, it all turns out to be politics, and freedom:
Imagine two men: one stands in a bright house, tall with marble columns adorned with lavish art, splendid with shining glass images of saints and heroes, mementos of great sorrow and great victories both past and promised. A polyphonic choir raises their voices in golden song, singing an ode to joy. The other stands in a slum with peeling wallpaper, or a roofless ruin infested with rats, hemmed by feces-splashed gray concrete walls lurid with jagged graffiti, chalked with swearwords and flickering neon signs advertising strip joints. Rap music thuds nearby, ear-splitting, yowling obscenities. A bureaucrat approaches each man and orders him to do some routine and routinely humiliating task, such as pee in a cup to be drug tested, or be fingerprinted, or suffer an anal cavity search, or surrender his weapons, or his money, or his name. Which of the two men is more likely to take a stand on principle not to submit?
Well, it spoils the clean line of the columns to hang art on them; in my view paintings belong on the walls, and glass images on the mantelpiece, and mementos of the future in the retroaction laboratory; and Mr. Spencer Wright might want to keep in mind that Pius X was very dubious about polyphony, at least if it was of the modern school (like Monteverdi, you know) or used women's voices (ew!). Still, it obviously beats hemming your roofless ruin with concrete walls (though you'll certainly need some kind of walls if you ever do want to put a roof on).

He really sounds as if he's espousing some kind of Oscar Wilde socialism here, where it is the duty of the state to surround everyone with loveliness so that they can live free and admirable lives. Though his taste is less Oscar than that of some sentimental totalitarian like Hitler or Stalin or Ayn Rand.

But what he means is not that the state should do it. He thinks people live in slums because they have bad taste. He thinks the choice is yours. Will it be beauty or ugliness, bright house or dark slum, marble columns or shit-smeared walls? If you pick the latter you are definitely the kind of person who would submit to an anal cavity search or having your money taken away. You have nobody to blame but yourself. And that is what beauty is all about.
Aubrey Beardsley, Hérodiade.

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