Sunday, August 13, 2006

I have to keep working to get the knack of this blogwriting, so today will be another sort of practice run (nobody is visiting my site yet anyway so I have this luxury).

Like would-be cosmopolitans stuck in the provinces have since the development of popular magazines and newspapers (and a provincial petit bourgeois) around 1700 or so, I still maintain a Sunday subscription to the New York Times even though the Internet makes this wholly unnecessary, besides the circumstance that most of the articles in this paper that I read--those being the arts/lifestyle type pieces--have run in recent years into a particularly unappetizing combination of the smug, the ridiculous and the exasperating/maddening depending upon the individual quality of one's choler. The purpose of these parts of the paper, I understand, are to provide amusement and validation for those connected to the vital life of the city, and to arouse jealousy and longing in the hearts of the hapless provincials. However matters seem to have reached the point where the only cause for jealousy emanating from the Manhattan elite and intelligentsia, at least as reported by the paper, is their extravagant wealth. I want to read about people who I can be confident are reading much smarter books than I am, engaging regularly in wittier conversations, having more interesting, art-inflected sex, are capable of generating the joie de vivre sort of fun the lack of which traditionally makes bourgeois life so culturally deadly. For this however, one apparently has to time-travel now.

One of the more annoying (to me) recent pieces in the Times was a feature on some lawyer's mansion outside of town, with an especially aroused effusion about his 9,000 bottle wine cellar, which last was what set me reaching for my revolver. I am not opposed to this excess as a blanket principle. If Louis XV, or the Great Gatsby, or Puffy Combs, or somebody who might be expected to host spectacular social events on a regular basis needs to maintain such a cellar, I can see where such a thing might be reasonable. But a guy who drinks two glasses by himself a couple of times a week and clearly exults in showing off his collection to the press and his peers, must forever miss the point, and somebody must step forward and point these things out. I am not a renowned connoisseur of the grape, and I have not been blessed with the type of sensitive palate that is apparently the culinary equivalent of a 160 IQ or a 99mph fastball, but I understand that the contents of a wine bottle are like enough to those of a book, that both are of little service to a man or a company resting unimbibed on a shelf. Such subtle insights as this of course have no place in the demonstrations of worldly prowess--primarily financial--that we are supposed to understand as constituting some kind of refined wine culture today.

Look at how long I have gone on already, and I've got so many more irritating topics to go(!) How about the story that appeared last Sunday about the persons of culture employed at the modern art museum to assist those who are not too perceptive where modern art--and by extension one must assume all art, by my thinking--is concerned. You know the type of philistines we are talking about, the ones who look at the masterpiece of a great modern genius and see a scribble that a child could have done and so forth. The general skepticism of the ability of the vulgar public to progress very far in their understanding of this work that is central to the advanced mental life of our times that is expressed by the tutors raises some questions about the sincerity of this effort, which strikes me as more an attempt to reinforce an aura of esoteric intimidation in the minds of the audience rather than a good-natured gesture of education. These are, after all, the same people who are wont to taunt museumgoers who seek out Brueghels and Rubenses as recoiling from the confrontation and challenge represented by crayon scribbles. I know these arguments have been raised for decades with no apparent effect on the most influential high culture brokers in society, but I still subscribe to the maxim of--I believe Aristotle--that the highest artistic genius consists in making that which is difficult to comprehend simple. Or if not simple, then at least in presenting something in such a way as alerts a reasonably endowed mind to some elevated possibility or idea that it likely would not have been able to form so cohesively on its own. Or as Addison, a reasonable and cultivated man, if out of fashion today, puts it in the 315th Spectator of March 1, 1712

"In a Word, besides the hidden Meaning of an Epic Allegory, the plain literal Sense ought to appear probable. The Story should be such as an ordinary Reader may acquiesce in, whatever natural, moral or political Truth may be discovered in it by Men of Greater Penetration."

An excellent example of this type of genius in modern (Post-1900) literature, which has tended to be overwhelmed by demonstrations of the author's superior intellect and cleverness, is to be found in the works of Franz Kafka. While the literal sense may not appear probable, the stories are told with such a beauty and authority of having been in some significant manner experienced that they appear, when read, almost obvious, and one's impression of reality itself impossible without them. I may elaborate at greater length on these ideas in future and less harried posts.

I will have to continue my dissatisfactions with the New York Times at a later date also.

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