Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thoughts on Boswell

Boswell's reputation--he was once called the stupidest man ever to write a great book--is well known. Indeed I suspect he was a more likeable man in person that he comes across in print--or even than he came across in person to many people who ran across him. The publication of his journals with the salacious details of his adventures with women of the town, which as you can imagine have not been neglected by modern scholars, when contrasted with his strident and at times rather buffoonish adherence to conservative positions and religious propriety in his published writings, does not contribute to his making an attractive figure in the eyes of posterity. Even the portraits and drawings of him which remain make him look a little ridiculous, some no doubt by design; he is often drawn as stiff-necked man of unimposing height with a three-cornered hat rather overwhelming his oddly bland-featured, unprofound face. Even when he complains of melancholy, it appears he is really complaining of boredom, for he only appears to be afflicted by it when he has to work or is apart from the social life of London. When he is at a dinner party or a romp he always seems to be in excellent spirits, which certainly is not usually the case with people given to what I would consider severe fits of depression.

On the other hand he had some genuinely unique qualities in an author, as well as good luck in his subject, that served him well in his undertaking. He obviously had what we would now call personality, and if his learning was considered only so-so among the highest circles, he must have possessed a fair degree of amusing quick-wittedness at least, as he maintained intimate ties with a very intellectually and socially demanding crowd for many years. He reminds me in many ways of one of my own old friends, who was not the most diligent student but was intelligent, witty, had legitimate and serious intellectual interests if not the work ethic to make a figure in academia, loved pleasure and had the ability to converse with almost anyone who had some interest in common with him in an entertaining manner regardless of background. I suspect Boswell had many of these qualities. Boswell also seemed to have the combination, very rare among educated men in our time, of social skills without needing to be the Great Man or the center of attention in every instance. By all appearances Johnson loved him, a little bit like a son perhaps, as much or more so as a comrade or fellow adventurer in the life of the mind, as well as the life of the world. I cannot think of another prominent biographer (though I am sure there must be some) who held such personal status in his relationship with his subject. Of course it helped considerably that Johnson was so socially accessible for a great man, and not too much committed to grand undertakings as to sever his connection to the activities and rhythms of ordinary but still vital life, as great people often appear to be today.

I was surprised in reading the book at how much attention was given to Johnson's illnesses and the rather excruciating treatments he underwent in the last few years of his life, which demonstrate if nothing else how much it takes to kill a human being, or at least one with a strong native constitution. These accounts take up a sizable portion of the book.

The passage where Johnson takes his last leave of Boswell in the carriage the summer before his death and totters solemnly down the alley to his apartment is extremely affecting and in fact caused me to cry a little. The only other time tears have overcome me in such reading is during the deathbed scene in Don Quixote, which is interestingly another book largely about the friendship of grown men, one of whom is this case is known mainly for his addiction to reading. I wonder if I sense some kind of void in my own life. Certainly the vigor and largely shared spiritedness of the Johnson/Boswell relationship accounts for the success of that work down to our time above any other feature.

There was one more topic I wanted to address with regard to Johnson. There was a recent novel (1999) called England, England by Julian Barnes, the premise of which is that some large swath of old Blighty has been turned into a historical theme park with thatched roofs, afternoon tea, cricket, black cabs, etc, which naturally all the tourists, as well as many English people, prefer to the real, modern, relevant, messy England that exists outside the park. Among the attractions of the park is an actor in the character of Samuel Johnson that drinks with the tourists in a traditional pub and presumably regales them with colorful examples of English wit. The choice of Johnson for this character is quite an interesting, and a telling one. One could readily think of other possibilities for this entertainment: Dickens, Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde, Tennyson, perhaps a Byron character who drank and seduced women, maybe even a watered-down Americanized or globalized Shakespeare. All of these authors have been or remain to a certain degree popular abroad, especially perhaps in America, often as much for their personalities or what they represent as for a deep understanding of their work. Johnson, who is often viewed in the U.S. as something of a counterpart to Benjamin Franklin, who was his exact contemporary, appears to have attained somewhat to this iconic status without his work or his nature being particularly well known, and even among those who have studied him, I suspect our author Mr Barnes would say, many rush to make a claim of intellectual and temperamental affinity with the man that is, to say the least, most implausible. Many of the famous quotes--"A man who is tired of London is tired of life"; "to be a hero, one must drink brandy"; "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"--are deployed quite frequently, and often by people who give little indication of either deep learning or interest in the subjects addressed (And regarding the London quote: it is 230 or so years old. London happily remains a vital place, but I'm sure somebody once said the same thing about Babylon). What is more, I sense that Johnson's status, or maybe it is just the sense of his relevance, is at an all time low among his own countryman, who seem to see him, especially when repeating one of his aphorisms, as much a blubbering, sententious old fool as one of the sages of the nation. When I went to Johnson's birthplace the man working at the desk (there is some kind of tension going on between me and the people who work at these museums; See "The Game of Art, Part I) asked me why Americans liked Johnson so much, and said that Americans were the only people who ever came in the place. He did not betray any warm feelings for the great lexicographer himself. I had not been aware of this phenomenon at the time, and had to say that I knew nothing about it, that I was merely a fan of an old book. But going back to the Barnes novel, I think there is a sense that Johnson, who once represented something substantial and real, has been allowed to become via certain American and global, Non-European appropriation of the stories and the mythology of European and more specifically English literary and cultural history a cartoon figure of a literary man, by a world that hasn't the foggiest idea of what that entails. I have certainly felt a part of such processes myself, though in fairness these have also always been present in literary history, and the English of Johnson's time into the Romantic and Victorian periods, vis-a-vis the Greeks and Romans and their primitive forbears in Britain, were among the more extravagant makers of caricatures who ever lived, yet still produced worthwhile achievements of their own driven by these imperfect understandings of the past. We like in our age to have, or have access to, full philosophical and historical understanding of figures and societies of the past; that an artist need only detect something beautiful or noble in the composition of a story or a ruin and have it still be of great value to him, and direct him to interesting and pleasing works of his own though at a far remove from intellectual pureness or authenticity as regards his influence, seems to be a difficult idea for us to accept. However I think there is evidence that our non-acceptance of it is strangling our ability to see ourselves as artistic beings and to "create" new works certainly in the traditional forms.

This idea is not really brought to a conclusion but I am tired now and wish to let it go.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Unplanned Digression from Johnson: Picasso Worshipping Alert

There is a exhibit currently at the Guggenheim on Spanish painting in which you-know-who is, at least in the New York Times article on the exhibit, being promoted as the star attraction:

'When he was 85, Picasso painted 'Musketeer', a brazenly humorous depiction of a nobleman in the foppish fashion of late-16th-century Spain.'

The picture is reproduced in the paper, along with portraits by El Greco and Velazquez that are also part of the exhibit. I can't quite get around the idea that Picasso's picture would have made those painters split their sides with laughter, unless it were at his expense, but obviously he knew them, and they would have known him, better than I will ever know any of them, so this is to be expected

Now believe me, I would love to be able to pass away a weekday afternoon at an exhibit like this in New York City, even if Picasso is prominently featured in it and it promises to be crowded with his overbearing fans. I can't quite bring myself to despise them after all. though I think, based on what is reported in the paper, that I would try to avoid reading or listening to any of the guides produced specifically for this show. The gushing over 'Musketeer', which did not affect me as particularly brazen or humorous or exciting, and the apparent subordination of the two seriously imposing painters to roles as precursors of the great modern that seems to be hinted at, does not inspire me with a lot of confidence in the curators' vision. I have accepted that at this point of my life at least I am not connecting on a human level with Picasso, as so many apparently do, and that I have consequently been cut off from many potential friends and lovers in the community of art admirers that I might have liked to have had. This is because Picasso is really such a symbol of a particular worldview that people who don't get him really incompatible with those who do. When I think of 'humorous painters' I'm think of Hogarth, Phiz (illustrator of Dickens's novels), some of the more pathetic efforts of Van Gogh, maybe some of the over the top historical painters like David (I love those paintings, like the 'Tennis Court Oath', but the drama does make me laugh) ,the Venetian who slipped in some dwarves and monkeys in his rendering of the Last Supper. When I look at Picasso's work, even where the talent is obvious and the skill and conception of a high order I just see a chilling, cruel, clever, unscrupulous, mocking soul on the canvas. It mesmerizes me that so many people admire and write about him in such breathless, absolute terms of approbation.

The curator of the show, one Carmen Gimenez, displays in the course of the article a number of the traits which make Picasso's modern devotees so frequently repulsive that one comes to the conclusion the man must be radiating evil. To begin with this particularly unilluminating, obnoxious and, well, asinine quote:

'Black is a traditional color for Spanish clothing. But it's a simple black, not the kind we wear in New York.'

Saying something like this serves no purpose but to establish the speaker's persona as a with-it insider New Yorker who does not take any crap but service people. Manhattan is apparently entirely given over to such people now. A friend of mine tells me it is not uncommon even for men to get a $100 consult on their hair before and separate from the actual cut, and this type of ludicrous expense is considered essential to differentiate oneself from the common scum. While I may be a petty and envious provincial, I have always been a New York lover from way back. One of the three or four real regrets of my life is that I never took a shot at living there when I was just out of school (my excuse was that I had no identifiable purpose I could convey to people there). My bookshelves are full of New York-based writers from the 1880s to the 1950s, not just literature, but baseball and children's books and books about tunnels and bridges and the subway and the parks. I read E.B. White's essay "This is New York" the other night and a lot of the old impressions I had formed came back to me, and I wanted to go even now, though I still have no identifiable purpose there. I have several art books published by the Metropolitan Museum and other NYC cultural institutions in the 40s and 50s, and however arrogant that generation of elite New Yorkers may have been in private they generally had the good taste to suppress it in their writing and maintain the ability to address intelligent if unhip readers as human beings having something in common with themselves, which is a skill that sadly seems to be on the wane today.

Other annoyances in the piece addressed briefly: We are told that an inscription 'using the less familiar names of El Greco, Rembrandt and Velasquez...illustrates Picasso's wish to be identified with these artists and his self-proclamation as the last great master of classical painting.' Have you ever noticed that Picasso's devotees seem to affect an especial confidence when speaking about or for him? Why? If the era of classical painting is over--which regrettably seems probable--and if Picasso is the last great master of it, and no one presently is alive is capable of approaching even his feats--does that not leave us in a bit of a forlorn state as people who identify themselves as nourished by the arts? A culture in which there is no realistic hope of anything great being produced in the foreseeable future--and I fear we have very much reached that state with regard to the arts among the most deeply learned in them--cannot expect to thrive solely dependant on the genius of the past without meaningful application to actual life in the present. If Picasso really believed he was the last of a long line of brilliant, civilization-defining figures, and that after him, there was to be nothing further, and especially if, as seemingly happened, he was able to persuade many to come around to his opinion, then anyone alive now has comparatively nothing to do with that entire epoch, and certainly any claim they have to understanding it must be viewed with skepticism. It seems, and has always seemed to me, that if even if his opinion of the direction of art is correct, there is no credit and little value to be gained by agreeing with him so enthusiastically, for he could not possibly have been painting with such a person as you in mind.

I don't want to spend my whole life combating with this silly article so I will let it go.

In a related item did you catch the special Picasso print (a drawing of a naked woman on a sofa) that was offered to Times readers a few weeks back? Of course in the classic fashion of this sort of thing we don't just order the picture but get the whole titillating backstory of who the woman is...Met Picasso in Paris while an undergraduate to do an interview for the college paper...He was 64 at the time...Five years later they became lovers...Moved to the Riviera...He drew her naked...Captured her soul with his pencil...We can infer that many G-spot orgasms were produced...Yes I want the whole package, my friends will ask about the picture, I'll deliver the story, maybe they'll think I have something of the same spirit in me. At the very worst they'll know that I am aware these kinds of things happen to actual people. My reputation for innocence will be a little lightened.

While on the subject of my deepest regrets, I never understood why if artists could entice strange women to pose naked for them while they painted them, why a poet could not do the same thing as a regular course of study. "Will you pose in the nude for me while I compose a sonnet on you? It will be very satisfying, just like with painters." I guess I don't regret asking this of anybody so much I regret never bringing things to any point where such a request would have seemed a natural conclusion.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Reflections on Johnson 2

Johnson being now established as one of my very favorite authors, I was especially excited when I returned to London in 2001 to finally go and see the house in Gough Square where I could imagine myself imbibing something of the atmosphere of 18th century London, which I consider myself as being able to do without too elaborate a concatenation of circumstances. I entered Johnson's Court and found the house, along with the famous statue of Hodge the cat (though Hodge almost certainly never lived in the house at Gough Square). However it was closed for renovations. We eventually carried on to Lichfield, where Johnson's birthplace was open, and which I will recapitulate in a later section.

In 2004 I 'studied' the Preface to Shakespeare and the poem "The Vanity of Human Wishes". (I have read other essays and poems of Johnson's too for purposes of general amusement, without attempting, I suppose, to engage them as objects of study. I am especially fond of "The Prologue at the Opening of Drury Lane Theater, 1747", though I like all his poetry generally.) This is from the notes I took on the Preface at the time:

Clear and even inspiring little treatise on the excellences and spirit (best spirit) of literature. Humor and wisdom augmented by learning and understanding are so much more attractive than mere dogged cleverness. He is able to admire and appreciate Shakespeare while still relating to him as a man, acting himself a man and giving the reader the benefit of the doubt as to being something of the kind as well. This in large part accounts for his (Johnson's) attractiveness as a writer. For W.S.'s excellence does lie primarily in his naturalness and liveliness rather than as a chiseled, precariously preserved intellect of the high modernist/post-modernist model.

I will add that in his prose, though Johnson says many times that the object of writing is to instruct and inform, he does not to my mind ever come across as condescending to his reader, certainly compared to almost all modern writers, though I am aware he had somewhat of this reputation in his own time. However, I think perhaps due to the rigor and high quality of his social intercourse, he was able to develop a style in which he is able to imagine and address the reader as a person at a level of understanding and knowledge comparable to himself, or at least to that of people who were actually his friends. American writers in particular, many of whom probably have gone through their entire lives without having a natural, easy social type conversation as an equal with another human being on the intellectual matters most dear to them, are prone to write as if most readers were not merely idiots, but scarcely conceivable to the author as members of the same human species. They write ever for authorities instead of for men and women.

As a poet I do not think it can be said that he is underrated or undervalued, his poetry still being readily available in print, but it (the poetry) is also not much talked about. His longer efforts build up a tremendous head of steam and pull one along through them with great force. In his best poems his lines, images, narrative and ideas are in each separate part almost uniformly strong, which is an exceedingly difficult effect to produce. A comparable strength of intellect and handle on the form of a poem and the English language as well as the histories of both combined in the same author is rare. Stevens or Pound would be the most recent English language poets that I would confidently say had similar levels of skill in all these various particulars. I suppose it is true that Johnson lacks sublimity, which is not an inconsiderable deficiency, though many of his points are notable for the elegance of their conception (as well as the force of their execution).

I was going to reproduce some favorite quotes from the Preface that I notated but I am not at home and I left the book there so I will skip it and move on to something else.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Reflections on Johnson 1

Having finished the Life of Johnson on Sunday, I am going to clog up cyperspace a bit with my own history with this legendary duo. Parts 1 and 2 will be devoted to me and Johnson, Part 3 to Boswell, and Part 4 to a account of my 2001 pilgrimage to Lichfield, perhaps even with my very own tourist photos if I can figure out how to do that.

I do not remember exactly when I became conscious of the figure of Samuel Johnson. He was not particularly well-known or prominent in our household, and I don't think it was much before I was twelve or fourteen that I became aware that he was the subject of a famous, but very long and very old biography, and I still did not have any idea why anyone would have written about him anyway. This was before I had even read Dickens or knew any basic English history, so the impression I had of Johnson, if any at all, was that of a stuffy, scholarly type from a faraway time and place. His very name struck me, in the early 1980s, as hopelessly and embarrassingly whitebread (mine being nearly as bad in that regard I was extra sensitive about the matter). He aroused no interest in me. I am not sure how much my father knew about him, but as his tastes ran more towards political history, war, exploration, etc I am pretty certain he hadn't read either Johnson or Boswell. I remember asking him once who Samuel Johnson was, since the Life was a part of most series of classics that I liked to collect at flea markets and the like at that time, which he scoffed at dismissively, saying "No one reads that anymore," adding too that Johnson had not liked Americans, which, being a great patriot, especially where the generation of the founding fathers is concerned, he took as a personal offence. I have heard him on other occasions denounce English books of the period as being unreadable because there is "too much damn Latin" in them, which would certainly apply to Boswell, though he never failed on the other hand to extol the likes of Jefferson and Hamilton on the grounds of their superior learning and deep understanding of the Greek and Roman classics compared to modern leaders.

Having passed through high school without ever perusing a page or handling a volume of either Johnson or his biographer, I proceeded on to a college that if it is well-known for anything is well-known for an almost perverse and willfull anachronistic biblophilia, where I don't believe I heard either the name of Johnson or Boswell uttered once in four years, though the English literature section of the library at least had much material on and many editions of the works of both. Since I killed a lot of time in that section over the years after dinner waiting for it to be late enough to start drinking it is probable that I at least looked into one or other of the books then, though I do not remember anything gripping me. They had the Yale edition of Johnson's complete works with illustrated plates on the title pages. I remember looking at the famous Reynolds portrait of the elephantine Johnson in one, and in another I believe an illustration of the great man leaving the drawing room on the occasion of his perceived snubbing by Lord Chesterfield (seeing as I am referring to this episode 250 years after the fact, by way of an artwork, is it any wonder why otherwise rational people harbor ambitions of literary fame?).

I graduated, and then began my current reading list the year I was 24, though it would yet be 4 years before I would get to anything by Johnson. When I was 26 I finally made it to London for the first time, where, in wandering about the City, I could not help taking note of the signs for Johnson's house in Gough Square, though not having read him at the time I did not venture to even look at the house, intending to preserve that pleasure for a time when it would have more moment to me, though even then I still did not have a clear idea of the massive figure Johnson still makes in the English literary imagination. In 1996 the London of my imagination was primarily Dickensian, with a little Bloomsburyan/Edwardian channeling around Hyde Park and Marylebone and Victoria, and what I knew from the Restoration and 18th century authors coming to life only in the City churches and oddly enough in walking along the banks of the river. Finally, on March 6, 1998, I commenced reading The Lives of the English Poets.

The Lives of the Poets is one of the most entertaining, as well as instructive books, both historically and literarily speaking, that I have ever read. By instructive I do not mean that Johnson is the most accurate recorder of facts or that his criticism is perfect upon all occasions. He does something that is perhaps equally as important, demonstrates what a collectively shared history and literature of an outstanding quality means to a society, and the men in it, over a fairly extended period; that England would not be England, and all that proceeded from this circumstance even after the age of Johnson, without its poets; and that any human mind ignorant of poetry and the poetic heritage of his own language at the very least can make little claim to wholeness.

Here are a few favorite quotes and word choices/phrases from the Life of Cowley:

'the mist of panegyric'
'The true genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction.'
'the morose Wood'
'the courtly Sprat'
'...instead of seeking shelter in America, wisely went only so far from the bustle of life that he might easily find his way back, when solitude should grow tedious.
'a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets'
'The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole endeavor.'
'...the reader, far from wondering that he missed them, wonders more frequently by what perverseness of industry they were ever found.' (regarding the thoughts of the metaphysical poets)
'nature and art are ransacked'
'wrote rather as beholders than partakers of human nature'
'Their wish was only to say what they hoped had never been said before'
'confused magnificence'
'A lover, burnt up by his affection, is compared to Egypt'
'The lover supposes his lady acquainted with the ancient laws of augury and rites of sacrifice'
'Who but Donne would have thought that a good man is a telescope?'
'A coal-pit has not often found its poet; but that it may not want its due honor, Cleveland has paralleled it with the sun.
'Their expressions sometimes raise horror, when they intend perhaps to be pathetic.'
'unnecessarily and unpoetically subtle'
'I know not whether Scaliger himself has persuaded many readers to join with him in his preference of the two favorite odes, which he estimates in his raptures at the value of a kingdom.'
'His elegy on Sir Henry Wotton is vigorous and happy, the series of thoughts is easy and natural, and the conclusion, though a little weakened by the intrusion of Alexander, is elegant and forcible.'
'even the morality is voluptuous'
'Finding himself able to live in the greatest extremities of love, he concludes the torrid zone to be habitable.'
'sluggish frigidity'
'The same thought is more generally, and therefore more poetically, expressed by Casimir'
'The rights of antiquity were invaded, and disorder tried to break into the Latin'
'Every reader feels himself weary with this useless talk of an allegorical being.'

I will break this post off here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Game of Art SUPPLEMENT: The Cult of Picasso

Pablo Picasso is, unless I have badly missed something, the man most widely considered to have been the greatest painter in the Western World during the twentieth century. It also seems to be widely considered that no one comparable to him in stature has emerged since his death, which, though not that long ago yet, still with every passing year nourishes the idea that perhaps no one so great ever will emerge again. As I have noted in an earlier post, he seems since my childhood to have replaced Rembrandt as the demonstrative model for serious art writers when they are trying to explain to the philistines in mass market publications why the likes of Andrew Wyeth are mediocrities. I cannot contest Picasso's greatness, though for the most part I must admit it remains elusive to me. I think I am not completely in the dark regarding what he was doing; I have read Freud, and seen vividly the connection in his writings to Joyce, and have discerned the definite Cubist sensibility, whether intentional or not, in Hemingway, as well as, I think, being reasonably sensible to the general movements in history and the arts at the time. When it comes to Picasso however I have clearly failed to put together the various parts and impressions and feel the awe. That the awe is there to be felt however, it is futile to dispute, since it was widespread among his contemporaries and immediate followers in his own field, as well as the wider artistic community, which was a few hundred times more educationally and socially interconnected in the France and Spain of 75 years ago than anything we know of here. In addition it was of a level and intensity that is truly rare in any human endeavor, such that I must take it on faith that there were legitimate reasons for the respect.

Picasso's fans, especially in the United States, are another matter however. They are the most obnoxious of any of the artists in the Game. They are not the snootiest, though I don't know that I've met one who wouldn't like to be; but for this one would have to exclusively build up artists and genres as the only ones that are worthwhile which he is certain the people he intends to intimidate have never heard of, and he has to be impeccably correct that the person concerned has never heard of them in each individual case. Caravaggio fans are nearly as obnoxious on a number of levels, first in their assumption that because they did not discover their man until they were already adults, neither has anyone else, but mostly because they affect to identity with and revel in the raw sensuality and violence depicted in the art while being the kind of people who would frantically call the police if anybody remotely similar to the painter or his models ever came within thirty feet of them. Unironic Impressionist fans have been universal objects of ridicule for some time. Generally few people want to sleep with hardcore Dutch Master fans either. Michelangelo/DaVinci/ Raphael are too universally admired to contribute much to a distinct social or intellectual identity unless one has written a well-regarded book on the subject. Klimt fans are pretentious but often adorable. Modigliani fans are too cool and good-looking to ever encounter losers on a frequent basis anyway (case in point: I have never actually met one. I have only read about them in books and articles that are beyond the reach of middlebrow criticism). Middle class Picasso fans and hagiographers tend to be wannabes with mean streaks, which is not an attractive combination.

It is said of Picasso that if he got an inclination to work during dinner or a social visit, he would simply leave his company abruptly and go to it. This is reported not infrequently and with approval of great artists and other successful egomaniacs, and we are accustomed to acknowledge that great results justify any amount of mere rudeness, though with Picasso my impression always suggests to me that this had no small share of gamesmanship in it and served to make a specific point of insulting his company, who were presumably his friends and supporters. Though perhaps much of this is simply the nature of emphasis in modern biography and memoir, which is obsessed with the details of who dominated and more importantly, who was dominated. At any rate, perhaps because he did not linger over dinner, Picasso was an incredibly prolific painter, so that besides every museum worth its name in the Western world having enough original works to have its own Picasso room, besides there being numerous entire museums dedicated exclusively to the work of the great man, it is not uncommon in the United States even among people of relatively modest wealth to possess an original Picasso of one's own. I have even been in a couple of such houses myself, though in one I did not bear enough status to be allowed into the gallery. In the other the owner had hung it in his bathroom on the wall beside the toilet. It was a framed cocktail napkin sized piece of cardboard or paper with a couple of broad black strokes like eyebrows encasing on three sides a few other shorter black marks and streaks. The owner had hung it in his bathroom on the wall beside the toilet. I don't have the slightest idea what its subject was supposed to be, and if the owner did he kept it to himself, besides which that was secondary to its being a PICASSO of course. He had not bought the thing to instruct or entertain as an object of art in itself, and having it had brought him some local notoriety. This all strikes me as quite bizarre. Perhaps it is not really as I see it, perhaps there was some communication of joy or insight which this man received from the painted figure and not just from the signature beneath it but if so this was a joy that stifled itself quickly upon turning again to engage the world.

Another trait of Picasso lovers is that they become very quickly defensive if they feel their position is being questioned or trivialized. I remember in school once an irreverent but very sharp fellow declared that Pink Floyd's "The Wall" was a more meaningful work of art than anything by Picasso but that he would be glad to be set right if people would undertake to explain to him how it was not so. The response was interesting. The pro-Picasso faction was mostly indignant that somebody who could pose such a question in a class had been admitted to the college in the first place, though several were so stunned, or sickened, or enraged at the insinuations which had been proposed, that I observed several heads to redden, veins to throb, and fists to clench. It was evident to me that these people had acquired some idea that to be the sort of person and to live among the sort of society they aspired to, the greatness of Picasso was accepted as a given, and appreciation of the master one of the tests and qualifications for acceptance therein. Even at eighteen they were ferociously defensive of their claim to this position, and did not care for any reminder that they might not have attained to it.

But why Picasso? Why for that matter all these modernists who arouse such contempt in their adherents towards those who criticize or attack or simply don't get them? Charles Dickens fans I daresay do not get so ruffled when their man is ridiculed, and there is certainly a case to be made that many modern intellectuals don't get him. The excessive cleverness of the modernists, the strict refusal to give sentiment or the consolations of religion or tradition or public experience (i.e. school) an inch of ground, their ruthless exclusivity where even the consumers of their productions are concerned (intellectually speaking) all contribute to a cultural worldview where to misstep, or be led or tricked into a misstep by a representative of the masses becomes akin to the death of one's intellectual pretensions, in instances where money and other types of status are absent to one's very self-identity. To which I can only ask, is this what art (or life) is really supposed to be about?

I can never think of Picasso without recurrence to an experience I had once at the Philadelphia art museum, which was for many years my "home" art museum and in which I had therefore a greater proclivity to wander about without maps and so forth. It happened that after passing through the regular 19th century European galleries, pleasant seaside and garden pictures and so forth, I wandered wholly unconsciously into the Picasso room and thought "these pictures have nothing beautiful about them," amending my thought when I realized what I was looking at to "though I sense they are the work of someone exceedingly clever, doubtless infinitely moreso than I am." This is not a pleasing sensation to have, and I can see why a person attuned to these sorts of goings-on would rather be able to say "I perceive the brilliance of these pictures and my intelligence is of a rather similar cast to that of the artist." To appear in a position where others can gleefully declare you to be intellectually intimidated is one of the supreme social calamities of the age, though this can never be but a secondary or tertiary purpose of any succesful artwork, if it be one at all. But of course the Game of Art has very little to do with the consideration or understanding of artworks in isolation (which actually only become cause for intimidation the greater one's understanding of the processes and mind of the artist), otherwise hardly anyone in the bourgeoisie would have the interest or the capacity to play it.

P.S. We are almost to the end of the Game as far as I am involved in it.

P.P.S. No one has visited my profile in 2 months now. I expected to have a limited readership but 4 people?