Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Game of Art: Falling Out of the Game Entirely

I can't keep up a regular writing schedule.

This was to be the main object around which I organized my life, for which I neglected even acquainting myself with other pursuits, and I cannot even do it.

I had a momentary throb of pain in my head the other day and thought I might be having a stroke, or even dying. Fortunately it appears to have been nothing and I have another chance to make more efficient use of such remaining time as I have left, blah, blah, blah, but if the mind and the soul remain empty this is of little use.

Greece being in the news this past week (the elections there inspired the media to remind us numerous times that "After all, Greece is the birthplace of democracy"), I was reminded of the Elgin Marbles and the controversy to have them restored to their native soil. This is exactly the sort of thing right thinking people and bad but strong thinking people have a decided opinion on and that I never am able to work up much passion about and if I feel anything have sympathies that lie with the side generally considered by anyone with a 21st century mentality to be obviously the wrong one. All this is to say that in my heart of hearts I kind of hope they will always remain in England, which looks as if it is going to happen anyway, even though the geographical specificity of Ancient Greek civilization resonates more strongly with the modern student than that of maybe that of any other ancient people, and I suspect that the means of getting them out of Greece in the first place was obnoxious in every possible way. Nonetheless they have been in London now for more than 200 years, and their presence in the upper end of English speaking culture anyway has grown substantial during that time. Giving them up will be a greater loss in this sense than I think is widely perceived, even though I know all upper end culture is global now and their being in Athens would constitute no barrier, or even any noticeable difference, to modern educated people. Of course I saw them in London myself in the same mid-20th century mindset through which I see everything and I remember the occasion as one of the more memorable days in what has been a mostly drab and uninspired existence passed in waiting around for something to happen. This means nothing and everything at the same time, but I have no doubt that their presence in London has been a boon to mental life even in its diffusion throughout the Anglophone world, which was after all one of the unstated purposes of founding the British Museum, as well as the National Gallery of Art, with its famous collection of mostly foreign paintings. Also there is no shortage, comparative to the rest of the world, of Greek antiquities available to be seen in Greece itself. I would not want to give them back if I were the British, even if it would be a magnanimous gesture, even if somehow it could be proven beyond a doubt to be the right thing to do. 

Perhaps no small part of the appeal of the collection of the British Museum is the thought of some imperial man perhaps biologically not so different from ourselves deciding that he would like possession of something of the grandeur of antiquity, and rather than appealing weakly and invariably futilely to editors and professors and museum curators and other professional experts to be admitted to its mysteries as those of us who have had all their physical and mental dynamism drained out of them would do, just went and literally ripped one of the finest specimens of all Greek art off the facade of the Parthenon and had it shipped home. Of course Byron and the Romantics, as well as Rosetti and the pre-Raphaelites were not impressed by this plundering of the treasures of antiquity, but these were poets and great lovers of women, comparatively sensitive and empathetic to foreign peoples, and everything grand in life in a sense belonged to them as the honest due of their vigor and talent as artistic beings. But for others to whom this sensibility and overall talent for life was not accessible the plunder itself, or in any event the possession of it, by whatever unexplained means, occasionally is a more forceful symbol of societal strength, ambition and sense of place in the world than constant sensitivity and empathy for anybody but one's own people. Even though I am a Democratic party voter and generally prefer their policies, even when they are awful, to those espoused by their enemies, I do not like the direction of sarcasm, flippancy, smugness and air of total disrespect and even disdain for most of the accomplishments and history of this country and the western world himself that their sense of superiority towards their ideological antagonists have taken. Not that those antagonists (again) are not even worse, but who wants to be aligned with these weak, useless modern, sarcastic little liberal men especially who are totally predictable and can't stand behind or express enthusiasm for a single legacy or tradition or episode of western history that has not first been totally cleansed and neutered for modern progressive sensibilities? Not that I am ultimately much better, or that anybody likes me--my Sunday brunch days with the mixed-sex educated liberal set are far, far in the past, and were fleeting enough while they lasted--but I at least have some sense of shame in my diminished state of humanity. 

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