Touching, so touching…

December 21, 2011

When I visited Paris in the late 1970s, I made a point of seeing the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise.  The huge stone monument by the then-young Lipschitz shows an Assyrian ‘angel’ on a base that simply says “Oscar Wilde.”  At that time, the large genitals of the figure, so disquieting to the city fathers of the early 20th century, were still missing, hacked off by a vandal in the 1960s.  I was happy to read in the newspapers recently that they have been restored, at the cost of nearly 50,000 euros – that’s a set of balls!

These days, the tomb is in the news because the authorities are going to erect a glass barrier around it to prevent pilgrims from planting big greasy kisses on it.  Apparently, this became a popular custom in the 1980s, and the lower portions of the stone are covered with red lipstick marks.  Some say it’s ugly, others claim it’s causing damage to the stone as well, and thus the protective sheath around the plot.

I find it hard to believe that lipstick could do much damage to the stone, other than discoloring it, and isn’t that the sort of thing that happens to monuments over time?  St. Peter’s toe in the Vatican is almost worn away from the millions of kisses it gets.  It’s not as though it’s a delicate and fragile work such as Michelangelo’s pieta…but Wilde’s grandson is for protecting it, so I cannot protest too much.  The family wants to preserve the look of the original…

Still…from The Picture of Dorian Gray:

And now tell me,–reach me the matches, like a good boy: thanks,–tell me, what are your relations with Sibyl Vane?”

Dorian Gray leaped to his feet, with flushed cheeks and burning eyes. “Harry, Sibyl Vane is sacred!”

“It is only the sacred things that are worth touching, Dorian,” said Lord Henry, with a strange touch of pathos in his voice.


Before the Revolution…there was the word.

March 6, 2010

It’s good to keep in mind that Bertolucci was in his early twenties when he made Before the Revolution, and that the protagonist, Fabrizio, is only twenty himself.  The film is bursting with ideas and cinematic effects like somebody besotted with the art, and his talent – it even satirizes the archetypal super serious cineaste in one scene!  There are times when it might even seem to some like a parody of the serious European avante-garde film – Woody Allen’s spoof was mentioned by my wife – but it is, in the end, a fabulous movie!

A movie, but the texts have it!  A film about people obsessed with words and texts.  Who can take them seriously, especially if you’re an American, raised in a culture where politics is a corrupt circus for grasping old farts that means nothing to anyone?  Especially a generation (or two) after the revolution, or at least after the revolution that never was, the 1960s?  Who watching this film now can relate to Fabrizio’s intellectual predicament, his desire to be more radical than thou, while also being one with the people and hating his family background, while loving his aunt, Gina…?  What a mess!

Fabrizio is the son of a Parma family of bourgeoisie – the kind that lives in a creaky old palace filled with 19th century furniture and chandeliers.  It’s stuffy as hell, so he is taking lessons from a serious fellow with glasses, the local school teacher who also tutors young men in the ways of communism.  He’s smart, but tough – he tells Fabrizio that he “talks like a book,” but the student is only trying to be good, spouting the words of his tutor’s masters.  When Fabrizio brings Gina, his aunt and lover to meet the teacher, they all duel in quotations read from books on the shelves.  Who does Gina quote?  Oscar Wilde.  My favorite socialist.  ( How Oscar would have laughed at the pretentious statements by Fabrizio’s friend about the relative morality of this over that shot in cinema!)

Marxist texts, Proust, Wilde, and finally, Moby Dick, of all things.  Fabrizio buckles under to history and family, and decides to get with the bourgeois program:  He marries his very pretty, but supposedly dull, childhood sweetheart.  A perfect match.  As Fabrizio gets a wedding send off – he’s only seen from the back – and moves off into middleclass embalment, Gina furiously kisses his younger brother’s face and hair in an agony of displaced and frustrated love.  The teacher recites to his young students the speech of Captain Ahab in which he makes clear to his crew the nature of the absurd and furious quest to which they have signed on…  Is it Life?

Some scenes:

During an outing, Fabrizio and Gina visit an old friend of hers, Puck.  He is a dead-end aristocrat.  In an operatic speech, he bewails the destruction of the old order natural and social, as the camera soars over the landscape, soon to be bulldozed by progress

Fabrizio and his tutor check on the the People at the annual Festival of Unity.  They seem to be out of step with the masses.

The wedding seals Fabrizio’s fate, and Gina’s.

No revolution.  Not for Fabrizio.  Not for the schoolkids

Certainly not for Gina.


Sublunary Druggist

February 7, 2009

telawrence

On a crowded subway trip, I looked over the shoulder of the hefty gentlemen next to me who was reading the first page of the introduction to the letters of T. E. Lawrence.  A nice, older edition.  It began

“I say art for my sake…  When I feel like writing, I write, when I don’t, I don’t”

Oscar Wilde could hardly have put it better.  And what is the “purpose” of art, after all?  Art for art’s sake?  I don’t think so.  No, T. E. had it right:  art for our sake.

But not all of us are artists.  Well there’s this:

The artist is not a special sort of man:  Each man is a special sort of artist.  – Jean Gimpel

That is, we all create our worlds in various ways.  For many, religion is part of this.  For an atheist, that’s not a viable path.   Often, religion tries to take science’s role, and makes itself ridiculous, but there is one thing that religion can do that science cannot.  Science can explain to us our place in the universe, but religion reconciles us to it.

People we love die, and we never see them again.  Earthquakes kill thousands without warning, old, young, good, bad alike.  Brutal, vulgar people enjoy riches while good people live lives of hunger and want.  Evil exists…and often appears to stalk triumphant!  What does science have to offer to calm us, to show us a path through this so that we don’t go out of our minds?  Nothing.

But for those who just can’t stomach that God-thing, there’s art, philosophy, poetry, and myth.  And since we are all artists after a fashion, personal mythologies are perfectly on-point.  As an example of personal mythology, one of the earliest that I cherished, and one that is still a favorite, I cite Thomas De Quincey, telling of his first purchase of opium.

I feel a mystic importance attached to the minutest circumstances connected with the place and the time and the man (if man he was) that first laid open to me the Paradise of Opium-eaters. It was a Sunday afternoon, wet and cheerless:

sublunary-druggist

and a duller spectacle this earth of ours has not to show than a rainy Sunday in London. My road homewards lay through Oxford Street; and near “the stately Pantheon” (as Mr. Wordsworth has obligingly called it) I saw a druggist’s shop. The druggist — unconscious minister of celestial pleasures! — as if in sympathy with the rainy Sunday, looked dull and stupid, just as any mortal druggist might be expected to look on a Sunday; and when I asked for the tincture of opium, he gave it to me as any other man might do, and furthermore, out of my shilling returned me what seemed to be real copper halfpence, taken out of a real wooden drawer. Nevertheless, in spite of such indications of humanity, he has ever since existed in my mind as the beatific vision of an immortal druggist, sent down to earth on a special mission to myself. And it confirms me in this way of considering him, that when I next came up to London I sought him near the stately Pantheon, and found him not; and thus to me, who knew not his name (if indeed he had one), he seemed rather to have vanished from Oxford Street than to have removed in any bodily fashion. The reader may choose to think of him as possibly no more than a sublunary druggist; it may be so, but my faith is better — I believe him to have evanesced, or evaporated. So unwillingly would I connect any mortal remembrances with that hour, and place, and creature, that first brought me acquainted with the celestial drug.

from The Confessions of an English Opium Eater, chapter 3.


Are YOU experienced???

September 17, 2008

What a topsy-turvy few weeks in the news it’s been!  Let me mention my highlights:

Federal Government declares it will let Lehman fail to protect the principles of the free market.  Rep. Barney Frank declares Sept. 15 Free Market Day.  Sept. 16 Federal Government effectively nationalizes AIG.  This under a Republican president!

John (Keating Five) McCain, the Republican candidate, lambastes the “greed” of Wall Street and calls for more government regulation.  Experience, Oscar Wilde said, is the name so many of us give to our mistakes.  Has John learned from his?   He did recently say that he knew little about economics.  Time to hit those textbooks, John!

Republicans, whiter and richer than ever, have a convention at which they rail against the elite.

Does experience matter?  OF COURSE - Palin has none…ooops, it doesn’t REALLY matter!

David Brooks, at sixes and sevens over the nomination of an airhead evangelical for veep practically endorses Obama-Biden.  What other conclusion can you draw from his recent column?  He just can’t face the facts of it.  (Shocked, shocked!!! that Republicans would nominate such a person simply because she assures their rabid base of religious nuts.)

News reports say that the Fed bailout of AIG may actually be quite profitable for the taxpayer, as was the loan bailout of Mexico in the 90s.  They charge high interest rates, and they get to call the shots, having dumped the shareholders.  Why not do this more often a reporter asks?  “That would be socialism…”


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