Friday, August 3, 2012

800 Words: The Posts I'd Have Written Part 1

I don't doubt a severe chance of a lost/stolen/broken computer would be risked had I brought a computer to France. Even so, I feel almost mute without it - totally without that imaginary internet reader/friend who understands me utterly and thinks I'm perfect in every way... so, for that friend, who probably would be on facebook, here are just five (there are a number of others) of the posts I've been gathering notes for and would probably have written most of had I regular access to a good computer.

1. The American Gentleman - 150 years ago, there were a group of Russian intelligensia - overprivileged men of means who straddled that fine line between intellectual voraciousness and pseudo-intellectual - with names like Turgenev, Herzen, Bakunin, Belinsky, and some names that are much more famous today... Like all people privileged enough to travel, they eventually made their way to Western Europe, where they were astonished at the quality of life they saw in comparison to their home country. The crushing realization dawned on them that life as it was in Russia did not have to be as difficult as their governments made it, and they and their countrymen were missing out on easy privileges which Western Europeans take for granted. Like the Western Europe of that period, today's Western Europe is hardly a model which other countries should emulate in every detail. But the alternative to learning their lessons is to unlearn them, and just as the 19th Century Russians had pan-Slavism and Christian fundamentalism saying to reject the lessons of Western Europe, today's America has Tax Leninists (Grover Norquist's own words) and Christian fundamentalism telling us to reject Western Europe's easy mores. Where that leads is anybody's guess...

2. Englishman or Frenchman - At heart, everybody is either an Englishman or a Frenchman - a classicist or a romantic' a realist or an idealist, a rational being or an emotional one, superego driven or driven by the id. The French and the English constitute the oldest continual civilizations on Earth. Through decline and rebirth, at no point in over half-a-millenium has either country been utterly decimated in the way so many other neighboring countries could not avoid (though WWI came close). The result is an organic, unimpeded kind of growth you can't find in any other European country in which each era makes sense as a reaction to the previous era and makes sense in relation to what was going on in either country. No two countries are more different: the French seem to value sense; they see the world as something to experience and hardly a single French person can be described as anything but beautiful: the English seem to value sensibility; they see the world as something ascetic to understand and look like mole people.

3. The Decline of Breast Implants - I can't help myself...really I can't....Nice has amazing topless beaches, but more amazing anthropologically than aesthetically. The barrage of bare breasts is somewhat beguiling at first glance, then you look up to see that 18 out of 20 most impressive bare mammaries in any given field of vision seem to be the property of women in their late sixties whose plastic surgery collapsed everywhere else. These are women from the sexual revolution's first generation - whose idea of glamor still came from old school Hollywood and European art-films. They're young enough to believe in sex as something to be approached casually, but too old to be of an impressionable age when feminism taught women to believe that they did not have to devote their lives to impressing men. The result is that there may not have been a generation of women in living memory whose lives were so difficult.

4. Who Are Our Impressionists? - Impressionist painters were barely known in their own time. The greatest painters of late 19th century France were at the time considered to be painters of whom we've never heard - whose sole recommending quality was that their painting was as pretty as they were vapid. In so many ways, this resembles many artistic genres in our own day, particularly in music. We like the beat of a three-chord song, or the lyrics are easily understood, and we don't give much more thought to the music than that. It's entirely possible that in 100 years, all the music we listen to; even Bjork or Steve Reich or Pierre Boulez or Kanye West, will interest precisely no one. Who are the Monets, the Van Goghs, the Cezannes, the Gauguins, of our day. As the hipsters would say, you've probably never heard of them - neither have I.

5. The New Gothic Era? - Looking at the iconography of a Medieval Age tells us we're beginning to have far more in common with the Middle Ages than with the Renaissance. Like the Middle Ages, we seem to prefer stories told in pictures which need no education to be understood, we increasingly prefer our art to deal with the depiction of fantastic realms than we like those works which deal with reality (perhaps because we now view reality as something trivial), we increasingly divide spiritual matters from sensual ones, and the disparities in people's education grow far wider. There was a brief period in modern life (isn't it always brief?) when it seemed alright to believe in both religion and secularism. These periods happen for brief times in different places - usually when civilzations reach their apex - the America of FDR, the Greece of Alexander, the England of Elizabeth I, the Austria of Metternich, in which a civilization - for whatever reason - feels fundamentally as though their is no division between temporal matters and eternal ones, and for these brief periods, humanity makes progress and comes to understand itself a little better - the harvest from which human beings benefit from afterward until the present day.  In our own time, religion did not produce the totalitarian movements of the 20th century, and in so many cases it was on the side of civil rights and protection against political repression. But this period seems to be drawing to a close. Religion has come increasingly close to self-denial. Rather than the creation and liberation which eroticism brings, it is returning yet again to renunciation, penitence, violence. Meanwhile, secularists, inceasingly having lost any connection with "spiritual" matters, have embraced a kind of nihlistic revision of liberalism that does not allow for any respite but a temporary one. The result is a far greater preoccupation with the more permissive elements of liberalism - particularly in matters of sex, rather than the stuff which matters far more - freedom of speech and due process, education, health care, employment (it's highly possible that a more educated public taught to care about rights would see things like freedom of choice for abortion and allowing gay marriage as a given). By focusing so much on bedroom matters at the expense of other things, secularism has in fact given itself the same obsessions as religion - and is just as much a slave to them. In the happiest periods of human history, perhaps people found a means to feel pleasure through fulfillment and fulfillment through pleasure.  And we humans would feel a little more at peace with both our own persons and the eternal, infinite time and space around us. 

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