10. Singer and Chagall
Isaac Bashevis Singer came from a Polish town called Radzymin, just a few towns over from Bransk, my father's family's town of origin. Marc Chagall grew up in Vitebsk, the Lithuanian city from where my mother's family hailed. The two great explainers of Yiddish culture to the Western Public - both obsessed with relgion, sin and sex - reading or looking at their work can be quite a shock for those of us whose memories of Yiddish culture are entirely through the eyes of our geriatric grandparents. Singer spent his career trying to return to the shtetl, Chagall spent his career trying to leave it. Singer ended up in New York, amidst a Yiddish culture of Greenhorns who tried (and failed) to live as though the past could be recreated. Chagall landed mostly in France, amidst a thriving culture of aesthetes, but for all his efforts to embrace French hedonism, he could never put his place of origin behind him. It is this tension which still makes their xorks explode off the page, and illustrate as greatly as any pair of creators have the problems of living in two worlds.
11. Modernism: Conservatism in Disguise
Any self-respecting modernist will tell you precisely the same thing: the emptiness of modernism is a reflection of the emptiness all around us - the vacuity of consumerism, the vacuity of politics, the vacuity of war, the vacuity of our collective consciousneszzzzzzzzzzzzzzz... And yet for all its condemnations of modern life, it has a tremendous fear of being seen as anything but modern. Going through the Pompidou Centre in 2012, what is still modern about all this art, this videography, this music? The world has evolved well past needing modernism, and modernism is now a word that seems stuck in the "return to the 19th century" mentality which is far beyond anyone's ability to do, even if we ever wanted to do it. Artistic modernism does not seek to embrace the future, it seeks to eliminate it.
12. The Francofication of Mad Men
I apparently can't stop thinking about this show, even in France. The appearance of the French-Canadian Megan Calvet, once seeming so utterly out of left field, suddenly makes perfect sense. The America of the early 60s embraced French culture - the films of Truffaut and Godard, the songs of Piaff and Brel, the philosophy of Sartre and Camus, not to mention attitudes to food, fashion and sex .... - that the entire late 60s can be said to be inspired by what Americans saw coming from France. When Americans of the sixties wanted greater cultural freedom; the freedom to follow one's desires in work, in love, in sex, in politics, what they were really longing for is the freedoms which so many of the people who constitute French culture took for granted. Megan's family is a fully realized alternative culture to the family of the American Dream - one that far more resembles today's American families than any other family shown on Mad Men. Just as Layne Pryce represents the old world of England - the world America left behind in their founding, Megan Calvet represents the world of America's future. As Mad Men draws into its final two seasons, Megan may get still more interesting.
13. Getting Robbed: A Semi-Fiction
No further explanation necessary for the time being...