The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Empty Gesture

That uniquely commercial synthesis of boorishness and squeamishness which characterises the classical British moral panic is visible to full, voluptuous advantage, with just a naughty touch of daring Situationist provocation, in a stunt by Manchester Art Gallery. An icky Pre-Raphaelite painting by John William Waterhouse, apparently the David Hamilton of the Victorian era, has been removed from display, and postcards reproducing the image will no longer be sold in the shop. The idea is to "prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks" by allowing the public to put Post-It notes in the empty space; which is unquestionably what Art should be all about. It is certainly a gesture worthy of a nation of entrepreneurs: there can be few more economical ways of stimulating discussion about paintings than by not displaying them.


  • At 10:02 pm , Blogger Emma said...

    I think this is weird as hell. It doesn't even make any sense. Are they worried the nymphs are sexually harassing Hylas? I'm all for making bullies and harassers of all genders and backgrounds pay (including imaginary teenage nymphs, I guess), and for depicting a wider range of sexual imagery (including less-hierarchical, un-Victorian portrayals) — but the idea is to add content to the canon, not destroy history. This is a Victorian vision of a Classical myth; it exists outside framework of modern politics, and should't be made to pay for perverts creeping on their subordinates in the workplace.

    Perhaps the museum could commission a postmodernist comment on Waterhouse's gauzy femmes, if they wanted to contextualize his work in political terms; something which reuses his images in a way that calls attention to their cultural limitations without denying their power and history.

    I'm worried this news is going to give the idiots over here in my country some ideas, to be honest.

    Lastly, I would like to stipulate that I really love your blog! I've been reading it for the past few days (I'm back through August), and I especially enjoy your "Bad Theology" posts. Anybody who does the hard, thankless work of actually reading the Bible deserves public accolades, in my opinion.

  • At 6:34 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    Thanks for dropping in.

    It does take a certain something to be more hypocritically prurient than the Victorians and at the same time rival the postmodernists for vapid controversy-mongering. I suppose one might call it Stresandian meta-censorship - they've obviously realised that merely banning things just causes more discussion, so what's not to marketise? It could mean a new and cleaner dawn in art, the dawn of Postitmodernism - public galleries full of blank walls littered with scribbled squares, while the actual paintings fulfil their natural function of being sold to private collectors.

  • At 2:15 am , Blogger Emma said...

    It could mean a new and cleaner dawn in art, the dawn of Postitmodernism - public galleries full of blank walls littered with scribbled squares

    Sir, I wonder if you are aware that this is something Americans actually do?

    It's much less bad than most of the other things we do, so I'm not inclined to complain about it.

    I wondered if I might ask you something about some of the terms you use in your blog posts? Well, here I am asking it, so it's up to you whether you reply or not. I'm able to look up most of the government officials that you talk about — I guess "the Imperial Haystack" is Boris Johnson, "the Bullingdon Club" is the Cameron administration, "Tumbledown Tessie" = Theresa May, "the race-baiting Clegg-pledger in the Home Office" = Amber Rudd, etc. But I don't know what "the Conservative party and its little yellow enablers" or "the Bullingdon Club and its little orange faglings" are. I tried Googling it and found, oh! Horrible things.

    Thank you!

  • At 8:37 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    At least the Giant Robot Post-its are actual pictures, and the opinon Post-its are on subway walls and not gallery walls. It took the British genius to remove the art from the art Post-its, and to place in the gallery what belongs on the subway.

    The little yellow enablers are the Liberal Democrats, who once pretended to some sort of interest in liberalism and democracy. This pretence ended in 2010, when they served as the Conservative Party's accomplices in a hard-right coalition for the benefit of malnourished tax-dodgers and underprivileged press barons. Yellow is the colour of their party logo, as well as their moral fibre. Orange refers to the Orange Bookers, the right-wing faction of the LibDems which controlled the party at the time.

    A fag in the English public school system (viz. the English private school system) was a junior boy who was the personal servant of a senior boy. I don't think the practice is officially sanctioned at schools any longer, but given our present careering course back to the nineteenth century and beyond, its resurrection cannot be far away.

  • At 3:04 am , Blogger Emma said...

    You have a point about the Post-its.

    I have heard of the Liberal Democrats, but I didn't know they were associated with the color yellow. The Orange Bookers are beyond me. I looked them up & they sound kind of like American libertarians, except that American libertarians are out-and-proud Social Darwinists. And also Ayn Rand fans. And also stupid. They pretend not to be Republicans until the time comes to renew legislation that allows the American government to spy on its own citizens without a warrant or probable cause, and then suddenly Questions Remain. It's cute.

    I didn't know the thing about the fags, either (I thought fags were cigarettes). That sounds really awful! I don't even know what to say about it.

    I bought a couple of your books: Against Britishness and The Satanic Supplement. I think I'm going to go for the Robert Aickman book next; Aickman is one of my favorite writers, but there's not much real criticism of him available online and I'm deplorably ignorant of the contexts in which his stories are set, which can sometimes diminish my enjoyment of them. I hope you cover The Late Breakfasters — it's my favorite of Aickman's books, but there's a lot about it I just don't understand.

    Thank you for replying!

  • At 12:12 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    Thanks very much; I hope you enjoy my off-blog snipings and ravings. The Aickman booklet was published in 2010, when The Late Breakfasters was still unobtainable; but I did write an introduction for the Valancourt edition. Akin to Poetry might be difficult to get hold of nowadays, but if you're interested I can email you a pdf.

  • At 8:58 am , Blogger Emma said...

    if you're interested I can email you a pdf
    Oh my god, that would be amazing! Thank you. Are you sure you wouldn't mind? I don't want to cheat you out of any proceeds from the sale. I'll definitely pick up that edition of The Late Breakfasters, as well; I have a nondescript Faber & Faber paperback, but that gorgeous cover illustration is calling my name.

    The Late Breakfasters is a bittersweet favorite of mine, and Aickman is a pleasantly complex author — until really recently I thought he was a pseudonymous gay woman. He clearly had a personalized inventory of narrative imagery that he liked to rely on, which is what makes his short stories compelling beyond their brevity — but in The Late Breakfasters that's all complicated (I think) by comments he's making about history and culture, which I just don't get and wouldn't know how to research meaningfully. And it's a book that nobody talks about! Very frustrating.

    Anyway, thank you again for your response!

  • At 8:05 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    The Faber Finds edition of The Late Breakfasters is a disgrace - full of misprints that could have been cleared up in half an hour using MS Word's spell-checker. Its only claim to attention is that it's a reprint of a book which had been so hard to find. Gary W Crawford did talk about it a bit in his biographical study, but had to spend most of the space on plot summary.

    Many of Aickman's best work throws out allusions of all sorts, and he often comments quite directly on what he considered the ills of his time, which can sometimes make for obscurity by a different route.

    I've mailed the pdf to your duskglass address - hope you enjoy it.

  • At 1:32 pm , Blogger Emma said...

    Well, I had no idea my copy of The Late Breakfasters was a disgrace — I noticed a few typos, but I'm so used to reading ebooks that it didn't bother me much. That's actually tragic, now that I see it written down.

    which can sometimes make for obscurity by a different route

    Thank you so much for the copy of your book! I just checked that account and saw it, and I'm beside myself. I might now get a chance to find out what some of these amazing stories are actually supposed to be about; what a time to be alive.

    I also want to say that I really enjoyed Against Britishness. For most Americans, the UK performs the offices of the Promised Land in Bible stories, in that we don't know very much about it but think it's a wonderful place of sacred politeness and intact antiquity, and we want to go there but fear we wouldn't be welcome. There is a kind of holiness that encircles your culture, too; most us us only ever have contact with the products of great writers or talented actors or musicians, and so the glamour never really wears off. I found your criticisms pretty startling! Wow. (That is an example of folksy American understatement.) I think you're incredibly talented and insightful, and I'm very glad I found your writing.

    Thank you, so much, again!


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