Egocentrism before the Selfie Age

Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”
Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband (1895)

“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”
Jalaluddin Rumi (1207 – 1273)

romneyrussell
George Romney, Portrait of Lady Barbara Anne Russell née Whitworth
holding her son, Sir Henry Russell, “on one of the pier tables, playing with the looking glass”
(quoted from Sir Henry Russell’s memoir about the commission of the painting)

Oil on canvas, 1786/87. Last exhibited in ‘On Reflection’ at the National Gallery in 1998.

That tragic, ruthless glance… is a question of his salvation…..
All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce
Kierkegaard (1813 -1855)

One of the mirrors in the house, an old pier glass inside a gilded oval frame that had lost its lustre a generation ago,
had cracked from too much self-reflection.
The more often they looked, the less clearly they saw themselves.

Noelle Mackay, All the Rest (2017)

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Seasonal affective disorder

toohappytimevanda

“MAY YOU HAVE A QUITE TOO HAPPY TIME”
Greeting card designed by Albert Ludovici, 1882 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It’s not true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

merrychristmasvanda

Lithograph print for an English greeting card, circa 1865 – 85 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

It just kills you more slowly.

The barely visible author

bazille mericJean-Frédéric Bazille, The Terrace at Méric (Oleander) 1867 Oil on canvas, Art Museum, Cincinnati. Image source: WGA

QUOTES FROM WRITER NOËLLE MACKAY:

I like being invisible. I reject the meek life of a wannabee. I don’t want to spend a life in waiting for a dish that might never come, or that I’ll have to send back when it’s served cold.

I’d rather be a successful fraud than a failed tryer. Chameleons are the best of nature’s artists. If people don’t understand or like what you’re saying, change colour to communicate the same thing.

blueroomancher

Anna Ancher Sunlight in the Blue Room. Helga Ancher Knitting in her Grandmother’s Room 1891
Oil on canvas, Skagens Museum, Skagen. Image: WGA

As I write to please myself by following trains of thought to their derailment, reaching success station was never likely. After so long in the sidings, I started missing other people, even the voice saying “Eh? What did you say?” or “That’s stupid”.

I don’t think effort and/or self-belief are substitutes for talent and finishing skills. If something’s not working, shut it down. A hundred new beginnings are worth more than one bad ending.

lazinessRamon Casas i Carbó Laziness 1898-1900 Oil on canvas, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.
Image: WGA

Rosalind was joking when she said good wine needs no bush. If truth is essential to good (as distinct from popular) writing, the possibility of being neither good nor popular should not be discounted.

Writers, artists, and actors have a professional duty to hold the mirror up to nature, not to reflect ourselves fumbling to hold the mirror up in the right position, in the right light, on the right day.

madameinthemirrordegasDegas Madame Jeantaud in the Mirror 1875 Oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: WGA

The selfie is the death mask of self-criticism.

While we were mesmerized by our own reflections, we slipped into akrasia. We have lost self-command and feel justified by proof of existence alone.

I work in anti-social media.

A STORY BY NOËLLE MACKAY CAN BE READ HERE

hammershoiVilhelm Hammershøi Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor, 1901.
Image: SMK

reblog: Carapace

FairyTales(BostonPublicLibrary)

Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith. Chromolithograph for book cover illustration (c 1861 – 97). Boston Public Library. Source: Wikipedia.

extract from a story by Noëlle Mackay (reblogged from Tumblr)

“She’s mad. And she hates me. I’m sure she wants to kill me.” Imogen, unusually agitated, trying too hard to keep her tone flippant, was standing in her kitchen, clutching a glass of wine far too early in the afternoon, knowing she was about to give away too much to her avid audience of one. “And she’s living in my house, looking after my children, sleeping with my husband.”

“Darling, you are so lucky and so beautiful – your life is a Victorian melodrama. Oliver is so sexy, we all want to sleep with him.”

Mark, for all the campery, had hit the nail on the head. Oliver was less of a person than an object, everyone’s object, the golden goose, there for the laying, if only you could get to the front of the queue. She had known that when she married him; she could hardly accuse him of betrayal.

Mark was so wise for such a young man, young enough to be her son, though she would never say it. He was exquisite, slender and fair, with an angelic face and solemn judge’s eyes.

Flirting with him was a courtly pleasure that relaxed her. The mind sex invented by women when they were chattels of men in tights was still liberating. She wondered if Oliver  thought atavistically of her as a chattel. It would explain a lot. “Marriage is no real excuse for not loving” she remembered, but couldn’t remember the last time she had felt loving towards her husband.

Annoyingly, Mark didn’t drink alcohol. She put down her glass of wine. “It would be better if I started smoking. All we need is something to keep fingers and mouth occupied. I’m sure that’s why my mother smoked so much. She did everything else in moderation. I wish I was like her. How is your mother?”

“She is well; she is beautiful like you; she knows how to organize her life, though it is harder now my father is home so much.”

“But they love each other, don’t they? They’ve made it work.”

“They got used to being apart. It was a pact: he earned the money abroad; my mother brought us up and worked when she could.”

“And I can’t manage without a frigging nanny.” Heroically, Imogen did not pour another glass.

She looked distractedly around the gleaming work surfaces and artfully distressed furniture of the room, where every utensil and flower was coordinated for a lovely whole.

Imogen had created this order herself. She was a priestess of shabby chic, manifested in her clothes, her expensive hair-cut and make-up that did not look like make-up. She wanted everything to look natural and spontaneous, which cost her great effort.

floor scrapers

Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte (1875) Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

She continued: “Is that what you’re thinking? My poor, privileged children. I hate having a nanny. I don’t know how I let it happen. Any of it. Do you feel hard done by, have regrets, about your father’s absence I mean?”

“No. He made money to make us free. My sisters and I wouldn’t have got our flats without his help. We’d never have afforded tuition fees. They thought it through.”

“And are you free? Do you feel free? I don’t. Now I think I have to welcome refugees to my spare room – the one She’s got now. And I don’t really want them. Well,  I want nice ones, of course. But I can’t choose people as if they were rescue dogs or cats. I can’t face more clutter, more emotion. Isn’t that bad? To reject my White Woman’s Burden? To think that I could use refugees as an excuse to evict the nanny? Thank God I never tell the truth on Facebook.” Continue reading

Pretty and Powerful in Pink

Philippe de Champaigne, 1602 - 1674 Cardinal de Richelieu 1633-40 Oil on canvas, 259.5 x 178.5 cm Presented by Charles Butler, 1895 NG1449 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG1449

ABSOLUTE POWER: Cardinal de Richelieu, oil on canvas, 1633-40 by Philippe de Champaigne.
Image: © Copyright The National Gallery, London 2015
“I have the consolation of leaving your kingdom in the highest degree of glory and of reputation”, the dying Richelieu wrote to Louis XVIII, father of Louis XIV. The foundations of French gloire in the reign of the Sun King were laid by Richelieu. He wears Cardinal’s Robes of pink, the liturgical colour of rejoicing in God.

gainsboroughcountesshoweREAL ESTATE, SEX AND FASHION POWER in one woman: Mary, Countess Howe by Gainsborough, oil on canvas, 1764.
Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, London. Image: WGA
This exquisite incarnation of 18th century elegance and aristocracy was the wife of a gouty admiral. She had been born into a wealthy, landowning family and was co-heiress with her sister of their father’s substantial property; her marriage brought her into the aristocracy when her husband inherited the title of Viscount.
She is pretty and formidable, sensually alluring and untouchable. The love with which Gainsborough imbues her portrait and the poetically moody sky is thought by art historians to not be an entire illusion, as he was known to become sexually attracted to his good-looking female sitters, a professional hazard for many portraitists of all epochs.

In the same year Gainsborough painted Mary Howe, on the other side of the Channel, the woman who had redefined, owned and commercialized pink, the king’s mistress and unofficial cultural minister of France, Madame de Pompadour, died.

pompadourboucher

Madame de Pompadour by Boucher, 1759. Wallace Collection, London. Image: WGA
SELF-MADE POWER: elegant, gentle, carnal yet intangible, suggestible but not forceful – this is the quintessentially feminine power of influence crafted by the woman herself.

Such a soft, shell-like pink reminiscent of idealized human flesh tones, is flattering next to a middle-aged woman’s skin, but it is also suggestive of the colour of the sky when the sun rises and sets, and, in the iconography of her relationship with Louis XV, the sun god was the symbol of her lover and master, the king. Her favourite portraitist Boucher, was the genius and pander of pink.

MarilynpinkCELEBRATION OF PINK POWER: Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the pink satin dress designed by Travilla, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953. Image: Wikipedia
Blatant materialism and feminine predatory sexuality find absolution in pure, sweet, shocking pink celebration of being alive.
Marilyn is the girl whose faults we all forgive.

Pink is the colour of joy.

Angel in a pink dress under a pink glass ceiling (2)

“I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! …I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”

If the first dear readers of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre had known the writer was a woman they would have smirked over Jane’s cry for freedom. Oh, poor, plain, chatty Jane! How embarrassing for her. An hysterical woman screaming for attention. Love me love me Mr Rochester even though I’m poor and not pretty.

Under the impression that a man was communicating to them through an imaginary female body, the reader thinks – oh, if HE says so, perhaps there’s a point to all this spiritual and sexual equality thing after all.

And collusion with prejudice, having to play along with patriarchy, was the reason Charlotte wasn’t happy pretending to be a masculine writer. But, traditionally, this was how women had achieved enormous power over sexes and nations.

mariatheresa ghent

Martin van Meytens, Empress Maria Theresa, Town Hall Ghent. Image: WGA
A Serious Woman in a Pink Dress
Like the dress choices of Elizabeth I, and, intriguingly, the present Duchess of Cambridge, everything the great Habsburg empress and European matriarch wore in public was laden with political and diplomatic significance.
The pink dress she wears is covered in Flemish lace, a gift from the states of Flanders. She presented this formal portrait to them as a reciprocal gift, and it still hangs in Stadhuis Ghent.
She was an able, pragmatic and hardworking statesman, who passed many reforms though deeply conservative in her convictions and a devout Roman Catholic instinctively intolerant of religious diversity.
Though she held the real power, she only bore the title Empress by virtue of being married to the elected Holy Roman Emperor, because no woman could be a candidate, and after his death, as co-ruler with her son Joseph II. In her domestic life, too, she observed the glass ceiling: she was an obedient wife who had sixteen children by her faithless husband.
Like many strong-minded women who achieve power on their own merits she was not interested in the cause of female emancipation in general.
It is easy to understand why Elizabeth I never married.

Prejudice is resilient. It is ancient as the time when Eve replaced Lilith – and which of them wore pink, then? Every time the ceiling cracks, it is quickly repaired, by as many women as men, afraid of their shade of pink, the eternal feminine, being subverted by female literary terrorists.

Once upon a time, the most powerful of angelic messengers wore pink when they brought good news.

pink

Fra Angelico Annunciation 1433-34 Tempera on wood, Museo Diocesano, Cortona. Image: WGA
The announcing angel Gabriel is wearing a pink dress and an expensive gold leaf androgynous haircut.
Rose-pink is the liturgical colour of rejoicing.

Pink should not need an apology. There are many shades of pink. I’m not going to give it up; it is a misunderstood colour reclaimed by women writers every day. The best things in life are ambivalent.

Irony is pink.

Yes, dear reader, you can be a woman, wear lipstick, high heels and a pink dress, and be a feminist. You might even grow up to be a writer one day.

Pink. It’s a mistake not to take it seriously.