Not what I wanted to blog about

I was thinking all night of the post I’d write about a clock, an 18th century clock. It started with the clock, anyway, and ended up being more about a mother and daughter.

It was going to be a post about self-isolation and self-improvement, about reason and tolerance defeating ignorance and greed, about women’s fight for equality and independence; about jealousy and love, egos and guillotines; about rebellion and restraint; about philosophy, education and religion; about gaiety, satire and burlesque – lyrics from Gypsy were going to be included (“Sing out, Louise”) – it was a mess, less than the sum of its parts.

The object still exists for you to look at. All you need from me is a link. No words. Everything has been said before. No more blogging, I say.

Instead, I’m copying and pasting a Tweet from the journalist John Crace, about today’s cause célèbre, the latest gobsmacking hypocrisy of the Vote Leave coup leaders who are turning the ancient democracy of Great Britain into a shoddy dictatorship, a tax haven for corrupt, nihilist capitalists, while the rest of us, if we survive the plague, will die from poverty and bitterness, and malnutrition from lowered food standards.

We will be deprived of freedom of movement to work and live and love where we want in Europe, our continent. For some of us, that freedom and that love are the meaning of life itself. We have been dispossessed. We are aliens in our own country.

Tick tock.

The rich will still be able to do what they want, just as Cummings, Great Britain’s eminence grise, did during lockdown, when, knowing he and his wife had COVID-19, he flouted government restrictions by travelling 260 miles to visit his elderly parents with his four year-old child.

Cummings, in his own mind the child of Machiavelli and Nietzsche, doesn’t care; the pastiche prime minister/world king manqué and his equally over-entitled, even creepier associates (who can’t wait to stab him in the back) don’t care; they know there will be no consequences for the shameless. They are unaccountable. They have called democracy’s bluff.

They prey on human frailty. They play on the ordinary person being as selfish and venal as they are. They taunt and tempt like the sleazy admen and dodgy goods’ salesmen they are.

Everything they offer you has fallen off the back of a lorry. They know most of us know. They don’t care. Look how we can spin! Aren’t we funny! More entertaining than the Opposition. Razzamatazz! (Theatre is dead, due to Coronavirus, showing off isn’t.) Bragging how you have twisted the truth impresses more, nowadays, than telling the truth.

If you weren’t as bad as them before, you will be soon.

Tick tock.

John Crace on Twitter:

According to @michaelgove
and other cabinet ministers,
those of us who didn’t break government guidelines
to drive 250 miles just didn’t love
our families and friends enough

Another Tweet, from Aditya Chakrabortty, sums up the depth of this government’s betrayal of a nation:

If only Number 10 had acted as quickly and forcefully on the pandemic in March as it has to save Dominic Cummings

And, because I can’t bear to leave you without something old and pretty, here’s the link to a relic from the Age of Enlightenment and Reason, a neoclassical feminist clock illustrating the power of solitude:

Mantel clock eMuseumPlusb
Mantel clock c. 1768 made for Madame Geoffrin (1699-1777) The Wallace Collection

“One must work with time and not against it.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

The gap in time

“Truth is rightly named the daughter of time, not of authority.” Francis Bacon

 “The eternal silence of these spaces frightens me.” (“Le silence eternel des ces espaces infinis m’effraie.”) Pascal

timeovercomeby truth

Pietro Liberi (Venetian School) Time Being Overcome by Truth c. 1665 Private Collection. Image: WGA.
An exasperated woman puts the boot in.

How many damned anniversaries does each of us have to have?

Are we not reborn with each new experience, so much more important to us than a bloody, noisy, messy, weepy event that cost our mothers pain?

And that’s just the weddings.

And do not the most significant things happen in the unmarked gaps in time? The greatest passions are felt beneath the lines.

Our deepest thoughts are in silent crevices. We climb in and out of them before facing the world again.

I looked, I laughed, I loved, I hated, I remembered so I repeat. The reasons, the true histories, are unrecorded on the face of time – until someone writes a novel or a poem.

There’s an ugly word in the usually beautiful English language for those pregnant pauses and frightening spaces: interstices.

I once had to say it, trembling on the edge of its four syllables of plosive and sibilant gory, in a reading from a Thomas Hardy novel at a wedding, the ears of bride, groom and a hundred guests pricking at me.

They no longer speak to me.

Interstices. A nasty physical condition? Or a neglected classical Greek hero? “Achilles aimed his spear at his mysterious adversary, and raised his shield, but he was not prepared for the quicksilver cunning of Interstices.”

Continue reading

Foreshades of Grey (11)

 or, Behind the Rococo Clock Face

detaildetail of Boucher’s 1756 portrait of Madame de Pompadour

Among the learned books in Madame de Pompadour’s library, there was a unique volume about the rivers of France which had been written, and some of it printed, many years before by a diligent and inquisitive eight year old boy, based on his lessons in geography and typography.

Louis XV’s Cours des principaux fleuves et rivières de l’Europe (Courses of the Principal Rivers and Streams of Europe), written in 1718, which the adult man gave to his mistress as a token of the conscientious king that the playboy of Versailles had once wanted to be, survives in the Bibliothèque nationale.

The little print shop, which was built for Louis XV in the Tuileries nearly sixty-five years before Marie Antoinette’s fantasy-farm was installed at Le Petit Trianon, had a serious educative purpose to instill appreciation of crafts and machinery in a cultured king whose interests and personal accomplishments should reflect the nation’s glorious achievements.

Louis ‘the well-beloved’ grew up to enjoy his cultural responsibilities as king and patron of the arts and sciences. He enjoyed music, ballet and theatre; he supported scientific and botanical expeditions. He was fascinated by scientific invention and experiments, including some of the earliest in electricity. He collected timepieces, filling Versailles with all sorts of clocks and astronomical and navigational precision instruments.

Fashionable society followed his lead and the manufacture of technically advanced and high end luxury products in France boomed as a result. They included an exquisite and ingenious wind-up ring-watch, with a white face against a blue and gold background, set in diamonds, made in 1755 by Caron for Madame de Pompadour, which nowadays might operate as a cellphone and computer as well as tell the time, a smart-ring for people who have everything.

Stop the clock. The pendulum has swung so far to the right, that if one’s not careful, one might be seduced. This was the same middle-aged roué who neglected to reform the government and economy, whose foreign policy brought shameful defeat on the European battlefield, lost France her colonial empire, and nearly bankrupted the State, who died hated by the impoverished people for betraying them to famine and aristocratic oppression.

He died in agony, his once handsome face covered in black smallpox scabs, from a virulent strain of the disease which made his corpse decompose so quickly that it could not be embalmed, and its stench came through the coffin. This is the horror that always lay behind the pink and gold, the scalloped ormolu and arch pastoral, the self-mocking prettiness and smiling insouciance, the high comedy of Rococo.

It was the ancien régime’s stage-set breakwater against the tidal wave, which the king and Madame de Pompadour and anybody of sense knew was coming, at a time which no-one could rewind or stop.

PenduleastronomiquedePassemantAstronomical clock designed by the engineer Passemant in Louis XV’s clock room at Versailles, presented to the king in 1750. Image: Wikipedia.
A king’s obsession with devices measuring time and space compensates for inability to rule his country; the ornate gilded decoration successfully disguises serious technological invention and precision.

His grandson, Louis XVI, had ten scientific laboratories at Versailles as well as his locksmith’s forge and carpentry workshop. He was like any other man in his home, doing DIY, relaxing by mending things, solving practical problems with his tools as therapy for being unable to control the vast, insoluble world outside his cave.

If Louis XVI had been politically adept, and time hadn’t run out for the Bourbon brand of absolutism founded by the terrifying despot Louis XIV, his wholesome hobbies would have endeared him to the people, instead of demonstrating how unfit he was to be king during economic austerity and social revolution.

Louis XVI had a library of 8000 books, so wins the Versailles bibliophiles’ contest for sheer quantity.

Madame de Pompadour enjoyed reading comedies and novels. She died in 1764, so the popular plays and the novel that define sex and power in 18th century French society most vividly for posterity were not in her collection. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, was published in 1782; Beaumarchais’ satirical comedy Le Barbier de Séville was first performed in 1775; the first public reading at Versailles of Le Mariage de Figaro was in 1781.

Her library included historical romances written by women. Much as she enjoyed a laugh, there is no record that she read vapid fantasies of sexual obsession and female degradation. She had quite enough trouble avoiding that at home with Louis XV.

clock