Friendly intervention (2)

“But for what purpose was the earth formed?” asked Candide. “To drive us mad,” replied Martin.
Voltaire, Candide

The great English immigration question: Why was Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, sent to England?
“Twill, a not be seen in him there; there the men are as mad as he”. Shakespeare, Hamlet

As a nation, once praised by the rest of the world for its common sense, marches to the sound of Trumpery ever nearer towards the cliff edge of “Global Britain”, we need to listen to the advice of friends, sincerely alarmed for our well-being. Nobody wants to see an old friend behaving irrationally, suffering delusions, swallowing a diet of deep fried lies and chlorinated chicken, deliberately detaching themselves from reality.

Delacroix Hamlet and Horatio in the Graveyard 1839
Quintessential pan-European heroes of English literature, visualized by a Frenchman, taking a look at 21st Century Brexit, the death of the UK as they and we know it.

Friends all over the world, not just EU Members, have warned us against Brexit for 3 years. Mark Rutte, the conservative-liberal Prime Minister of the Netherlands, candidly told us that Brexit would diminish the UK and that our own next Prime Minister is disregarding facts about trade, treaties and constitutions, all the stuff we thought politicians needed to know about. Johnson is a Post-Truth leader. He knows facts don’t matter to his supporters.

“Is politics nothing other than the art of deliberately lying?” Voltaire

Lying was not invented by Trump or Johnson. They’ve just dumbed it down for modern consumption, and it’s working, just like extra sugar, fat and salt have worked.

But the thing about these demagogues, these narcissists spouting racism and sexism with impunity on either side of the Atlantic, these satanic tempters of human vice disguised as wobbly blonde clowns, the thing that lets them get away with betraying the national interest while promoting their own, is that they are rich, very, very rich. They can afford to tell lies because they, unlike the majority of us, can afford the consequences.

“The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.” Voltaire

New tariffs, higher basic food and drink prices, job redundancies, increased travel tax, the severance of rights to work and love abroad, the erosion of workers rights and environmental and food standards, the cancelled scientific and cultural projects, the loss of opportunity for equality and liberty, the loss of all the things that make the human condition bearable, which was once collectively called civilization, don’t matter to the Brexit ringleaders because they can buy the food and holiday and lover and power they want.

You vote for a madman, you get a mad country.

Or, as a European friend to humanity warned in a more elegant turn of phrase, long, long ago:

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” Voltaire

Will anything spewed on to my obscure web page change a mind? Of course not. I am not an Influencer. I am one of a million Cassandras, shrieking on our self-assembled walls.

I defer to Remainer Now, the community for people with the courage to change their minds, heroes of the corrupt 2016 Referendum, along with Led by Donkeys, who have given the ineffectually led Remain cause the inspirational marketing that it needed from the beginning.

Led by Donkeys projection on the White Cliff of Dover, appealing to our historic friends in Europe for help in our time of madness, 2019

The right to change our minds is at the heart of democracy. That is why, after a civil war and constitutional revolution or two, we have fixed term parliaments. The idea was to save us from tyranny. Brexit is delivering us to a specifically modern tyranny, designed by oligarchs to be delivered by the people against the people. There are risks to another referendum (the third in UK on EU membership, not the second) but it would be entirely democratic in principle.

 “The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.”
Voltaire
The great advantage that Leavers have over Remainers is optimism:
“Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?”
“Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.”
Voltaire, Candide
If you are neither inveterate Leaver nor Remainer, if you are the Great British Fence Sitter, if you are Micawber or Waverer, or Neutralist or Opportunist, if you think not taking sides in the moment before an execution is morally superior, if you think there is nothing better you could do, then be quizzed by our friend Voltaire:

“I should like to know which is worse: to be ravished a hundred times by pirates, and have a buttock cut off…and be flogged and hanged in an auto-da-fe, and be dissected, and have to row in a galley – in short, to undergo all the miseries we have each of us suffered – or simply to sit here and do nothing?’

 

“That is a hard question,’ said Candide.”
Voltaire, Candide
Nobody reads for long anymore. I don’t. Farage was right not to bother with a manifesto. Nobody reads a manifesto, nowadays. Ignorance is power.
We read slogans that would fit on a T-shirt.

“If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?”
Voltaire, Candide
Stop Brexit. Save Britain. Revoke Article 50. Reform. Reunite.

History will condemn this period

“My God. History will condemn this period. It will condemn those who’ve sat back and kept their view to themselves, who haven’t stood up and tried to stop all this nonsense.”

Read the full interview with Anna Soubry – a rare black swan in the dismal swamp of British “Brexit” politics – in The Observer.

“I am simply not prepared to stand back and watch my country fall off a cliff edge. If that means voting against my party, so be it.”

“It’s like the counter-revolutionary forces of Chairman Mao or Joe Stalin. It’s not enough that you went against everything you ever believed in; you have to sign up in blood. It’s like Orwell’s thought police and the reign of terror combined”

I’m not just a lonely Fringe Cassandra, after all…..My country needs saving. Nobody chancing to visit this seldom visited place should underestimate the severity of Britain’s self-inflicted wound by Withdrawing from the European Union. Britain is killing itself. HELP

Hamlet: ….why was he sent into England?

First Clown: Why, because ‘a was mad. ‘A shall recover his wits there;
or, if ‘a do not, ’tis no great matter there.

Hamlet: Why?

First Clown: ‘Twill not he seen in him there. There the men are as mad as
he.

STOP THE MADNESS

The Denialists

For once – I hope it’s only once –  I’m going to let two rich, middle-aged men speak for me.

They didn’t even remember to invite me to their party, but I, like them, am an angry denialist, rejecting this country’s fatalistic decline.

Before you generously ‘Like’ this post, you should know that I don’t respect the vote of anyone who voted Leave. When I try to, I’m lying to myself, and I won’t do that to you.

I think Leaving is deluded. I think the EU Referendum trivialized democracy and has betrayed our country’s past and future. I don’t want to “move on” into complicity. I prefer to stand ranting on the spot.

I know blogging about Brexit is silly and futile, but blogging is nothing if not a vent for denial and frustration, an illusion of empowerment, an undignified scramble for Likes and Followers similar to that of politicians and demagogues as they harry the country eating babies and kissing chips. [sic]

It’s my scream in the dark and if the noise disturbs you, I’m not sorry.

Cassandra lamentingJan Swart van Groningen, Woman Lamenting by a Burning City 1550-55
Pen in black, brush in brown,
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Image: WGA

Extract from The Guardian, 12 May 2017.
[Ian] McEwan said: “I belong to the smallest, saddest, most pessimist faction: I am a denialist. Almost a year on, I am still shaking my head in disbelief. I know it’s not helpful, but I don’t accept this near mystical, emotionally-charged decision. How can it be that in a one-off vote, a third of the electorate have determined the fate of the nation for the next half-century?”

“The musician and activist Bob Geldof said: “I loved [McEwan’s] rejectionism. Anger is a great animus. I heard too much reasoned debate this morning. I resent those who voted leave. There is too much hubris that infects the political class. Fuck them.”

Does Geldof make sense, rejecting reasoned debate? Not much. I thought it used to be Leavers who didn’t have reasoned arguments, only sentiment and gut feelings, but now it seems everyone is mad in England, just as the gravedigger told Hamlet they were.

HAMLET
Ay, marry, why was he sent into England?

GRAVEDIGGER
Why, because he was mad. He shall recover his wits there, or, if he do not, it’s no great matter there.

HAMLET
Why?

GRAVEDIGGER
‘Twill not be seen in him there. There the men are as mad as he
.

Romney, George, 1734-1802; Lady Emma Hamilton (1761?-1815) as Cassandra

Lady Emma Hamilton as Cassandra.
Oil painting by George Romney © National Maritime Museum.

Emma Hamilton, painted by Romney at the height of her beauty and celebrity, long before she became Nelson’s blowsy, beloved trophy and resented by the ungrateful nation to whom he bequeathed her, in the character of Cassandra, the prophetess no-one believed.

“People are frightened of being associated with me in any way, shape or form.”
Gina Miller
interviewed by The Guardian, 13 May, 2017

Facing the world (3) through Acedia

 “The blues are brewin” (sung by Billie Holiday)

Acedia is a form of depression that was identified by theologians of the early Christian Church with sloth, a spiritual fatigue caused by too much time to brood and day-dream, especially in monasteries and convents, where self-discipline and self-motivation were essential for mental health.

At least one blogger is feeling the same symptoms today.

In the early 5th century, the ascetic and mystic John Cassian described acedia as “weariness or distress of the heart…akin to dejection”. Some of his suggested cures were manual work, sympathizing and caring for other people with loving kindness, taking plenty of exercise.

Later, in secular society, the same feelings of boredom and hopelessness were caused by the dull repetition of tasks at work or at home, whichever you were chained to, and by excessive pleasures and luxury of choice among the leisured classes.

More recently, acedia has been linked to the rise of consumerism in the 20th century. I’d add the Lottery, and the misuse of the word “aspiration” to dress up acquisitiveness in angel’s clothing. Modern shopping for stuff isn’t quite what the socialist arts leaders had in mind when they called for cultural beauty to be accessible and affordable to all of us.

Acedia is a sickly leveller, affecting rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots.

Continue reading

the front of the picture

Part eight of Nothing

KMS5

Is this a photograph of an easel and canvasses arranged for a trendy shop window display? Or you might see it on the cover of one of those aspirational free lifestyle mags published by estate agents, showing off the latest interior design features to fill those awkward corners of a penthouse with river view.

We know it’s staged – no real painter’s easel ever looks like that – but it is a reproduction of a real three-dimensional, isn’t it?

It is the three-hundred and forty year old optical illusion proving that human life is transient and meaningless, but art is not:

Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts Cut-Out Trompe l’Oeil Easel with Fruit Piece oil on canvas 1670-1672.
Image: SMK – Statens Museum, Copenhagen..

Is this why all of us, even if we can’t draw or paint or write much more than a list of tags, are so desperate to leave our mark? Because we can’t bear being meaningless?  Even if we can’t find a market for it? Even if we’re vanity publishing?

Posting on our online pin boards is another opiate for existential angst, supplying illusions ad infinitum. We think it keeps us sane, even while we drive everyone else mad. All is vanity.

Our response to the portrait of Lord Rochester holding a laurel crown over a monkey is dictated by the subject matter, because the charisma of the wild glamour boy poet, and the daring symbolism, which was the patron’s idea, not the artist’s, are more striking than Huysman’s execution, gorgeous though the baroque reds and ochres are.

Most Vanitas painting, of everyday objects, just stuff lying around, succeeded in glorifying itself as much as the customer’s lifestyle choices.

It was bravura advertizing of the painter’s technique and ingenuity, especially in conveying perspective, and of the power of art, in which the painting triumphed over the concept, the artist over the patron, however rich or royal; as an exercise in humility it defeated its own object. It is utterly vain. It’s not even transient.

The strict moral message is usually, thank God, almost completely submerged in wonderfully extravagant decorative effects, like theatre design.

The seventeenth century was as fluent in theatrical metaphor as we are in digital media and the manipulated image. Vanitas, which at first glance is the least dramatic of historic painting, with none of the stories to tell of landscape and portraits, is all about theatrical illusion.

Gijsbrechts created his delectable fruit-piece for the Danish king’s cabinet of curiosities. It was plainly described in the inventory from 1674 as: “A stand with painter’s paraphernalia painted on perspective.” (SMK website, which is superb.)

Even without tricks of perspective, the most mundane looking Baroque still life is set-dressing of a drama or satirical comedy, an illustration to a Shakespearean soliloquy about the futility of life, in which the cloud capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, all our invented consolations dissolve; or it simply looks good enough to eat.

dessert

Photo: Martin Hübscher Photography © 2014

And there is more vanity to come, in yet another post….

No room for another post

Part one of Nothing

trompe

Cornelius Gijsbrechts (c. 1630 – c. 1683) Trompe l’oeil of a Letter Wall,
oil on canvas, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent. Image: WGA
Letter walls, or pin boards, were popular during the age of cabinets of curiosities. This Vanitas painting by a master of illusionism alludes to the pointlessness of writing, and ultimately of the painting itself, from the briefest letter to the most elaborately printed book, all of them posted here, along with the tools we use to scratch our individual marks on time.

ALL IS VANITY, INCLUDING BLOGGING

Gijsbrechts was a Flemish artist who specialised in Vanitas, a deceptively bleak spiritual outlook dominant in northern European art of the seventeenth century about the worthlessness of all human endeavour. Accomplished still-life artists were able to earn a living through a genre which made rich Protestants feel better about their rampant materialism, so they could carry on buying stuff, and paying for art and literature, with a clear conscience.

It was also an enjoyable and sophisticated visual game, stuffed with intellectual allusions to flatter high-brow patrons, and, whenever artists deployed illusionist perspective, enough tricks of the eye to beguile everybody.

Trompe_l'oeil._Skab_fra_kunstnerens_atelier

Gijsbrechts A Cabinet in the Artist’s Studio, 1670-71.
Image: SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
One of the more conventionally cluttered of Gijsbrechts’ Vanitas paintings is still studio-bound, a painting about painting itself, and the painter, rather than morality; it is art for art’s sake, and a self-portrait.

At the same time as reflecting that they were justified by Faith alone, the patrons could show off all their acquisitions, the luxurious furnishings, the architectural garden features, the exotic flowers and fruit, a token rotting one, of course, their hunting trophies, and all their books, their pictures, their musical and scientific instruments, everything which makes life bearable and beautiful, none of which cannot save any of us, a point often rubbed in by a skull knocking about, to put the fear of God into you.

Baroque Yoricks proliferated like zombies and skeleton armies in the post-apocalyptic, internet-free visions of our own culture.

KMSst537

Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’oeil with Studio Wall and Vanitas Still Life, 1668.
Image: SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen
While deceiving us like a magician with the illusion we are looking at three-dimensional objects, the artist has taken the opportunity to do some very realistic self-advertizing by adding his address details to his name on the piece of paper tucked into the bottom of the frame.

All is vanity, including blogging, but occasionally we are dazzled into believing otherwise. During the course of picture research for this blog, I came across a website and art collection new to me, of the great national gallery of Denmark, proving that the journey is often more rewarding than the destination.

No visit, real or virtual, to SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, is in vain. Please go!

This journey into Nothing will be continued….