The unspeakable in full pursuit of the untenable

Stealing-Off-Gillray
Stealing off;—or—prudent Secesion by James Gillray, etching, 1798.
Image source: Wikipedia

OR

Unreasonable Withdrawal; –  A Brexit minister realizes that the EU Withdrawal Bill
is a mistake, 2017

The problem for a Government on the run screaming FAKE NEWS is the inherent danger of self-incrimination. As politics is all about presentation, using the FN plea is an admission of incompetence, at best.

In this meta-weary world, we have got used to the duality of Truth in the modern democratic State. The wonder of Trump is not that a lying, racist, pussy-grabbing bully was elected, but that so many people don’t care that the leader of western democracy is a lying, racist, pussy-grabbing bully.  The panto villain and the demagogue are indistinguishable.

The confusion in the UK over animal sentience confirms that Fake News, not Real News, is the radar for Zeitgeist – it reveals the conscious and unconscious fears of both the public and its rulers.

It is unreasonable to argue, as Zac Goldsmith did, that there is no need to integrate the EU’s specific recognition of animal sentience into English law on the grounds that “self-evidently animals are sentient”. Self-evident truths are not legally binding. Like unalienable human rights, they need protection in law.

The first indisputable fact is that MPs voted to exclude the clause regarding animal sentience from the EU Withdrawal Bill.

The second fact is that, for a couple of days, Leavers and Remainers, including Conservative voters, were united in believing that the Brexit Government was capable of denying that animals feel pain and emotion. We were shocked, but not surprised. That’s not a vote of confidence in either the Government or Brexit. We believed that we were seeing the unspeakable in full pursuit of the untenable.

Self-evidence is distressingly nebular, too often confused with subjective truth. It is not self-evident to everyone that Brexit, and specifically this Government, is against the national interest.

The problem for resolute Remainers is to prove the link between the Government’s incoherence and the sinister consequences of Brexit itself. Certain unalienable rights are already under threat. The damage to the economy and quality of life of the average working person is in plain sight.

We marvel at the desperation of asylum seekers risking their futures in unseaworthy boats – and that is exactly what the prosperous UK is doing by getting on board unfeasible Brexit. Self-evidently, leaving the EU is wasting money better spent on NHS, housing and education; it will not solve our deteriorating social problems, or strengthen workers’ rights, any more than it will improve animal welfare.

Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa 1818-1819 Musée du Louvre, Paris. Image source: WGA

In the Brexit shipwreck there are still absolute truths to cling to, but we are running out of time. The Referendum result is not binding. Article 50 is reversible.

We should be uniting against a Government that is betraying the ideals of Leavers, and surpassing the worst fears of Remainers, a Government so incompetent that it cannot control its own wrecking ball.

Truthfully, Brexit must be stopped, for the Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness of everyone in our country.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government on the City Life 1338-40
Fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Image source: Wikipedia

War on Nonsense

Lord Rochester with monkey by Huysmans c. 1675. Image: WGA

Extracted from Twitter thread of Sean Jones QC:

“Brexit fanatics’ responses to my arguments take two broad forms:

1. Shut up, traitor. You lost, just get over it!
2. Why not stop sulking, come together with us and work for a jobs-first, bountiful Brexit?

…..what do I say to the invitation to collaborate in an imaginary pain-free Brexit?

It’s not an invitation I propose to accept, for three reasons:

1. I believe Brexit is an act of national self-harm in all its conceivable forms, and with there still being a reasonable chance it won’t happen, that’s what I want to advocate, and work towards.

2. It would not be like joining a collective Amish barn-raising. After demolishing the existing, perfectly good barn, there is still no unity of Brexiter vision, or purpose, about what to do next. The loudest of them are against having a new barn on principle.

3. Even if those anarchist Amish could be stopped from questioning what the negotiations are intended to achieve, what am I expected actually to do? The answer to that question is clear. What they actually mean is… Shut up. Just stop pointing out the dangers. Stop identifying the harm. We’d rather not be reminded of reality. We’ll go on putting up our vaguely barn-shaped shack made of balsa wood and papier-mache.

Put aside how sinister that it is. It’s also stupid. With a project this hazardous, risk-blindness will all but guarantee failure. We are seeing it in the negotiations right now. A refusal to do the basics: to realistically assess our bargaining position and be clear about our aims courts disaster.

If Remainers ever fell silent, all that would be left would be the sound of the wind rushing in our ears as we fell over the cliff.

I will take action. I will do all I can to help those confused by the Brexiters’ crass stupidity. And ultimately, I’m determined this nonsense will not happen.”
Sean Jones QC

Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’oeil with Studio Wall and Vanitas Still Life 1668.
Image: SMK.

“Man is the reasoning animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal….His record is the fantastic record of a maniac.  I consider that the strongest count against his intelligence is the fact that ….he blandly sets himself up as the head animal of the lot: whereas by his own standards he is the bottom one.”
Mark Twain,
The Lowest Animal, 1896

Virgin Huntress

The case that Charles II, the most priapic and charming of English kings, only practised consensual sex with women is supported by his treatment of the teenage Frances Stewart, later Duchess of Richmond, a tall, slim, blue-eyed dark blonde, who turned him down repeatedly, except for kissing in corners, in full view of non-paying voyeurs like Samuel Pepys.

Frances Stuart, later Duchess of Richmond, by Sir Peter Lely, before 1662. Royal Collection. Image: Wikipedia
La Belle Stuart is portrayed in the character of the virginal huntress, Diana.
She looks like a golden sugared plum, a dainty dish to set before the king,
which is how she was treated in reality.

The royal chase lasted four years. Charles II wanted this splendid specimen in his harem. She preferred to elope with a duke than be the king’s whore. Rather than sulk or threaten to destroy her career, as a lesser man or misogynist might have done, the king, once he got over his resentment and was back in his usual good humour, made her famous for ever by using her as the model for Britannia on the national coinage, with her consent.

That is the story, anyway – Pepys’ story, of course. The influence that one man’s gossip has had over English history is unfathomably pernicious. Why trust a diary, anyway? It is not a reliable testament, any more than the average blog; a diary is for re-writing history before anyone else can, score-settling, wish-fulfillment, slavering over sex fantasies with the royal mistresses, confessions of groping women in church, a whitewashing of days to make the diarist sleep better at night.

Whether the Britannia anecdote is true or not, Pepys helped make Frances famous for centuries after her death, and the figure on the coin sexier.


The 1672 copper farthing, showing Britannia, supposedly based on a likeness of Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond (1674 – 1702), seated on a rock, holding a spear and an olive branch in either hand. The figure and pose were inspired by Roman coins. Frances was celebrated for her Roman profile, and tall, graceful figure,
so it is plausible that she was the model.

And how do we know who slept with whom? Who cares? What moral lesson do we learn? What archetype are we recognizing or longing for?

Whether or not Frances ever had sex with the King, it suited both of them to perpetuate the charming myth of her virginal resistance. Charles, according to the letters he wrote to his sister Minette, had genuinely deep feelings – “tenderness” – for Frances and was hurt by her behaviour – “as bad as breach of friendship and faith can make it”. Whether their relationship was sexually consummated or not, she was supposed to be his trophy, part of his collection.

After her husband the Duke of Richmond died, in 1672, the King granted the widow an annuity of £1000. He was generous to all his mistresses, even the one that said no. He stayed friends with them. It seems that the “easiest King and best-bred man alive” during cared about women as people, not objects.

Rochester in his Satyr on King Charles II also described the “merry monarch” as so “Restless he rolls about from whore to whore”. We – I mean me – are still charmed by King Charles, contemptuous of Mr Pepys.

They were both predators, in an era of unmitigated sexual harassment, and if either of them touched me, in controlled holographic conditions, I’d tell them to stop – but I’d flirt with one and slap a Court order on the other #metoo. Frances Stewart must have felt the same.

Like a Virgin

After the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy, the fashionable ruling class no longer wanted to be portrayed in an elevated spiritual sphere where they knew they didn’t belong. The reward they claimed for going to hell and back was instant gratification, not introspection. Some of them were still secretly very religious, but knowing how short and brutal life could be, waited till their deathbeds for their conversions.

They had lived through Civil War and exile, and they didn’t want to look other-worldly like the previous generation. Nothing was sacred, except survival. A new generation of court painter was happy to oblige with contemporary takes on traditional allegory in a flashier, worldly-wise presentation. The studied nonchalance of Van Dyck’s figures, inspired by Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, crumpled into the straight out of bed look.

On the great consensual casting couch of the Restoration Court, Charles II‘s mistresses competed to make him laugh as much as get into his bed, and one of Lady Castlemaine’s jokes was to have herself painted as the Virgin Mary with her eldest bastard son by the king playing baby Jesus.

Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, Charles FitzRoy, as the Virgin and Child
by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1664. National Portrait Gallery. Image: Wikipedia
Like a modern supermodel, but without make-up, she set the look of the day. Lely used her sensuous features, the heavy-lidded eyes and full lips, as the template for all his portraits of high society beauties, so there were complaints (from Pepys, for instance, and Rochester when he saw the portrait of his wife) that nobody else looked anything like themselves.

She was a sex-addict with a terrible temper and a gambling addiction. Today, she’d be diagnosed with a personality disorder. If she was a man, we’d be terrified of her, and prosecute her for harassment. Instead, we find her entertaining, titillating, challenging, ultimately pathetic.

Barbara is famous for being the most promiscuous, and unfaithful, of Charles II‘s mistresses, portrayed as the nymphomaniac Fuckadilla in a contemporary pornographic satire. Her list of lovers, including Jacob Hall the tight-rope dancer, John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, England’s most victorious general, and the playwright William Wycherley, shows she picked talent. She also paid them generously.

She was a life-force, and could be great fun. She enjoyed the thrill of power, or its illusion, and exerting political influence whenever she could, but for purely selfish reasons, to settle personal scores. She acted from the heart, not the head. She was unsentimental, and sometimes compassionate, an important distinction that we have lost sight of.

She was shocking to the country outside the King’s circle, the incarnation of the immorality and waste at Court, a curse on the country, a scapegoat for all the frustration and disappointment with the restored monarchy.

She was politically useful, that way.

She was not popular, like the People’s Choice among the King’s Ladies, Nell Gwyn; she was the Bad Girl, the Dirty Girl, the Bunny Boiler, the Alien Succubus, the space vampire played by Mathilda May in Lifeforce; she was X-rated, HBO, not terrestrial TV.

She was culturally essential, that way.

Barbara Palmer (née Villiers) as The Penitent Magdalene by Sir Peter Lely.
Image: Wikipedia

There was one gender injustice she could not defy, the plight of the older but still sexual woman. Barbara was forty-five when her protector, the King, died, and everything started going wrong. She got desperate and stopped discriminating. The once gorgeous predator became the prey of bad actors and con-men. She made a disastrous second marriage when she was sixty-five to a bigamist who was after her money.

The last years of her life read like the moralists’ revenge. It is documented in the DNB that in her final illness a dropsy “swelled her gradually to a monstrous bulk”, exactly the kind of private detail about our own or our beloveds’ deaths that we would want kept quiet.

There is a very sad ghost story about Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland as an old woman lamenting her lost beauty as she walks in her high heeled shoes tapping on the wood floor to stare out of the windows of her house on Chiswick Mall.

Good plastic surgery might have prevented that.

The woman while she lived was not penitent. She seized her moment, enjoying the sexual, and bi-sexual, liberation of the Restoration Court as much as any man. Her appetites, or addictions, and her temperament were entirely suited to her time.

The female libertine did not see herself as objectified or victimized, and we should not judge her differently.

Don’t Leave, Tiffany

Tiffany told everyone she was too good to be there….

awakening conscience

William Holman Hunt The Awakening Conscience 1853. Tate Gallery. Image: WGA

and stormed out….

“The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion” (Edmund Burke) and one big delusion, Brexit, is already being ridiculed internationally by political satirists. It is the Ship of State run aground by its captain’s folly, a misled charge for glory and independence through the wrong exit, leaving everyone standing awkwardly in the backyard among the garbage containers, too embarrassed to go back in.

rochesterLord Rochester with Monkey by Huysmans, 1670s, an allegory of human pretentiousness and folly.
“….I’d be a dog, a monkey or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal
Who is so proud of being rational.”
(Satire Against Reason and Mankind)
Rochester, when he wasn’t drinking and whoring himself to death or writing
obscene satires and plaintive love lyrics, was a critic of the government’s unwise decisions and duplicity.

Brexit has given teen slang a new word, according to clever and twinkly US chat show host Seth Meyers.

The definition of brexit (verb): to leave a party without thinking of the ramifications of your decisions.

“Tiffany told everyone she was too good to be there and stormed out without realizing she had no money for a taxi, her phone was dead, and she was 3 miles from the nearest subway #Brexit”

apollo_d

DON’T LEAVE, TIFFANY: Apollo and Daphne, marble sculpture 1622 -25 by Bernini. Image: WGA

“Ourselves with noise of reason do we please
In vain: humanity’s our worst disease”.
Tunbridge Wells, John Wilmot, Lord Rochester

A Regency Romance

What explains the enduring appeal of the Regency Romance?

Why has that period in history lent itself more than any other to our fantasies about courtship and social acceptance? The origins of its potency lie older and deeper than the comedies of manners written prolifically by Georgette Heyer, the doyenne of Regency Romance fiction, and the costume rom-coms of the film and movie industries of the last hundred years.

Regency Romance is written to a winning formula nowadays, some of it blissfully unconcerned with syntax or history, but millions of women had fallen in love with Classic Literature’s Mr Darcy for nearly two centuries before the BBC got him wet.  Members of all sexes have obsessed over the period’s dead poets with a sense of connection that felt stronger than many real relationships. Many a girl and boy have thrilled to Byron’s “mad, bad and dangerous” celebrity, or pined to be the one to soothe Keats’ fevered forehead, rather than inadequate Fanny Brawne.

We are all touched by the Regency, even those of us who have never read a romantic novel or would know a pelisse if it arrested us.

John_Arthur_Douglas_Bloomfield,_2nd_Baron_Bloomfield_by_Sir_Thomas_Lawrence

John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield, 2nd Baron Bloomfield, already a career diplomat at the age of seventeen, a pillar of the Establishment trying desperately to look like poet, libertarian political writer and social outcast Lord Byron, painted at full Romantic throttle by Thomas Lawrence, 1819. (National Portrait Gallery. Image: Wikipedia).
The Regency created its own romantically sexy myth long before it was appropriated by later generations.

The Regency period looks more modern to us than either the preceding 18th century age or the following Victorian age. The style of clothes and short hairstyles are still around – even the men’s tight-fitting trousers have been revived as jeggings.

Regency architecture, interior and garden design still provide some of the most elegant home improvement options available today.

EdmundBlairLeightonOntheThreshold
Edmund Leighton: On the Threshold (1900). Manchester Art Gallery. Image source: Wikipedia
Love the wrought iron and lead roofed porch. And his boots….

A late Victorian nostalgia for Regency style packaged the romance of consumerism, in which props and set dressing are more prominent than feelings. You’d never guess from later illustrations that there had been a war going on, in fact several wars, about ideology, trade, territory and ideas.

Women’s clothes in the neoclassical Regency period, for three decades after the French Revolution, were more comfortable, more symbolic of personal freedom, than later 19th and early 20th century fashions. By the late 1820s, tight lacing was back and got tighter. (Traditional stays had never really gone away for every woman in Regency times, and were superseded by the much-maligned corset which, correctly fitted, is far more comfortable and good for posture than its reputation allows. And some of us are comfortable and happier in high heels, just as some people have sea legs – but that’s for another battle at the Last Post.)

The female body of the following four generations was squeezed in and padded out, satisfying somebody or other’s fetishes, some of them as weird as Comic Con costumes.

At the time Edmund Leighton was turning out his chocolate box historical genre scenes, and C.E. Brock was producing his fairytale illustrations to Jane Austen, fashionable women’s bodies were trapped in S-shaped cages which they only started getting out of shortly before World War I. The Regency looked like a time of rationality and enlightenment in comparison.

Bingley&Jane. Brock

One of the later (1907) watercolour versions of C.E. Brock’s original 1895 illustrations to Pride and Prejudice: the sugary colours signal the export of Jane Austen’s “two inches of ivory” world to the arch land of Regency Romance.

to be continued

The AUDIO VERSION of THE CAPTAIN’S WALLFLOWER – A Regency Romance by Audrey Harrison, read by Pippa Rathborne – is available now on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

Nothing, or the Magic Pin Board

Part ten of Nothing

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.” Shakespeare (Hamlet)

The most personal of Gijsbrechts’ deceptions casually pins down all art, and individual identity, as a coat of arms on a plain wooden board. A musical instrument, the tools of his own craft of painting, even himself, in a miniature self-portrait, are stuck there, a declaration of THIS IS ME, all in vain, until somebody three and a half centuries later looks at them.

GijsbrechtsTrompe_l'oeilviolin art

Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’oeil with violin, painters implements and self-portrait, oil on canvas, 1675,
Royal Castle, Warsaw. Image: Wikipedia

We should be so lucky, to create anything so well-made that it lasts beyond a moment on the web. Most of it is worthless, read or not. Words, words, words as a fictional Danish prince said in around 1602.

There is nothing deep here, on this blog, only a brazen attempt to create the illusion. I don’t know much about Nihilism and Existentialism, and can seldom untangle a metaphysical conceit, but, as I like the sound of the words, I’m content to use them as labels for states of mind, alluding to concepts without fully understanding them, just like a monkey would, and now with WP technology I can tag them, separating them with commas, meaninglessly. “Words are wise men’s counters….but they are the money of fools” (Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651).

I blog profitlessly, in every sense.  I shouldn’t be here at all; I should be out, trying to earn a living, not flirting with dead men and downloading old pictures. “Vanity of vanities! all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, King James Bible version, 1611).

wood

wood by Martin Hübscher Photography  © August 2014

Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts began his adventure in still-life and trompe l’oeil in Antwerp, then found customers in the German cities of Regensburg and Hamburg, before he was appointed court painter in Copenhagen where he decorated the King’s Kunstkammer, one of the greatest of all European cabinets of curiosities, with his illusions of illusions; no job or position ever lasted, he always moved on, itinerant artist in search of the same theme, first to Stockholm, and then back to Germany, to Breslau, now the Polish city of Wroclaw, and then, almost full circle, he returned to Flanders, ending up in Bruges. On the way, he broke the fourth wall.

kms3076

Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’Oeil. A Cabinet of Curiosities with an Ivory Tankard, 1670
Image: SMK – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Gijsbrechts painted a series of representations of cabinets of curiosities, with closed or half open doors revealing the eclectic objects inside, for the Perspective Chamber of the real cabinet of curiosities of the Danish kings, a sort of site-specific art installation, except none of the objects were real.

Visitors to the Chamber were unwittingly entering a stage-set. In one of the paintings, they were given a glimpse back-stage. The door opens on to nothing, Lord Rochester’s “Great Negative”, the beginning and end of everything, into which all our words and illusions must “undistinguished fall”, where the cosmos itself started and will end.

That is the rational end, but for most of us it is not the end of illusion. We are unable or unwilling to grasp finality in our minds. When we look at the picture, we are tempted to jump into the grey empty space on another adventure of the imagination, through a portal to another world.

Gijsbrechts’ tricks with our eyes were intended to entertain, no more, but few things, let alone people, turn out exactly as intended. Some of us spending too much time looking at his painted half open-doors, might find, like Keats looking at the Grecian Urn, an art form “dost tease us out of thought”. Is it something, or nothing?

Unable to encompass the magnitude, or the littleness, of what art and history is telling me, bemused by all their illusions, this blogger is like one of those people described by Hobbes in Leviathan as “birds that entering by the chimney, and finding themselves enclosed in a chamber, flutter at the false light of a glass window, for want of wit to consider which way they came in.”

It’s been a long train of thought that’s led me here, and, look, guess what, at the last post, all those words, all those pictures of dead princes and poets, their monkeys and dogs, all those letter racks and skulls and fruit pieces, they’ve all been in vain, and I’ve blogged my way to dusty

NOTHING