The biggest own goal in history

Will this country die from obstinacy? Why won’t the patients take their medicine?

Increased support among European nations
including the UK
for EU following Brexit

Simpkin at the Tailor’s Bedside c.1902 Helen Beatrix Potter 1866-1943 Presented by Capt. K.W.G. Duke RN 1946 Photo © Tate

No-one reading this who holds different opinions should feel offended. I intend no disrespect, but I must speak, and I’ve been given this insidious tool to amplify my thoughts. I’d be saying the same things aloud in solitary confinement.

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
Coco Chanel.

I’m not addressing individual members of the audience. This is a platform, a virtual theatre. I’m not attacking you, I don’t dislike you, I should have lived 200 years ago, and published pamphlets or books anonymously (by a Lady), and if you didn’t like them you could have burnt them after reading or used them in the privy.

“This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.”
Euripides, The Phoenician Women

I know I’m not going to change minds or influence people. I rant on about the same thing in messages in bottles, repeating myself, adding a fresh quote or two after a quick online search, skimming the surface of thought.

And it is a tirade. I know that. Give me a break on this weaselly platform and admit this is not blogging, it’s polemic. I’m impotent but loud. You’re afraid to let me in, because I’d overturn your tables and scream your house down.

I’m not talking to you personally, I can’t even see you.

I’m not part of your community, I don’t want your Likes or your Follows, I’m not even me, I’m inhabiting a role of a better me. I’d prefer to have lived 20

I’m standing on the wall, berating destiny. Call me Cassandra, if you like. You may think I’m mad and ignore me – I can see you are, by the paltry number of Likes – but you need me as a particle of collective consciousness in the grand muddle of truth.

Cassandra, Cassandra,
You’re fated to madness, it’s out of your hands
Destined to say what no one wants to know

‘Cassandra’, Famiglia album, written by Sophie Michelle Ellis-Bextor, Ed Harcourt, sung by Sophie Ellis Bextor

Her  again – the unknown woman lamenting by a burning city

J’accuse: the right-wing Brexit conspiracy, in which too many of us are complicit, is an act of vandalism, trashing our country’s history and laying waste to its future

Wake up, Britons! Avert this catastrophe! Don’t you hear Drake’s drum beating again, alerting him to save us from national danger?

This time, the threat to our country, this precious stone set in the silver sea…this realm, this England, is not from a foreign Armada, it’s from ourselves.

The language of English-speaking myths had charm, once, before poetic inspiration for doing the right thing deviated into  facile slogans for knee-jerk nationalism.

The beauty of metaphor, the subtlety of irony, has been defaced. “My soul, there is a country” seen in a vision of Peace by Henry Vaughan, the “green and pleasant land” of Blake’s Jerusalem, were spiritual and political ideals, not nostalgia for an England that never was. Patriotism, at its best, has always been a personal myth; at its worst, it covers up crimes with a national flag.

Joan_of_Arc_on_horseback

Joan of Arc on horseback, miniature from a manuscript, Les vies des femmes célèbres d’Antoine Dufour, 1504, Nantes, musée Dobrée. Image source: Wikipedia

 

A great British, working-class, transvestite heroine, Joan of Arc, is a golden girl, forever fighting to liberate people from foreign oppressors and gender prejudice. It’s a minor detail to us that she was French, born Jeanne in Domrémy, later called la Pucelle, the maid of Orléans, inspiration, mascot, scapegoat of French resistance to English imperialism in The Hundred Years War, burnt alive by the English in 1431, when she was nineteen years old, because she’s still ours, we made her, she wouldn’t be special if we hadn’t cooked her.

The living Jeanne d’Arc was a victim of an English war crime, and the dead Jeanne of England’s greatest victory, of imagination, of story-telling, of creating national fictions in the face of historical evidence, of kidding ourselves that sentimentality and sensation – canonized as “empathy” – pre-empt responsibility.

Joan is one of the national symbols of our dishonest relationship with Europe, and with Wales, Scotland and Ireland, of our habitual raiding and resentment of  our neighbours, abusing and assimilating as we choose.  If and when Brexit goes ahead, we’re going to lose the choice.

We’ve lost the blessed plot. We’re no longer the envy of less happy lands; we’re the butt of the rest of the world’s bemusement and pity as England scores the biggest own goal in history.

Brexit is the biggest lie perpetrated by small political and capitalist elites on the English public since the First World War.

And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension

Brexit is the poison that will taint a nation, a fungus that grew in the ideological rifts of the Conservative party and then infected purer minds.

Drink the medicine.

Changing your minds is not a weakness. The greatest courage is in turning to face reality.

Cassandra, Cassandra
If I could just sit with you
We two could conspire and
We’d make them listen
You only tell the truth.

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Catastrophe

Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent…..Plato

With Britain as the new Atlantis, contriving its own liquidation through the hubris of Brexit and Conservative Government, where can a girl go in pursuit of freedom and happiness?

Our European neighbours who we have so rudely shunned are already showing us what we will be missing in their civilized world.

Spain has given vindication to anyone who’s been harassed by manspreading on a train or a bus, or in a theatre or cinema. It’s the beginning of reclaiming personal space, the rebirth of the rights of woman and man, the recognition that arseholes can’t have it all their own way anymore.

It’s the only news to have cheered me up on a scary Election Day, tired out by the cat that’s not mine but won’t leave my house and keeps me awake all night.

In one leap she burst through the barely open bedroom window and the rolled down blind, directly on to the landing pad of our bed. We could only see her outline in the dark, no more than a sinuous body and bushy tail, and from our experience of another cat trying to break in a week ago, we knew that it’s impossible to verify feline identification without electric light.

A nano-moment after our besotted “hello, darling” cooings, my husband said, “Are you a fox?” Knowing by now that the worst usually happens, I screamed and hid under the bedclothes.

At 7am, after the cat had eaten breakfast and gone out again, there was another kerfuffle as something struggled through the letterbox. Was it her? we wondered – but, no, it was the sound of the poor Lib Dems leafleting at dawn.

I voted for them, nevertheless – because they are the only party to have been consistent over Europe. I don’t understand why Labour and the Liberal Democrats are being so snotty to the rational, valiant Greens about a progressive alliance.

I don’t understand anything, I haven’t slept for weeks, and while I stutter and splutter over the keyboard, the beautiful, free-loading, conscience-free cat burglar is sleeping peacefully in her bed behind the sofa.

cat occupier

Conquest Cat Portrait by Martin Hübscher Photography

I did one of those voter-party match-making tests yesterday and the big shock for me was that my views are closer to UKIP than the modern Tory party, whose social policies really must have strayed right of Attila the Hun.

Wake up, Britons! Avert this catastrophe! Don’t you hear Drake’s drum? There’s time to finish the game and beat the Spaniards too – reputed to have been said while he played bowls at Plymouth Hoe, it turns out he never said it, and it’s a soundbite invented over a century later. Our national myths had charm, once, before poetic inspiration for doing the right thing deviated into knee-jerk nationalistic slogans.

Now, the threat to the precious stone set in a silver sea is not from a foreign Armada, it’s from ourselves.

We’ve lost the blessed plot. We’re no longer the envy of less happy lands; we’re the butt of the rest of the world’s bemusement and pity.

And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension

Brexit is the poison that will taint a nation, a fungus that grew in the ideological rifts of the Conservative party and infected purer minds.

J’accuse: the right-wing Brexit conspiracy, in which the public has colluded, is an act of vandalism, defacing our country’s history and laying waste to its future.

Nothing that was true is true any more, nothing makes sense, not in my catatonic state. One thing is certain: all cats are grey in the dark. The inconstant cat’s not ours. She must have at least one other home. The stupid human beings in their different dwellings think she’s dependent on them alone, and she’s playing all of us.

Sounding like a Millwall fan chanting “Noone likes us, we don’t care”, I don’t like blogging, I don’t like Brexit, I don’t care if you don’t Like me, and all it takes to go to hell nowadays is pressing Publish, or drawing X on a ballot paper.

…..and the island of Atlantis …. disappeared in the depths of the sea. Plato

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….

monkey regained

Part seven of Nothing

Modern animal experts do not recommend anyone, even warrior princes or prankster poets, keeping monkeys or any other wild animals as pets and the RSPCA wants a ban. They are messy, destructive, predatory – they’ll bite a human and eat any smaller pet mammals or birds left unprotected – and they never stop chattering – rather as Lord Rochester’s seems to be doing in the picture that started this diversion on the journey into Nothing:

rochester

Lord Rochester with monkey by Huysmans

Rochester was thirty-three when he died in 1680, burnt out by sex and alcohol, pranks and humanity. His wife, Elizabeth Malet, whom he had tried to abduct when she was the richest and most eligible heiress in the north of England, and to whom he was conspicuously unfaithful, died a year later, leaving their four young children in the care of their grandmother. All is vanity.

Withoos,_Matthias_-_Landscape_with_a_Graveyard_by_Night

Matthias Withoos, Landscape with a graveyard by night, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims. Image: WGA
“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death.” (Shakespeare, Macbeth) Withoos was active in the second half of the 17th century, and in this atmospheric painting prefigures Romantic Gothicism and our own obsession with twilight.

And yet – the most poetic of brutal realists and his wife had written a book of poetry together. Their minds met on equal terms. She had a wit of her own, and answered him back. Anyone who has spied on their marriage by reading their private letters has the impression that they understood and esteemed one another.

In a long tradition of creative men who have acted on their desires and looked deeply into their souls, Rochester led a double life. He was Ernest in town, where “a sweet soft Page of [his could] do the Trick worth Forty wenches”, and Jack in the country, where he loved his wife.

As for the monkey, Rochester’s symbol of human vanity was recently reincarnated as Mally, Justin Bieber’s capuchin accessory, infamously abandoned in Germany after quarantine.

The journey into Nothing is not over…

Who’s the monkey now?

Part two of Nothing

When Lord Rochester, the Restoration satirist, poet, libertine, courtier, and acting coach, wanted to make a visual satire on human vanity and transience, he avoided the 17th century’s skull cliché by being portrayed with a monkey offering him a page torn from a book, the descendant of the million virtual monkeys typing out Shakespeare’s plays.

rochester

Jacob Huysmans, John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647 – 1680), oil on canvas. Private collection. Image: WGA Rochester, the most glamorous, and lighthearted, of obscene immoralists, collaborated with the Roman Catholic Flemish painter Jacob Huysmans to produce an iconic image mocking the ignorance and pretentiousness of mankind.

He isn’t patronising the monkey; he rated animal instinct higher than human nature, including his own, and his specific targets were the ruling class of which he was a member by birth, and everyone who presumed to exert power over other people, by force or by creed.

Like the other great privileged literary rebel, Byron, he inherited titles, property and a Cavalier heritage without any money, the lifeblood of power in society.

Rochester’s father was a hard-drinking, Anglo-Irish Cavalier officer, of the clubbable “Laughing” kind, committed to upholding monarchy, “his mother a strict Puritan; out of their union, the great disbeliever was born.

Rochester’s portrait also happens to be one of the most seductive images of male beauty, enhanced by androgynous Restoration fashion, which has glamourized the popular perception of libertines and nihilism ever since. We’d all be enrolling in metaphysics classes to meet if the lecherous lecturer looked like that.

We might even dare go into the darkness some of us fear, to read erotic fiction and obscene verse, because Rochester makes sex feel like love.

Like the actor who played the rake-hell Willmore, based on Rochester, in a revival of Aphra Behn’s The Rover in the 1690s, “he made vice so alluring” to even the virtuous Queen Mary II.

Even the most sincere of critics of human nature cannot shake off his own self-consciousness. By showing himself in a portrait as a freethinker crowning, or more likely decrowning, a monkey, he was declaring how much more hip he was than everyone else at court and in the country.

He was right, of course – he’s a sex symbol who still makes hearts throb faster today, a prototype Romantic, by turns lyrical or obscene, depending on his hangover; one of the great tortured, self-destructive, witty, bisexual, substance-abusing, rocking and rolling anti-heroes who lived in the moment because time before and after is a fantasy, a trick of the mind’s eye, a waste of living.

Monkeys were popular pets among 17th century cosmopolitan aristocrats with brains and attitude – Charles I’s nephew, Prince Rupert, had kept one during the Civil War a generation earlier, “a malignant she-monkey” which the Roundheads made crude allegations about.

When their propagandists alleged she was a witch in disguise with whom the German prince was having sex, they were serving the public an inflammatory potion of minor royalty, xenophobia, superstition, and prurience –

That monkey won’t stop jumping about – it’s run away with the theme of this post – I can’t catch it – where has it gone?

The journey into Nothing will be continued….