Art v. Life

climax_salomecroppedWhen aesthetes like Oscar Wilde or critics like Harold Bloom proclaim that “life imitates art” or “Shakespeare invented the human,” I imagine people rolling their eyes and thinking, “Puh-leez!”

Of course, their adopting these mannerisms confirms Wilde’s and Bloom’s claims. No doubt cinema popularized eye-rolling as a fetching way to express exasperated contempt, and “puh-leez” as in “give me a break,” probably can trace its origins from somewhere in Sitcomland.

What Wilde meant is that artists’ rendering of what they perceive provides the inartistic with images they project onto world, and in the case of characters from literature, models for imitation:

Consider [Wilde writes] the matter from a scientific or a metaphysical point of view, and you will find that I am right. For what is Nature? Nature is no great mother who has borne us. She is our creation. It is our brain that she quickens to life. Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and only then, does it come into existence. At present people see fogs, not because there are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects. There may have been fogs for centuries in London. I dare say there were. But no one saw them, and so we do not know anything about them. They did not exist until Art invented them. Now, it must be admitted, fogs are carried to excess. They have become the mere mannerism of a clique, and the exaggerated realism of their method give dull people bronchitis. Where the cultured catch an effect, the uncultured catch a cold.
“The Influence of the Impressionists on Climate”

Claude Monet: Le Parlement, effet de brouillard

Claude Monet: Le Parlement, effet de brouillard

To follow up on the second point, from the Renaissance on, literature has provided models for imitation for playgoers and readers eager to customize their personas. For example, males for 4+ centuries have channeled Hamlet, donned black and parroted his depressive wit; clever girls, in turn, have modeled their personalities on Elizabeth Bennet, that arch, articulate social critic. Perhaps the most copied “type” for males of my generation is the Hemingway code hero. Nick Adams and Jake Barnes wannabes around the world have embraced wounded, stoic, epicureanism for going on a century. On a less grandiose scale, Bogart as Sam Spade, John Wayne as, well, John Wayne, and Aubrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly have also offered archetypes for imitation.

Come to think of it, perhaps exotic Papa Hemingway deserves some praise/blame for our current culinary obsessions.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy, and to make plans.”
                                                              A Moveable Feast

2010-02-25-Blackmarket-oysters

In the late Victorian era, the aestheticism of Pater and Wilde reeked of decadence. Who could take Pater’s advice “[t]o burn always with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy” if employed as a grocery boy, seamstress, coal miner, or pedagogue?

No, you had to loll your days away reading the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” in exquisitely decorated gardenia-scented rooms (while across town some tailor pricked his finger hand crafting the smoking jacket you had commissioned).

 Hidden by the Sleeve of Night and Morn by Edmund Dulac

Hidden by the Sleeve of Night and Morn by Edmund Dulac

Nowadays, few folk perceive decoration as decadent, though decorators have been conspicuously gay, as have been hair-dressers, fashion designers, and at least nowadays on King Street, male salesclerks in clothing stores. The effeminacy of caring about what flowers to place where perhaps only occurs in Late Empire cultures. (I don’t see Dan Boone fussing over container of black-eyed susans). And, yes, many grandsons of D-Day GIs are now uncloseted metrosexuals, and I say this is a good thing.

Certainly, I’d prefer to imbibe my afternoon Colt 45 Malt Liquor pinot in James T Crow’s pleasant arts-and-craft cottage overlooking the Folly River than seated upon motel-like furnishings in a condo overlooking the Mount Pleasant Bypass.

So, excuse me as I slip down to to snip some begonias from the garden. We might disagree about what is beautiful, but we can all agree that beauty beats its alternatives.

Hoodoo Living Quarters

Hoodoo Living Quarters

Quotes from Curmudgeons

Original Caption: W.C. Fields in typical poker face pose. Undated photograph.

Original Caption: W.C. Fields in typical poker face pose. Undated photograph.

No doubt most curmudgeons begin their careers as a high school cynics, as smart-mouthed skeptics equipped with highly sensitive antennae tuned to hypocrisy. More often male than female, these snarling scoffers tend to mock propagandists dedicated to transforming them into productive contributors to society.

Burned as idealistic children who naively believed the blandishments of their elders, they eventually begin to realize that life’s rewards and punishments can be ridiculously unjust. For example, even though Bobby copies his homework and bullies smaller kids, Santa showers him with $800 skateboards and brand name clothing; meanwhile, the rule-obeying future curmudgeon treats others kindly but ends up with a can of Play Dough and a Wal-Mart fleece.

“Yeah right,” becomes the sardonic rejoinder to uplifting quotes in the morning announcements.

But let’s face it: constant negativity is not one of Dale Carnegie’s strategies in the pursuit of winning friends and influencing people. Although the most talented high school cynics can be fairly entertaining, their shtick can get really, really old after a while.

Eventually, though, with a little luck – a good marriage helps — these young cynics can marinate over the decades into well-seasoned curmudgeons who cultivate a sense of absurdity’s humorous possibilities, rather than becoming outraged at the human tragicomedy. Life becomes not a “tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing” but a “spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay.”

So on this Thanksgiving Eve, I choose not to mock my Facebook brethren for typing “adorable” beneath photos of non-photographic babies; I choose not to mock sentimentalists for cajoling me to like and share cloying idiocies like “if you ‘heart’ your mother click like and share.”

No, instead, I’ll share, these inspiring quotes from some of my favorite curmudgeons for whom I’m especially thankful. They, by my book, truly have made the world a better place.

Jonathan Swift: “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.”

Mark Twain: “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.

Amboise Bierce: OBLIVION, n. Fame’s eternal dumping ground. Cold storage for high hopes. A dormitory without an alarm clock.

Oscar Wilde: “A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.”

HL Mencken: “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”

Dorothy Parker: “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”

WC Fields: “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.”

Groucho-Marx-Duck-Soup-e1434598275998Groucho Marx: “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.”

Lenny Bruce: “I won’t say ours was a tough school, but we had our own coroner. We used to write essays like: What I’m going to be if I grow up.”

Kurt Vonnegut: “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

But when it all comes down to it:

TC Boyle: I was in the water for six hours. Shivering, praying, scared full of adrenaline. I kept making deals with the Fates, with God, Neptune, whoever, thinking I’d trade places with anybody anywhere – lepers, untouchables, political prisoners, Idi Amin’s wives – anything, so long as I’d be alive.

Be thankful!

Let’s Rebrand Ultra-Conservatives as Reactionaries

One thing I try to stress to my students is that they shouldn’t assume that technological sophistication is the equivalent spiritual, intellectual, or social sophistication. Certainly, Tibet isn’t known for its state-of-the-art infrastructure, luxury condos, or sound systems, but few First World citizens would argue that US Televangelist Joel Osteen is a higher being than the Dalai Lama or that Jacques Derrida’s intellect was superior to Aristotle’s or that Dr. Phil understands human nature better than Geoffrey Chaucer.

For example, here’s one former member of the University of South Carolina’s Law Review, a former executive director of the South Carolina’s Republican Party, and current 21st Century US citizen’s solution to the now all but forgotten Ebola crisis:

todd quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need I add that, of course, Mr. Kincannon is pro-life.

Imagine someone in the 1950’s suggesting euthanasia as a way to eradicate polio. I suspect if you conducted a poll of sustenance farmers throughout Asia, the vast majority would consider Mr. Kincannon’s solution to the Ebola epidemic barbaric, even though a large number of them might very well be illiterate.

This same Kincannon fellow in another tweet offers this rather un-PC assessment of the original inhabitants of the American continent:

Tood q 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, the metaphor is backwards: my ancestors, the colonists, were the infestation. Native Americans were here first. We sort of, to be crude about it, car-jacked the continent.

Unfortunately, the media brand rabble-rousers like Kincannon as conservatives, but they have about as much in common with Edmund Burke as Andrew Dice Clay does with Oscar Wilde. They are reactionaries, hipshooters, intemperate, the opposite of conservatives.

Of course, the irony is that often far right adversaries like Benjamin Netanyahu and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei often have a lot in common — monotheism, tribal intransigence and the fervent wish that the US/Irani negotiations fail.