A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Now For Some Eye Candy

When I look at the pictures that Baroness Alexandra Von Maltzen places at the head of her posts, I am struck by the distinctness of her private taste as well as the distance of that taste from my own. If you happen to be one of handful of people who actually read us both, you might be startled that I find any difference the Baroness and myself particularly noteworthy. We are, respectively, very conservative and very liberal, very Christian and very Buddhist, very beautiful and very much, to be charitable, a rough chunk of the hardest crystalized carbon.

So what's the big deal about our divergence of artistic tastes? Well, one of the greatest pleasures of my life is the spreading out of my involvement in the arts [which once was professional] into an involvement with other people. A taste distinct from your own is a window to art that you normally would pass by because you have little emotional access to it. Such a distinct taste is also a vehicle for insight into the person who holds it. You are what you love, particularly what art you love, for love of art is a torrid affair that never settles down into happy matrimony or breaks up in stormy torment.

If I were to pick one artwork to summarize the essence of the Baroness' taste it would probably be the Carvaggio of the young Baccus. The range of the picture choices on her blog is quite wide, extending from Raphael to Frank Franzetta, many of these are posted for some political point and heavily manipulated with PhotoShop, and I do not wish to call any picture her favorite sight unseen. But the image above is what comes to my mind when I savor the broad range of her taste.

What you can see in the art of her choice is flamboyance of feeling, both sacred and profane; abundance of sensuality, and a level of worldly sophistication far beyond average. Those grapes that crown the young model, ripe to the point of bruising, and the strong red wine he so delicately proffers, saturated with many flavors, from its rich sweetness at the tip of the tongue to its acrid grip at the back of the palate, are the sensory equivalent of that sensibility, presented, as always in Carvaggio, with a brio of style that is the Baroness' constant care on All Things Beautiful.

Thus the Baroness, high voltage in all ways, groomed, confident, expansive, and beautiful; a feminine equivalent to the splendor of the Count of Monte Cristo--diamonds on the headresses of the best horses in Paris hitched to his carriage, a mere million francs in letters of credit in his pockets, and a mute Nubian servant to see to all of his tastes and wants.

So what would I proffer that summarizes my loves in the arts, in contrast to the Baroness? Perhaps the light, floating, and glowing Byzantine apse mosaic of Saint' Appolinare en Classe in Ravenna:

This mosaic, along with its companions of Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora, and their retinues from San Vitale in the same city, are the main reasons I would ever be tempted to visit Italy, all the blandishments of Florence, Venice, and Rome notwithstanding.

I could have picked something from the Asian art wherein my heart truly lies--some fine folding screen of finches and plum blossoms against an indefinite gold of earth and sky,

or one of the astounding bronze vessels of the Shang, a ting, a yu, or a kuang,

or the sancai ware of three-colored glazes with a lead-silicate base--brown, greens, and blues--of the potters of the Tang.

Or even my favorite, which, to my great distress I cannot show you, the huge scroll of the Running Fudo in the Sherman Lee collection in Cleveland--a wrathful Buddhist guardian diety, dressed in Samauri arms and armor, running with his retainers while at war in the rivalry of clans and the fall and burning of Damayo castles.

Running Fudo, by the way, is not only a spectacular work of art, it is also an outrageous joke. For the title of Fudo among the Tantric Buddhists of Japan is The Immovable.

But the Appolinare apse mosaic will do. The art of my wishes is acetic, restrained, focused, and austere. It is an art of Edmund Dantes without the mask of Monte Cristo and with one of this other masks and lies, undertaken to make revenge: the English banker of Thompson and French; the Abbe Busoni with his lenten loaf of coarse bread and merely a plain crucifix on his wall; or the mysterious, unknown figure at a wealthy bedside, poisoning a beautiful young woman in order to save her from murder.

Whether Dantes innocent, a young first mate sailing home to his beautiful Catalan fiancee; or Dantes mature, cruel, and knowing, decimating Paris with the fall of his four enemies; the sensibility is the same. And the my favorites in the arts are all of a piece with it.

For instance, the Cezanne still life of a vase, a plate, and a country bouquet:

Or Mies Van Der Rohe and the Tugendat Chair, both in context:

And in its own isolated glory:

Rembrandt Von Riijn, painting over and over his decent into penury and the dissolution of a wearying old age:

And, of course, on my inside, where I cannot also cannot show it to you, the triumph and tragedy of the Forty-seven Ronin, honor avenged and seppuku immanent. This is the fire that burns within me, the fire that, hopefully, the Dharma will start to extinguish this time round. For, with revenge accomplished, life emptied, and only riches and old age left, the last words Edmund Dantes, Count of Monte Christo, left for his young friends were these two: wait and hope.


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