The Skin of our Teeth

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some indented excerpts of “The Skin of our Teeth,” the first chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, after which I offer my comments.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

I am standing on the Pont des Arts in Paris.

What is civilisation? I don’t know. I can’t define it in abstract terms—yet. But I think I can recognize it when I see it; and I am looking at it now.

If I had to say which was telling the truth about society, a speech by a Minister of Housing or the actual buildings put up in his time, I should believe the buildings. But this doesn’t mean that the history of civilisation is the history of art—far from it. Great works of art can be produced in barbarous societies.

Whatever its merits as a work of art, I don’t think that there is any doubt that the Apollo embodies a higher state of civilisation than the mask. They both represent spirits, messengers from another world—that is to say, from a world of our own imagining. To the Negro imagination it is a world of fear and darkness, ready to inflict horrible punishment for the smallest infringement of taboo. To the Hellenistic imagination it is a world of light and confidence, in which the gods are like ourselves, only more beautiful.

It is not my intention to insult white nationalists. But what they ignore is that, presently, with their rock music and media tastes they themselves, like the overwhelming majority of the white population are, spiritually, far closer to the Negro mask than to the Apollo of Belvedere. For Lord Clark it would have been unthinkable to consider civilised the popular forms of cultural expression such as heavy metal and the movies that today are watched even by white nationalists throughout the West.

As we saw in some of my latest entries, other self-destructing forms of cultural expression already occurred in the times of the fall of the Roman Empire. Clark said:

The same architectural language, the same imagery, the same theatres, the same temples—at any time for five hundred years you could have found them all round the Mediterranean, in Greece, Italy, France.

What happened? It took Gibbon six volumes to describe the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, so I shan’t embark on that. But thinking about this almost incredible episode does tell one something about the nature of civilisation. It shows that however complex and solid it seems, it is actually quite fragile. It can be destroyed. What are its enemies? Well, first of all fear—fear of the supernatural, which means that you daren’t question anything or change anything. The late antique world was full of meaningless rituals, mystery religions, that destroyed self-confidence.

Unlike Gibbon and Nietzsche, before his TV audience Clark didn’t dare to point the finger at Christianity. But later in the program, Clark spoke about Islam:

In a miraculously short time—about fifty years—the classical world was overrun [by the Muslim conquests]. Only its bleached bones stood out against the Mediterranean sky. The old source of civilisation was sealed off, and if a new civilisation was to be born it would have to face the Atlantic.

But something very odd happened to Man’s self-image in the early medieval world facing the Atlantic in what today is Ireland. According to Clark:

The subject of Mediterranean man was man. Two hundred years have passed—perhaps a little more—and man has almost vanished.

Crude as this imago hominis may be when compared to the Apollo, presently some white nationalists advertise their blogs with soft-porn pics of semi-nude women: something far more degrading for the divine human figure than the image of 8th century insular art in the Echternach Gospels.

To my mind—and, like Clark, I must say that this is only my personal view­—, the imago hominis only means a psychogenic regression in Man’s understanding of himself compared to the Greeks and the Romans. However, the white nationalists’ soft porn spits on the avatar of God, even if I don’t believe in the existence of a personal god.

After the above image chosen by Clark for the first episode of his program, in the following pages of the book version Clark mentions how St. Gregory destroyed entire libraries of the classical world (I quoted part of it in my recent antichristian series, here), and on the next page he states that even in those obscure days the Europeans fought strenuously against their enemies:

All great civilisations, in their early stages, are based on success in war. The Romans were the best organised and most ruthless fighters in Latium. So it was with the Franks. Clovis and his successors not only conquered their enemies, but maintained themselves by cruelties and tortures remarkable even by the standards of the last thirty years.

Without Charles Martel’s victory over the Moors at Poitiers in 732, western civilisation might never have existed, and without Charlemagne’s tireless campaigns we should never have had the notion of a united Europe.

Charlemagne was the first great man of action to emerge from the darkness since the collapse of the Roman world. The old idea that he saved civilisation isn’t far wrong. On the whole, our whole knowledge of ancient literature is due to the collecting and copying that began under Charlemagne.

If we compared ourselves with the franks, what could it be said about present-day nationalists? Many of them don’t even let our most serious fighter discuss in their forums (by “serious fighter” I mean someone who’s actively planning a revolution). Didn’t the Führer say that those who want to live, let them fight, and that those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live? Do whites and white nationalists deserve to live? If so, where are the Charles Martels in today’s islamized Europe, in America’s mexicanized states?

I am not proposing to do something stupid in a world which media is a hundred percent dominated by the Enemy. But at least be prepared for the tough, revolutionary times that are coming after the dollar crashes.

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 2:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Great Thaw

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some indented excerpts of “The Great Thaw,” the second chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, after which I offer my comments.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

There have been times in the history of man when the earth seems suddenly to have grown warmer or more radio-active… I don’t put that forward as a scientific proposition, but the fact remains that three or four times in history man has made a leap forward that would have been unthinkable under ordinary evolutionary conditions. One such time was about the year 3000 BC, when quite suddenly civilisation appeared, not only in Egypt and Mesopotamia but in the Indus valley; another was in the late sixth century BC, when there was not only the miracle of Ionia and Greece—philosophy, science, art, poetry, all reaching a point that wasn’t reached again for 2000 years, but also in India a spiritual enlightenment that has perhaps never been equalled.

But what people don’t always realise is that it all happened quite suddenly—in a single lifetime.

In the brainwashed United Kingdom of the late 1960’s it would not have occurred Clark that another great awakening had occurred in Germany during his lifespan, just thirty years before; and that it was crushed by the forces of evil led by the government of his country. Speaking about Christendom at the beginning of the second millennium of the Common Era, on the next page Clark continues:

How had all this suddenly appeared in Western Europe? Of course there are many answers, but one is overwhelmingly more important than the others: the triumph of the Church.

And here Clark omitted to mention what he implied in the previous chapter: that in the first millennium the role of the Church was destructive, as surmised in his paragraph about St. Gregory who destroyed entire libraries of classical knowledge (search for “St. Gregory” here). After starting to describe the medieval period that our silly high schools completely ignore, six pages later Clark mentioned the most emblematic feature of the age:

On the physical side this took the form of pilgrimages and crusades. I think they are among the features of the Middle Ages which it is hardest for us to understand. Pilgrimages were undertaken in hope of heavenly rewards. How can one hope to share this belief which played so great a part in medieval civilisation?

Later in the series I loved to see Clark saying that he never bothered to understand economics, because this is one of the things that contemporary historians, so alienated by Marxism will never understand.

In my childhood I received a medieval education from my father. When during my adolescence he started to abuse me, the doctrine of eternal damnation that he had inculcated me since childhood metamorphosed into an internal persecutor. It didn’t matter that I managed to escape my parents’ home and moved to San Rafael in the US: the internal persecutors accompanied me throughout my twenties.

When I asked for help to the organization known as Fundamentalists Anonymous by regular mail I received a dumb reply that greatly offended me, as I recount in my last book of Hojas Susurrantes. Although technically I had already abandoned the faith I then asked for help, always through regular mail, to John J. Heaney who taught theology at Fordham University. It was the Christian Heaney, not the silly rationalists of Fundamentalists Anonymous, who immediately understood what my inner agonies really meant and tried to help, at least in the modest form of an epistle. (These were times before the electronic mail became fashionable.)

Modern rationalists who find pilgrimages hard to understand lack elemental empathy toward the Other. Even Clark, when he talks of pilgrimages undertaken “in hope of heavenly rewards,” understates what a brutally-honest historian would have said instead: undertaken in hope of saving one’s soul from the eternal fire.

I mention this personal vignette because, despite claims to the contrary, history will never be understood “objectively.” We need the subjective experiences of the survivors of a given culture, even if such experiences were written by latter-day Christians and apostates: a sphere of knowledge altogether alien for the naïve historian who’s afraid to enter the tragic, subjective universes.

But Clark was infinitely superior to the Mr. Spock historian who currently controls the universities. On the next page he states:

Of course the most important place of pilgrimage was Jerusalem. After the tenth century, when a strong Byzantine empire made the journey practicable, pilgrims used to go in parties of 7,000 at a time. This is the background of that extraordinary episode in history, the First Crusade.

The crusades aside, several pages later Clark speaks of the author of The Heavenly Hierarchies:

He argued that we could only come to understand absolute beauty, which is God, through the effect of precious and beautiful things on our senses. He said: ‘The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material.’ This was really a revolutionary concept in the Middle Ages. It was the intellectual background of all sublime works of art in the next century and in fact has remained the basis of our belief in the value of art until today.

“Today” still meant 1969, when Clark’s body language and voice were recorded by the BBC. Not anymore. Presently many whites seem to loathe traditional works of art not only by labelling them “kitch” but by praising instead degenerate forms of cultural expression. That this happens even among white nationalists, the watchdogs of the West, should be enough to convince the honest reader that something really odd is gong on in the white psyche, and that we hardly can blame the Jews for all our problems.

Following next Clark takes us to that place where the dull mind, even the atheist’s mind, rises indeed through the matter, Chartres Cathedral:

Chartres was the centre of a school of philosophy devoted to Plato, and in particular to his mysterious book called the Timaeus, from which it was thought that the whole universe could be interpreted as a form of measurable harmony.

Figures had been made into columns since the Cnidian treasury at Delphi, but never so narrowly compressed and elongated as they are here. I fancy that the faces which look at us from the past are the surest indication we have of the meaning of an epoch.

Once more the chronicles describe how people came from all over France to join the work, how whole villages moved in order to help provide for the workmen; and of course there must have been many more of them this time, because the buildings was bigger and more elaborate, and required hundreds of masons, not to mention a small army of glass-makers.

Chartres is the epitome of the first great awakening in European civilisation.

Absolute beauty, the God of the post-Christian, not evil music or Hollywood treason has a chance to bring into being another great awakening…

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 2:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Romance and Reality

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some indented excerpts of “Romance and Reality,” the third chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, after which I offer my comments.

Originally I posted this entry on April 15 of the last year, but now that I posted another entry about Spain’s Teresa of Ávila I would like to see some feedback in the comments section about my thoughts on St. Francis from those interested in child abuse as a subject.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

I am in the Gothic world, the world of chivalry, courtesy and romance; a world in which serious things were done with a sense of play—where even war and theology could become a sort of game; and when architecture reached a point of extravagance unequalled in history. After all the great unifying convictions of the twelfth century, High Gothic art can look fantastic and luxurious—what Marxists call conspicuous waste. And yet these centuries produced some of the greatest spirits in the human history of man, amongst them St Francis and Dante.

A couple of pages later, Clark says:

Several of the stories depicted in the [Chartres Cathedral] arches concern Old Testament heroines; and at the corner of the portico is one of the first consciously graceful women in western art. Only a very few years before, women were thought of as the squat, bad-tempered viragos that we see on the front of Winchester Cathedral: these were the women who accompanied the Norsemen to Iceland.

Now look at this embodiment of chastity, lifting her mantle, raising her hand, turning her head with a movement of self-conscious refinement that was to become mannered but here is genuinely modest. She might be Dante’s Beatrice.

There, for almost the first time in visual art, one gets a sense of human rapport between man and woman.

About the sentiment of courtly love, on the next page Clark adds that it was entirely unknown to antiquity, and that to the Romans and the Vikings it would have seemed not only absurd but unbelievable.

A ‘love match’ is almost an invention of the late eighteenth century. Medieval marriages were entirely a matter of property, and, as everybody knows, marriage without love means love without marriage.

Then I suppose one must admit that the cult of the Virgin had something to do with it. In this context it sounds rather blasphemous, but the fact remains that one often hardly knows if a medieval love lyric is addresses to the poet’s mistress or to the Virgin Mary.

For all these reasons I think it is permissible to associate the cult of ideal love with the ravishing beauty and delicacy that one finds in the madonnas of the thirteenth century. Were there ever more delicate creatures than the ladies on Gothic ivories? How gross, compared to them, are the great beauties of other woman-worshiping epochs.

When I read these pages for the first time I was surprised to discover that my tastes of women have always been, literally, medieval; especially when I studied closely the face of the woman at the right in the tapestry known as The Lady with the Unicorn, reproduced on a whole page in Clark’s book with more detail than the illustration I’ve just downloaded. I have never fancied the aggressive, Hollywood females whose images are bombarded everywhere through our degenerate media. In fact, what moves me to write are precisely David Lane’s 14 words to preserve the beauty and delicacy of the most spiritual females of the white race.

Alas, it seems that the parents did not treat their delicate daughters well enough during the Middle Ages. Clark said:

So it is all the more surprising to learn that these exquisite creatures got terribly knocked about. It must be true, because there is a manual of how to treat women—actually how to bring up daughters—by a character called the Knight of the Tower of Landry, written in 1370 and so successful that it went on being read as a sort of textbook right up to the sixteenth century—in fact and edition was published with illustrations by Dürer. In it the knight, who is known to have been an exceptionally kind man, describes how disobedient women must be beaten and starved and dragged around by the hair of the head.

And six pages later Clark speaks about the most famous Saint in the High Middle Ages, whose live I would also consider the result of parental abuse:

In the years when the portal of Chartres was being built, a rich young man named Francesco Bernadone suffered a change of heart.

One day when he had fitted himself up in his best clothes in preparation for some chivalrous campaign, he met a poor gentleman whose need seemed to be greater than his own, and gave him his cloak. That night he dreamed that he should rebuild the Celestial City. Later he gave away his possessions so liberally that his father, who was a rich businessman in the Italian town of Assisi, was moved to disown him; whereupon Francesco took off his remaining clothes and said he would possess nothing, absolutely nothing. The Bishop of Assisi hid his nakedness, and afterwards gave him a cloak; and Francesco went off the woods, singing a French song.

The next three years he spent in abject poverty, looking after lepers, who were very much in evidence in the Middle Ages, and rebuilding with his own hands (for he had taken his dream literally) abandoned churches.

He threw away his staff and his sandals and went out bare-foot onto the hills. He said that he had taken poverty for his Lady, partly because he felt that it was discourteous to be in company of anyone poorer than oneself.

From the first everyone recognised that St Francis (as we may now call him) was a religious genius—the greatest, I believe, that Europe has ever produced.

Francis died in 1226 at the age of forty-three worn out by his austerities. On his deathbed he asked forgiveness of ‘poor brother donkey, my body’ for the hardships he had made it suffer.

Those of Francis’s disciples, called Fraticelli, who clung to his doctrine of poverty were denounced as heretics and burnt at the stake. And for seven hundred years capitalism has continued to grow to its present monstrous proportions. It may seem that St Francis has had no influence at all, because even the humane reformers of the nineteenth century who sometimes invoked him did not wish to exalt or sanctify poverty but to abolish it.

St Francis is a figure of the pure Gothic time—the time of crusades and castles and of the great cathedrals. But already during the lifetime of St Francis another world was growing up, which, for better or worse, is the ancestor of our own, the world of trade and of banking, of cities full of hard-headed men whose aim in life was to grow rich without ceasing to appear respectable.

Of course, Clark could not say that Francesco’s life was a classic case of battered child. Profound studies about child abuse would only start years after the Civilisation series. Today I would say that, since Francesco never wrote a vindictive text—something unthinkable in the Middle Ages that would not appear until Kafka’s letter to his father—, he internalized the parental abuse with such violence that his asceticism took his life prematurely.

What is missing in Clark’s account is that Francesco’s father whipped him in front of all the town people after Francesco stole from his shop several rolls of cloth. After the scourging inflicted by his father, with his own hands, and public humiliation, a citizen of Assisi reminded him that the town statutes allowed the father to incarcerate the rebellious son at home. Pedro shut Francesco in a sweltering, dark warehouse where “Francesco languished without seeing the light except when his father opened the door for Pica [the mother] taking a bowl of soup and a piece of bread.” After several weeks of being locked Francesco escaped and, always fearful of his father, hid in a cave. The earliest texts add that in the cave he often wept with great fear.

Francesco then embarked on a spectacular acting out of his emotional issues with his father. He made a big scene by returning to Assisi, undressing in the town’s square in front of Bishop Guido and addressing the crowd: “Hear all ye, and understand. Until now have I called Pedro Bernadone ‘my father’. But I now give back unto him the money, over which he was vexed, and all the clothes that I have had of him, desiring to say only, ‘Our Father, which art in Heaven,’ instead of ‘My father, Pedro Bernadone.’”

To everyone’s surprise Francesco broke with his wealthy parents forever, thus renouncing any possible reconciliation. So resolute was his parental repudiation, writes a Catholic biographer, that from that day on Pedro and Pica disappear from all the biographies of their son. There is no historical evidence of reconciliation, and no information about his parents or the circumstances of their death.

But I don’t want to diminish the figure of St Francis. Quite the contrary: in my middle teens I wanted to emulate him—and precisely as a result of the abuse inflicted by my father on me. And nowadays our world that has Mammon as its real God—trade, banking and dehumanized cities that are rapidly destroying the white race—, this will always remind me what Clark said about St Francis.

Nevertheless, despite my teenage infatuation with the saintly young man of Assisi, I doubt that poor Francesco’s defence mechanism to protect his mind against his father’s betrayal could be of any help now…

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Man, the Measure of all Things

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some indented excerpts of “Man—the Measure of all Things,” the fourth chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, after which I offer my comments.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

The Pazzi Chapel, built by the great Florentine Brunellesco in about 1430, is in a style that has been called the architecture of humanism. His friend and fellow-architect, Leon Battista Alberti, addressed man in these words: ‘To you is given a body more graceful than other animals.’

There is no better instance of how a burst of civilisation depends on confidence than the Florentine state of mind in the early fifteenth century. For fifty years the fortunes of the republic, which in a material sense had declined, were directed by a group of the most intelligent individuals who have ever been elected to power by a democratic government. From Salutati onwards the Florentine chancellors were scholars, believers in the studia humanitatis, in which learning could be used to achieve a happy life.

In Florence the first thirty years of the fifteenth century were the heroic age of scholarship when new texts were discovered and old texts edited. It was to house these precious texts, any one of which might contain some new revelation that might alter the course of human thought, that Cosimo de Medici built the library of San Marco. It looks to us peaceful and remote—but the first studies that took place there were not remote from life at all. It was the humanist equivalent of the Cavendish Laboratory. The manuscripts unpacked and studied under these harmonious vaults could alter the course of history with an explosion, not of matter, but of mind.

The discipline of trade and banking, in its most austere form, was beginning to be relaxed, and life—a full use of the human faculties—became more important than making money.

The dignity of man. Today these words die on our lips. But in the fifteenth century Florence their meaning was still a fresh and invigorating belief. Gianozzo Manetti, a humanist man of affection, who had seen the seamy side of politics, nevertheless wrote a book entitled On the Dignity and Excellence of Man. And this is the concept that Brunellesco’s friends were making visible.

Gravitas, the heavy tread of moral earnestness, becomes a bore if it is not accompanied by the light step of intelligence. Next to the Pazzi Chapel are the cloisters of Santa Croce, also built by Brunellesco. I said that the Gothic cathedrals were hymns to the divine light. These cloisters happily celebrate the light of human intelligence, and sitting in them I find it quite easy to believe in man. They have the qualities that give distinction to a mathematical theorem: clarity, economy, elegance.

Alberti, in his great book on building, describes the necessity of a public square ‘where young men may be diverted from the mischievousness and folly natural to their age.’ The early Florentine Renaissance was an urban culture, bourgeois properly so-called. Men spent their time in the streets and squares, and in the shops.

Elsewhere I’ve talked about how the modern world of money is inimical to racial interests. As to date, no white nationalist that I know has criticized the barbarous architecture, symptomatic in the worshiping of the new god of capitalism, so well epitomized in both London and New York: the subject of the last episode of Civilisation.

Together with the degenerate music, TV and Hollywood tastes and sexual lifestyles of some nationalists, architecture is another facet where the uncorrupted individual can read the signs of a decadent society; and why he cannot blame non-gentiles for all our problems when even the nationalists themselves are part of this problem.

Remember Clark’s words in the first episode? “If I had to say which was telling the truth about society, a speech by a Minister of Housing or the actual buildings put up in his time, I should believe the buildings.” One only has to contrast the completely soulless edifices we see everyday going to work with Raphael’s town square and see how extremely degraded, Mammonesque in fact our large cities have become.

In the popular imagination, the extreme examples of this degeneracy are the Foundation novels of Asimov and the latest Star Wars films, where a whole planet has become metropolis: the exact opposite of the most humane sci-fi novels by Arthur C. Clarke where, like the Florentines, the white people lived in small Elysian towns. Architecture today is so degenerate that even Roger Scruton in Why Beauty Matters—a 2009 BBC documentary that, unlike Clark’s Civilisation, is marred by the constant presence of non-whites—pays special attention to the sterile architectural forms of today’s world.

I wish young nationalists became believers in the studia humanitatis and familiarise themselves with those intellectuals in the movement that (like Clark) have a much broader sense of European culture than the common white nationalist blogger. I refer to people like Tom Sunic in Europe and Michael O’Meara in America. Both could help us to leave behind the provincial scene so common in the nationalist sphere as well as the simplistic single-cause hypothesis.

It is true that, unlike the Athenians, fifteenth century Florentines were chiefly interested, like contemporary western man, in making money. But like the Athenians the Florentines… loved beauty. Of the landscapes whose beauty mostly caught my attention during a trip through Europe by train, I still remember the Italian, about which Clark said:

Looking at the Tuscan landscape with its terraces of vines and olives and the dark vertical accents of the cypresses, one has the impression of timeless order. There must have been a time when it was all forest and swamp—shapeless, formless; and to bring order out of chaos is a process of civilisation.

Then, in the first years of the sixteenth century, the Venetian painter Giorgione transformed this happy contact with nature into something openly sensual. The ladies who, in the Gothic gardens, had been protected by voluminous draperies, are now naked; and, as a result, his Fête Champêtre opens a new chapter in European art. Giorgione was, indeed, one of the inspired, unpredictable innovators who disturb the course of history; and in this picture he has illustrated one of the comforting illusions of civilised man, the myth of Arcadia, which had been popularised some twenty years earlier by the poet Sannazaro. Of course, it is only a myth. Country life isn’t at all like this, and even on a picnic ants attack the sandwiches and wasps buzz round the wine glasses. But the pastoral fallacy had inspired Theocritus and Virgil, and had not been unknown in the Middle Ages. Giorgione has seen how fundamentally pagan it is.

True, but I don’t believe that the pastoral fallacy is childish. Pace Arthur Clarke, achieving Arcadia is an essentially psychogenic endeavour rather than a technological one. And I sincerely believe that utopia is feasible: only human primitivism, and especially the “monsters from the Id” currently affecting the white peoples, prevent it.

It has long seemed to me wise thinking about an ideal to direct our efforts toward it. It doesn’t matter if the ideal encounters numerous pitfalls: our will should incessantly be directional toward the worlds of the Florentine Fête. If the will of a sufficiently massive amount of white people is noble, the outside world can and will only represent the nobility of that will. Clark said:

With Giorgione’s picnic the balance and enjoyment of our human faculties seems to achieve perfection. But in history all points of supposed perfection have a hint of menace; and Giorgione himself discovers it in that mysterious picture known as the Tempesta.

What on earth is going on? What is the meaning of this half-naked woman suckling a baby, this flash of lightening, this broken column? Nobody knows; nobody has ever known.

To me the meaning is obvious. Even since the Renaissance artists started to see that the cities, more inclined to Mammon than to Raphael’s square, were places of tribulation in contrast to the madonna and her child with the man standing in contrapposto. Broken pillars often symbolize death (that bucolic world was about to die), and the painting’s storm in the background could be interpreted to symbolize urban turmoil.

In the last entry both Clark and I discussed Francis of Assisi: a saint who in Spanish language we call San Francisco. Colonists from Spain, who established a fort at the Golden Gate, named the Californian city after St Francis in 1776. Like London and New York, the modern city of San Francisco is a good paradigm to illustrate my interpretation of the Tempesta.

It should be a no brainer—and I am astounded that recently my frankness caused much offence in a well-known nationalist who lives in the Sin City—that white people of sound mind find it rather awkward to reproduce in such a town. I will repeat here my diatribes already written in the threads even if, by doing it, I completely part ways from the candid gentleness of the hero of this series, Kenneth Clark.

In the 1980s I lived in the Bay Area and noticed the cultural gulf between the inhabitants of the city of San Francisco and the family-oriented town of Novato in Marin County at the other side of the Golden Gate, where I lived. I felt the difference between the Sin City and Novato as conspicuous as the two sides of the border with my native Mexico. No hyperbole: that’s what I felt.

How could millions of healthy white families possibly thrive in Sodom, or in Gomorrah? The mere sight of the sodomites inhibits altogether our wish to have lots of kids. The visual experience of constantly watching on the streets such rape—that is the exact word—of the beautiful San Francisco of yore inhibits the Aryan soul from founding large families. This is exactly the same psychological phenomenon of watching swarms of Mexican browns and even yellows throughout California.

A few months ago I rewatched Hitchcock’s Vertigo after decades of not seeing it. The movie made me feel extremely dismayed, and therefore my hatred skyrocketed toward the cultural rapists that turned such a beautiful city into Gomorrah. It doesn’t matter that, as an ultraliberal German blogger told me, “these gay demonstrations are neither frequent nor ubiquitous.” The general rape, not only by homos, of the old city is so ubiquitous that, if I had real political power, I’d send the cultural rapists straight to my trains with a one-way ticket you know where.

One of the reasons why I believe that American-style “white nationalism” is phony is precisely because the whole movement is, at least partially, dissociated. With the exception of Harold Covington the movement smells to ink, not gunpowder. Shouldn’t it be more than obvious that, for a nationalist of truly sound mind, the Gomorrahites that brought toddlers to a Sadomasochist Fair in San Fran would have to wear Rosa Winkel camp badges, and subsequently sent to Auschwitz II?

The only way that my passion would be misallocated is that the aggressiveness of the “gay movement” in San Francisco be perfectly compatible with Norman Rockwell’s America. But truly honest nation-builder nationalists know all too well in their hearts that pink and blue wild men (see link above) are inconceivable in the Rockwell world, don’t you?

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 2:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Hero as Artist

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some indented excerpts of “The Hero as Artist,” the fifth chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, after which I offer my comments.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

In the Middle Ages men had been crushed by this [ancient Roman] gigantic scale. They said that these buildings must be the work of demons, or at best they treated them simply as natural phenomena—like mountains—and built their huts in them.

But by 1500 the Romans had begun to realise that they had been built by men. The lively and intelligent individuals who created the Renaissance, bursting with vitality and confidence, were not in a mood to be crushed by antiquity. They meant to absorb it, to equal it, to master it. They were going to produce their own race of giants and heroes.

In what is commonly described as the decadence of the papacy, the Popes were men of unusual ability who used their international contacts, their great civil service and their increasing wealth in the interests of civilisation. Nicholas V, the friend of Alberti and the humanists, was the first man who saw that papal Rome could revive the grandeurs of pagan Rome.

Pius II, a poet, a lover of nature and of beauty in all its forms, yet gave up his life in an attempt to save Christendom from the Turks. Even Sixtus IV, who was as brutal and cunning as he looks in the wall-painting by Melozzo da Forlo, founded the Vatican library and made the great humanist, Platina, its first prefect. Pope Julius II was able by magnanimity and strength of will to inspire and bully three men of genius—Bramante, Michelangelo and Raphael. Without him Michelangelo would not have painted the Sistine Ceiling, nor Raphael decorated the papal apartments, and so we should have been without two of the greatest visible expressions of spiritual power and humanist philosophy.

The above paragraphs remind me what Nietzsche said almost at the end of his Antichrist: that without the Reformation and Counter-Reformation these rather pagan popes would have brought Christianity down. Clark continues:

The old St Peter’s was one of the largest and most ancient churches in the western world, and certainly the most venerable. Julius decided to pull it down and put something far more splendid in its place. The first step in this visible alliance between Christianity and antiquity was taken when Julius decided to pull down the old basilica.

The men of fifteenth-century Florence had looked back eagerly to the civilisation of Greece and Rome. They sought for ancient authors and read them with passion, and wrote to each other in Latin. Their greatest source of pride was to write prose like Cicero. But the man who really assimilated antique art and recreated it, with all its expressive power made more vital and more intense, was Michelangelo.

Seen by itself the David’s body might be some unusually taut and vivid work of antiquity; it is only when we come to the head that we are aware of a spiritual force that the ancient world never knew. I suppose that this quality, which I may call heroic, is not part of most people’s idea of civilisation. It involves a contempt for convenience and a sacrifice of all those pleasures that contribute to what we call civilised life. It is the enemy of happiness.

And this of course can only remind me of Harold Covington’s extreme contempt for those so-called “nationalists” who watch TV while eating so tasty Nachos that only grow their bellies; always reluctant to come home and fight for the creation of a new nation. Clark continues:

And yet we recognise that to despise material obstacles, and even to defy the blind forces of fate, is man’s supreme achievement; and since, in the end, civilisation depends of man extending his powers of mind and spirit to the utmost, we must reckon the emergence of Michelangelo as one of the great events in the history of western man.

[His drawing of Battle of Cascina] was the first authoritative statement that the human body—that body which, in Gothic times, had been the subject of shame and concealment, that body which Alberti has praised so extravagantly—could be made the means of expressing noble sentiments, life-giving energy and God-like perfection. It was an idea that was to have an incalculable influence on the human mind for four hundred years.

And this brings us back to Rome, and to the terrible Pope. Julius II was not only ambitious for the Catholic Church: he was ambitious for Julius II, and in his new temple he planned to erect the greatest tomb of any ruler since the time of Hadrian. It was a staggering example of superbia; and Michelangelo at that time was not without the same characteristic. I need not go into the question of why the tomb was never built. There was a quarrel—heroes do not easily tolerate the company of other heroes. Nor does it matter to us what the tomb was going to look like. All that matters is that some of the figures made for it survive, and they add something new to the European spirit—something that neither antiquity nor the great civilisations of India and China had ever dreamed of. As a matter of fact the two most finished of them were derived from antiques, but Michelangelo has turned them from athletes to captives, one of them struggling to be free—freedom from mortality?—and the other sensuously resigned.

People sometimes wonder why the Renaissance Italians, with their intelligent curiosity, didn’t make more of a contribution to the history of thought. The reason is that the most profound thought of the time was not expressed in words, but in visual imagery.

For centuries writers on Michelangelo have criticised Julius for taking him off the tomb, on which he had set his heart, and putting him to work on the painting of the Sistine Ceiling, although he always said he hated the act of painting.

Michelangelo’s power of prophetic insight gives one the feeling that he belongs to every epoch, and most of all, perhaps, to the epoch of the great Romantics, of which we are still the most bankrupt heirs. It is the attribute that distinguishes him most sharply from his brilliant rival, Raphael. Michelangelo took no interest in the opposite sex; Leonardo thought of women solely as reproductive mechanisms. But Raphael loved girls as much as any Venetian.

The convention by which great events in biblical or secular history could be enacted only by magnificent physical specimens, handsome and well-groomed, went on for a long time—till the middle of the nineteenth century. Only a very few artists—perhaps only Rembrandt and Caravaggio in the first rank—were independent enough to stand against it. And I think that this convention, which was an element in the so-called grand manner, became a deadening influence on the European mind. It deadened our sense of truth, even our sense of moral responsibility; and led, as we now see, to a hideous reaction.

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Protest and Communication

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some indented excerpts of “Protest and Communication,” the sixth chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, after which I offer my comments.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

The dazzling summit of human achievement represented by Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci lasted for less than twenty years. It was followed (except in Venice) by a time of uneasiness often ending in disaster. For the first time since the great thaw civilised values were questioned and defied, and for some years it looked as if the footholds won by the Renaissance—the discovery of the individual, the belief in human genius, the sense of harmony between man and his surroundings—had been lost. Yet this was an inevitable process, and out of the confusion and brutality of sixteenth-century Europe, man emerged with new faculties and expanded powers of thought and expression.

In this room in the castle of Würzburg are the carvings of Tilman Riemenschneider, one—perhaps the best—of many German carvers in the late Gothic style. The Church was rich in fifteenth-century Germany, and the landowners were rich, and the merchants of the Hanseatic League were rich; and so, from Bergen right down to Bavaria, sculptors were kept busy doing huge, elaborate shrines and altars and monuments like the famous group of St George in the old church at Stockholm: a supreme example of late Gothic craftsman deploying his fancy and his almost irritating skill of hand.

The Riemenschneider figures show very clearly the character of the northern man at the end of the fifteenth century.

First of all, a serious personal piety—a quality quite different from the bland conventional piety that one finds, say, in a Perugino. And then a serious approach to life itself. These men (although of course they were unswerving Catholics) were not to be fobbed off by forms and ceremonies. They believed that there was such a thing as truth, and they wanted to get at it. What they heard from Papal legates, who did a lot of travelling in Germany at this time, did not convince them that there was the same desire for truth in Rome, and they had a rough, raw-boned peasant tenacity of purpose. Many of these earnest men would have heard about the numerous councils that had tried throughout the fifteenth century to reform the organisation of the Church. These grave northern men wanted something more substantial.

So far so good. But these faces reveal a more dangerous characteristic, a vein of hysteria. The fifteenth century had been the century of revivalism—religious movements on the fringe of the Catholic Church. They had, in fact, begun in the late fourteenth century, when the followers of John Huss almost succeeded in wiping out the courtly civilisation of Bohemia. Even in Italy Savonarola had persuaded his hearers to make a bonfire of their so-called vanities, including pictures by Botticelli: a heavy price to pay for religious conviction.

The Germans were much more easily excited. Comparisons are sometimes an over-simplification; but I think it is fair to compare one of the most famous portraits, Dürer’s Oswald Krell, with Raphael’s portrait of a cardinal in the Prado [above]. The cardinal is not only a man of the highest culture but balanced and self-contained. Oswald Krell is on the verge of hysteria.

Those staring eyes, that look of self-conscious introspection, that uneasiness, marvellously conveyed by Dürer through the uneasiness of the planes in the modelling—how German it is.

Four pages later Clark devotes several pages to Erasmus of Rotterdam, whom Bronowski praised even more in The Ascent of Man. I have quoted Clark at length on the German character because I believe that Nietzsche was spot on in blaming Luther and Protestant hysteria for the restoration of Christianity when Christendom was falling apart in the times of the Renaissance popes. But in the next entry I will try to convey some of my antichristian thinking by taking the Catholic Erasmus to task. Meanwhile let’s continue with Clark’s views:

In 1506 Erasmus went to Italy. He was in Bologna at the exact time of Julius II’s famous quarrel with Michelangelo; he was in Rome when Raphael began work on the Papal apartments. But none of this seems to have made any impression on him. His chief interest was in the publication of his works by the famous Venetian printer and pioneer of finely printed popular editions, Aldus Manutius. Whereas in the last chapter I was concerned with the enlargement of man’s spirit through the visual image, in this one I am chiefly concerned with the extension of his mind through the word. And this was made possible by the invention of printing.

Printing, of course, had been invented long before the time of Erasmus. Gutenberg’s Bible was printed in 1455. But the first printed books were large, sumptuous and expensive. It took preachers and persuaders almost thirty years to recognise what a formidable new instrument had come into their hands, just as it took politicians twenty years to recognise the value of television. The first man to take advantage of the printing press was Erasmus. He poured out pamphlets and anthologies and introductions; and so in a few years did everyone who had views on anything.

This should remind us of our own age! Take heed of the elucidating excerpts from a 2009 interview of James Bowery by Jim Giles.

Bowery said: “We are essentially living under a theocracy. I call it Holocaustianity but other people call it political correctness. It’s essentially a canon of morals that have taken over Christianity, and the primary sins of this religion involve ‘racism’ which is an undefined word, and anti-Semitism (sexism is certainly down their list; it is like a venial sin, not a mortal sin). So people have been indoctrinated in this by the media and the academia. The government has passed legislation about these morals to make them violation of law. So people [in the 21st century] are essentially in a medieval mindset, living in a theocracy. It’s just that it is not operating under that name… Right now people are essentially in a State where there cannot be a Protestant Reformation. You can’t have other religions than this State religion of political correctness” (39:40).

And later during the interview Bowery added: “Let me go back to my point about the theocracy, and the dissolution of the theocracy in Europe. The Gutenberg press created a situation in which the monopoly of the Church on the written word was broken. A large portion of what the Church was about was media control. So through the media control they could indoctrinate the populations and maintain, you know, a revenue stream. The Gutenberg press broke that. Now all of a sudden you get lots of other voices. As I said, I have been working in this Internet stuff since the early days” (1:29:42).

And that is altogether crucial for our cause. Bowery concludes: “I knew this time was coming. The Internet is the new Gutenberg press. And the theocracy is being taken apart because its control of the media is being taken apart. And we are getting a new Protestant Reformation and following on the heels of that, people are going to say: ‘Look: We have our own beliefs… This is the way things should be.’ Even the Jesuits just couldn’t stand up to that. I don’t think the Jews can’t either.” (1:31:35).

That’s exactly why Erasmus was so notable, as the nationalist Internet bloggers will be equally notable from the standpoint of a latter-day Clark in the coming ethno-state, once the current theocracy falls apart.

Both Erasmus and Luther were involved in important translations of the Bible that shaked the medieval worldview. Although in the next episode Clark spoke highly about Counterreformation art, after the last indented quotation he said: “Whatever else he may have been, Luther was a hero; and after all the doubts and hesitations of the humanists, and the hovering flight of Erasmus, it is with a real sense of emotional relief that we hear Luther say: ‘Here I stand.’” However, at the same time Clark was also dismayed that the Protestants smashed the colored glasses of beautiful Catholic churches, and that artistic images of the Virgin were decapitated.

But it had to happen if civilisation was not to wither, or petrify. And ultimately a new civilisation was created—but it was a civilisation not of the image, but of the word.

But even the Protestant reaction had to be triumphed over, this time by secularism.

It is refreshing to see, in the closing remarks of the episode, Clark praising Montaigne as “completely sceptical about the Christian religion” and of Shakespeare as “the first great poet without a religious belief.”

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 2:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Grandeur and Obedience

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some indented excerpts of “Grandeur and Obedience,” the seventh chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark, and my brief comment.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

In my previous post criticizing Erasmus I mentioned how the modern mind is too coward to approach the main psychosis of Christendom, the doctrine of hell. Unlike the previous entries on Civilisation, of the episode about the Counter-Reformation I’ll barely quote the essentials to annotate what I have just said in that post. Clark said:

The first thing that strikes one is that those who say that the Renaissance had exhausted the Italian genius are wide off the mark. After 1527 there was a failure of confidence; and no wonder. Historians may say that the Sack of Rome was more a symbol than a historically significant event: well, symbols sometimes feed the imagination more than facts—anyway the Sack was real enough to anyone who witnessed it.

If you compare the lower part of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, which was commissioned by Clement VII as a kind of atonement for the Sack, with a group in Raphael’s Disputa or with the Creation of Adam, you can see that something very drastic has happened to the imagination of Christendom.

Michelangelo had been reluctant to undertake the Last Judgement; under Clement’s successor, Pope Paul II, he was persuaded to continue it although with a rather different purpose. It ceased to be an act of atonement, or an attempt to externalise a bad dream, and became the first and greatest assertion of the Church’s power, and of the fate that would befall heretics and schismatics. It belongs to a period of severity, when the Catholic Church was approaching its problems in rather the same puritanical spirit as the Protestants.

Paul III took the two decisions that were successfully to counter the Reformation: he sanctioned the Jesuit order and instituted the Council of Trent. [The Counter-Reformation] was also a period of austerity and restraint, typified by the leading spirit of the period, St Carlo Borromeo, whose legendary asceticism is commemorated in this picture.

How had that victory been achieved? In England most of us were brought up to believe that it depended on The Inquisition, the Index, and the Society of Jesus. I don’t believe that a great outburst of creative energy such as took place in Rome between 1620 and 1660 can be the result of negative factors, but I admit that the civilization of these years depended on certain assumptions that are out of favour in England and America today. The first of these, of course, was belief in authority, the absolute authority of the Catholic Church. This belief was extended to sections of society which we now assume to be naturally rebellious. It comes as something of a shock to find that, with a single exception (Caravaggio), the great artists of the time were all sincere, conforming Christians.

And so what most repulsed Nietzsche, the restoration of Christianity after the Italian Renaissance, was consolidated.

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 2:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Light of Experience

For an introduction to these series, see here.

Below, some excerpts of “The Light of Experience,” the eight chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark.

Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages:

I am in Holland not only because Dutch painting is a visible expression of this change of mind [the revolution that replaced divine authority by experience, experiment and observation], but because Holland—economically and intellectually—was the first country to profit from the change. When one begins to ask the question, ‘does it work?’ instead of ‘is it God’s will?’ one gets a new set of answers, and one of the first of them is this: that to try to suppress opinions which one doesn’t share is much less profitable than to tolerate them.

Nearly all the great books which revolutionised thought were first printed in Holland. What sort of society was it that allowed these intellectual time-bombs to be set off in its midst? Inside the old almshouse of Haarlem, which is now a picture gallery, there is plenty of evidence. We know more about what the seventeenth-century Dutch looked like than we do about any other society, except perhaps the first-century Romans. Each individual wanted posterity to know exactly what he was like.

One can’t imagine groups like this [Rembrandt’s Syndics] being produced in Spain or seventeenth-century Italy, even in Venice. They are the first visual evidence of bourgeois democracy. Dreadful words—so debased by propaganda that I hesitate to use them. Yet in the context of civilisation they really have a meaning. They mean that a group of individuals can come together and take corporate responsibility; that they can afford to do so because they have some leisure; and that they have some leisure because they have money in the bank.

Amsterdam was the first centre of bourgeois capitalism, the chief banking centre of Europe. I don’t say much about economics in this book chiefly because I don’t understand them—and perhaps for that reason believe that their importance has been overrated by post-Marxist historians. But, of course, there is no doubt that at a certain stage in social development fluid capital is one of the chief causes of civilisation because it ensures three essential ingredients: leisure, movement and independence.

In studying the history of civilisation one must try to keep a balance between individual genius and the moral or spiritual condition of a society. However irrational it may seem, I believe in genius. I believe that almost everything of value which has happened in the world has been due to individuals.

Nevertheless, one can’t help feeling that the supremely great figures in history—Dante, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Newton, Goethe—must be to some extent a kind of summation of their times. They are too large, too all-embracing, to have developed in isolation.

Rembrandt is a crucial instance of this conundrum. It is very easy—indeed rather more convenient for the historian—to imagine Dutch art without him; and there was no one else in Holland remotely comparable to him—nothing like the group of poets and dramatists who preceded and accompanied Shakespeare. Yet the very fact that Rembrandt was so immediately and overwhelmingly successful, and went on being successful—his etchings and drawings never went out of fashion—and that for twenty years almost every Dutch painter was his pupil, shows that the spiritual life of Holland needed him and so had, to some extent, created him.

However, any attempt to relate art to society gets one into a false position. The greatest of all pictures based on the facts of vision wasn’t painted in the scientific atmosphere of Holland, but in the superstitious, convention-ridden court of Philip IV of Spain: Las Meninas, ‘The Ladies in Waiting’, which was painted by Velasquez about five years before Vermeer’s finest interiors.

The enlightened tidiness of Hooch and Vermeer and the rich imaginative experience of Rembrandt reached their zenith about 1660. During that decade the leadership of intellectual life passed from Holland to England. Towering above all these remarkable scientists [Boyle, Hooke, Halley, Wren] was Newton, one of the three or four Englishmen whose fame has transcended all national boundaries. I can’t pretend that I have read the Principia, and if I did I wouldn’t understand it any more that Samuel Pepys did when, as President of The Royal Society, it was handed to him for his approval. One must take on trust that it gave a mathematical account of the structure of the universe which for three hundred years seemed irrefutable. It was both the climax of the age of observation and the sacred book of the next century.

What is civilisation? A state of mind where it is thought desirable for a naval hospital to look like this and for the inmates to dine in a splendid decorated hall.

Painted Hall
Royal Hospital
Greenwich, London

The strange thing is that none of the nineteenth-century writers (except Carlyle and Ruskin) seemed to notice that the triumph of rational philosophy had resulted in a new form of barbarism. If, from the balcony of the Greenwich Observatory, I look beyond the order of Wren’s hospital I see, stretching as far as the eye can reach, the squalid disorder of industrial society. It has grown up as a result of the same conditions that allowed the Dutch to build their beautiful towns and support their painters and print their works of philosophers: fluid capital, a free economy, a flow of exports and imports, a dislike of interference.

Every civilisation seems to have its nemesis, not only because the first bright impulses become tarnished by greed and laziness, but because of unpredictables—and in this case the unpredictable was the growth of population.

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Heroic Materialism

Originally I posted this article on April 25, 2012. But now that I have been postulating that the One Ring of greed and power—that we might start calling “the Aryan Problem”—could be the main factor in the West’s darkest hour, I am moving it at the top of this blog.

Below, some excerpts of “Heroic Materialism,” the last chapter of Civilisation by Kenneth Clark. (For an introduction to these series, see here.) Ellipsis omitted between unquoted passages. Also, the headings don’t appear in the original text:

The westerners’ new god: Mammon

Imagine an immensely speeded up movie of Manhattan Island during the last hundred years. It would look less like a work of man than like some tremendous natural upheaval. It’s godless, it’s brutal, it’s violent—but one can’t laugh it off, because in the energy, strength of will and mental grasp that have gone to make New York, materialism has transcended itself. It took almost the same time to reach its present conditions as it did to complete the Gothic cathedrals. At which point a very obvious reflection crosses one’s mind: that the cathedrals were built to the glory of God, New York was built to the glory of mammon—money, gain, the new god of the nineteenth century. So many of the same human ingredients have gone into its construction that at a distance it does look rather like a celestial city. At a distance. Come closer and it’s not so good. Lots of squalor, and, in the luxury, something parasitical.

Blake’s Satan

One sees why heroic materialism is still linked with an uneasy conscience. The first large iron foundries like the Carron Works or Coalbrookdale, date from about 1780. The only people who saw through industrialism in those early days were the poets. Blake, as everybody knows, thought that mills were the work of Satan. ‘Oh Satan, my youngest born… thy work is Eternal death with Mills and Ovens and Cauldrons.’

The [slave] trade was prohibited in 1807, and as Wilberforce lay dying in 1835, slavery itself was abolished. One must regard this as a step forward for the human race, and be proud, I think, that it happened in England. But not too proud. The Victorians were very smug about it, and chose to avert their eyes from something almost equally horrible that was happening to their own countrymen.

In its early stages the Industrial Revolution was also a part of the Romantic movement. And here I may digress to say that painters had for long used iron foundries to heighten the imaginative impact of their work with what we call a romantic effect; and that they had introduced them into pictures as symbolising the mouth of hell. However, the influence of the Industrial Revolution on Romantic painters is a side issue, almost an impertinence, when compared to its influence on human life. I needn’t remind you of how cruelly it degraded and exploited a mass of people for sixty or seventy years.

What was destructive was size. After about 1790 to 1800 there appeared the large foundries and mills which dehumanised life. Long before Carlyle and Karl Marx, Wordsworth had described the arrival of a night shift ‘that turns the multitude of dizzy wheels, Men, maidens, youths, Mothers and little children, boys and girls, Perpetual sacrifice.’

The terrible truth is that the rise in population did nearly ruin us. It struck a blow at civilisation such as it hadn’t received since the barbarian invasions. First it produced the horrors of urban poverty. It must have seemed—may still seem—insoluble; yet this doesn’t excuse the callousness with which prosperous people ignored the conditions of life among the poor on which to a large extent their prosperity depended, and this in spite of the many detailed and eloquent descriptions that were available to them. I need mention only two—Engels’s Conditions of the Working Classes in England, written in 1844, and the novels written by Dickens between 1840 and 1855. Everybody read Dickens. But his terrible descriptions of poverty had very little practical effect: partly because the problem was too big; partly because politicians were held in the intellectual prison of classical economics.

The images that fit Dickens are by the French illustrator Gustave Doré. He was originally a humorist; but the sight of London sobered him. His drawings were done in the 1870s, after Dickens’s death. But one can see that things hadn’t changed much. Perhaps it took an outsider to see London as it really was.

Degenerate architecture

At the beginning of this series I said that I thought one could tell more about a civilisation from its architecture that from anything else it leaves behind. Painting and literature depend largely on unpredictable individuals. But architecture is to some extent a communal art. However, I must admit that the public buildings on the nineteenth century are often lacking in style and conviction; and I believe that this is because the strongest creative impulse of the time didn’t go into the town halls or country houses, but into what was then thought of as engineering. In fact, all modern New York started with the Brooklyn Bridge.

In this series I have followed the ups and downs of civilisation historically, trying to discover results as well as causes; well, obviously I can’t do that any longer. We have no idea where we are going, and sweeping, confident articles of the future seem to me, intellectually, the most disreputable of all forms of utterance. The scientists who are best qualified to talk have kept their moths shut.

The incomprehensibility of our new cosmos seems to me, ultimately, to be the reason for the chaos of modern art. I know next to nothing about science, but I’ve spent my life trying to learn about art, and I am completely baffled by what is taking place today. I sometimes like what I see, but when I read modern critics I realise that my preferences are merely accidental.

Western civilisation has been a series of rebirths. Surely this should give us confidence in ourselves. I said at the beginning that it is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs. Fifty years ago W.B. Yeats, who was more like a man of genius than anyone I have ever known, wrote a famous poem.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment