a killer style

In Wooden Eyes, Carlo Ginzberg begins his essay on Style with an exemplary story, a little trouvaille. In 1605, the Venetian Republic jailed two priests, thus setting off a long dispute with the Holy See. On the Venetian side, the main polemicist was a monk, Paolo Sarpi. In 1607, Sarpi was ambushed near his monastery by a number of men with knives, who stabled him repeatedly. ‘Sarpi, gravely wounded, whispered to the doctor who was tending him that, as everyone knew, the wounds have been caused ‘stylo Romanae cuiaa’ – that is, by the knife of the Roman curia, but also by the legal procedures [literally, by the stylus or pen] of the Roman Curia.”
Style kills. And what kills, in human affairs, usually falls under the category of the political, insofar as politics is war pursued by other means. LI has been thinking about this in relation to the topic we pursued in a couple of posts last week – subversion in art.

To reprise: Sociologically, it is funny that art’s subversiveness has become a critical commonplace and an unthinking plaudit in the same era that the official social mechanism recognizing subversiveness in art – censorship – has been reduced or transformed. Without a specific censor’s judgment to guide the critic, subversion in a piece of art – the Chocolate Jesus, V for Vendetta, etc. - now takes only the largest and vaguest objects – language, capitalism, patriarchy, while its subversive quality has become a sort of good housekeeping seal – as if there were something aesthetically positive about subversion itself. In fact, subversion has been seen as such an all encompassing good that I’ve read more than one critic say that all art is subversive. And who questions that? or that subversion is a good in itself?

One of the liberal commonplaces about censorship is that censorship is essentially dumb. That is, the censors are always censoring the trivial or the inconsistent, and never catching the clever, subversive things put in by artists that send out special messages to the audience. The implication is that art does not consist just of parts that can be blacked out or not. Rather, there are other things at work – like style. How does one censor a style?


winn said…
So I take it Wooden Eyes is well worth buying? It sounds wonderful!

The conservatives were just afraid someone would bite off Jesus' bunny ears, as indeed the photographs show someone did.
roger said…
Winn, yes, it is definitely worth buying!
Actually, the statue seemed pretty derivative to me of Kiki Smith's work. Now, if the Catholic league started bitching about that, I'd have some respect for them...
On second thought, naaa - I'll never have respect for them.