“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

emotions among the wormfood

After Delacroix, the painting of historical scenes generally devolved to the second tier of painting: to the painters of dioramas and of battlescenes housed in fairway tents. While the Mexican muralists did some pretty good battlescenes and pageant pictures, basically, paintings of battles today are alive mainly among comix artists, and of course the world of those digital artists who work on action pics (and hey, for you painters out there who want to make some bucks on the next big thing and go out with pop star divas, I’d suggest freeze framing action movie scenes and repainting them a la David. Pretty easy to do, the irony so up front that even the dumbest Vogue editor can see it, and you are on your way to a life of making subpar videos and such a la Matthew Barney).

Well, getting all the elements together to portray the total social phenomenon of the happiness culture has a certain unavoidable dioramic feel. Just as in the diorama, where heroic figures alternate with the wormfood that brandishes swords, flees, is crippled by falling horses, shot, splayed, and abstractly wins or loses, I have to alternate a story about something happening in high culture – the change in the discourse of the emotions that kicked in in the second part of the 19th century – while making a claim that this affected the way the wormfood interpreted their emotions –the way emotional customs exist on the ‘folk’ level. Actually, the claim is not just that this affected the wormfood, but that there is a collective experience of a shift in the social phenomenon of interpreting emotions that corresponds to total shifts in the positional network, the level of aspiration, etc., associated with the new system of production.

Now, how do you get evidence for claims like this?

I’ve been reading some of the works published in the sixties – thick description ethnologies like Akenfield, Ronald Blythe’s excellent “Portrait of an English Village” – which took a long look back at the changes wrought in the landscape by war, technology, the abandonment of rural areas – as Blythe points out, 700,000 some English men and women abandoned the countryside in the 1870s to emigrate to Canada, the U.S., and Australia, leaving some areas to revert to untilled, unpastured nature, such as was common to them in Elizabethan days – and the diffusion among the great mass that still lived with ancien regime habits and ways of thinking of a totally different mindset.

When Napoleon’s soldiers swept through Europe, they very consciously diffused the doctrines of the French revolution – they felt themselves the bearers of a new political order. This was why Marx, for one, wished that Napoleon had succeeded – it would have broken the grip of the ancien regime on Prussia. But there were no soldiers bearing the message of a new emotional order to which one can point. Yet the new emotional order did come. This is a long event, one that took two centuries. It achieved critical mass, at it were, in the 1960s. What I am looking for is a way to find testimony to that massive, and massively invisible, change.


Brian said...

Maybe you've covered this exhaustively below, but how would you "describe" this new emotional order in terms that a mediocre-ly educated, non English or anthropolgy major would understand? What IS the core of the new order/self view?

amie said...

LI, I'm still trying to catch up with your posts on Happiness Triumphant, so I beg indulgence if this comment is way in left field. But am struck by the reference to the painter Mr.David, which reminded me of the 'severity' of his 'historical' style, and how he was influenced by Winkelman. For one thing it raises the question of happiness and imitation, and in a rather large 'historical' span, as for W. the question is to imitate the ancients to be properly oneself/modern. And it would also involve referring not just to say Epicurius and Aristotle but also to the Pericles of the funeral oration denouncing the "oriental vice of softness".
LI, what would you think of comparing David and Fragonard, the latter being a hopeless softy? Have you ever been to the Frick Museum's Fragonard room? I can never go there without bursting into gales of laughter and on more than one occasion have been escorted out by museum guards despite regaling them with stories of Louis XV and his mistress who commissioned and rejected the paintings!
Aristotle has been referenced in the happiness posts. Funny - and sad? - that his texts re laughter have been lost! But, after all, laughter is loss isn't it, a spasm, an outburst - happiness?
I'm reminded of Baudelaire's famous text on the Painter of Modern Life but also of a less well known text,"le désir de peindre":

Malheureux peut-être l'homme mais heureux l'artiste que le désir dechire!
Je brûle de peindre celle qui m'apparue si rarement et qui a fuit si vite [...] elle est belle, elle est plus que belle, elle est suprenante. [...] Je la comprenais à un soleil noir, si l'on pouvait concevoir un astre noir versant la lumière et la bonheur. Mais elle fait plus volontiers penser à la lune[...] non pas la lune passible et discrète visitant le sommeil des hommes purs, mais la lune arrachée du ciel, vaincue et révoltée, que les Sorcières thessaliness contraignent durement à danser sur l'herbe terrifiée!
Dans son petit front habitent la volonté tenace et l'amour de la proie. Cependant, au bas de ce visage inquétant, où des narines mobiles aspirent l'inconnu et l'impossible, éclate, avec une grâce inexprimable, le rire d'une grande bouche, rouge et blanche...


roger said...

Amie, instead of answering any questions, I want to join your thread. For along with David, along with the imitation of, or reanimation of, the ancients, there is the painting on the placard, the fair, the images in bars.

Which brings us to this little coincidence of events, in Champfleury's book on popular art. In 1848, a year of barricades, a book was published in Germany entitled Auch ein Todtentanz aus dem Jahre 1848. It consisted of six engravings by Alfred Rethel and showed 'l'homme du peuple, egare par les conseils de la Mort, se revoltant et tombant dans les deplorable luttes qui s'engagerenet a cette epoque." When it was published the next year in Paris, it was called Le Socialisme, nouvelle Danse des Morts. It is interesting to speculate what death's interest was. Is death looking for more victims? Or is death advising that life is death unless one revolts? Of course, the advise is 'confusing' to the man of the people. Since death gains one way or another, death's aim seems, I think, to be aesthetic: to die discretely, all over the place, in hovel and barn, makes for statistics, but not for dancing. The barricade as a dance of death , as a gracenote - while this goes against the reactionary intent of Rethel, I like how a medieval allegory suddenly emerges as the wormfood, as I was putting it, revolts. Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant! Here is one of the engravings .

Brian said...

I have a new wallpaper! But then, as I spend my time listening to juvenile Black Metal and obscure Franco-Austrian death-symphonic music, I would like this engraving, wouldn't I! http://www.elend-music.org/news.php

amie said...

Ow, that is some engraving!
It's interesting how 'conseils de la mort' shifts into 'danse des morts', hmmm.
I like you point about how an allegory suddenly emerges as the wormfood revolts.

amie said...

your point. not, you point.

roger said...

Amie, perhaps it is the influence of Joseph De Maistre, but after the French revolution, death as a figure was certainly politicized. There's a lineage of speaking for death that goes right up to the fascists. How it is that death represents the old order is a puzzle. You've probably heard this famous story, but supposedly Unamuno was teaching at a University of Salamanca in Spain during the civil war. Unamuno was not sympathetic to the Republic. But when the Falange took over Salamanca, they held a ceremony, at which Unamuno attended, in which they cried, "Viva la muerte!" - or in another version, "Death to intelligence! And long live Death!" - which so shocked old Unamuno that he publicly protested, and was promptly put under house arrest, and promptly died of a heart attack.

amie said...

LI, I'd forgotten the Unamuno story. Your comment reminds me of another famous story with the drumbeat of death: Unexpected Reunion by Hebel. (I'm sure you know it but it is too great to resist quoting.)
A miner in Falun, on the eve of his wedding, dies in the mine. His wife-to-be remains faithful to him after his death. Years pass and she is an old woman when a body is discovered in the mine. The body has been preserved by iron vitriol and she recognizes her bethroned. Soon after this reunion, she dies. The long years in between are described in the following lines:

“In the meantime the city of Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake, and the Seven Years’ War came and went, and Emperor Francis I died, and the Jesuit Order was abolished, and Poland was partitioned, and Empress Maria Theresa died, and Struensee was executed. America became independent, and the united French and Spanish forces were unable to capture Gibraltar. The Turks locked up General Stein in the Veteraner Cave in Hungary, and Emperor Joseph died also. King Gustavus of Sweden conquered Russian Finland, and the French Revolution and the long war began, and Emperor Leopold II went to his grave too. Napoleon captured Prussia, and the English bombarded Copenhagen, and the peasants sowed and harvested. The millers ground, the smiths hammered, and the miners dug for veins of ore in their underground workshops. But when in 1806 the miners at Falun ...”

roger said...

Amie, is that beautiful or what? The lost continent of the ancien regime is contained in that description.