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Showing posts from March 22, 2009

Mohawk Booty, Greek Booty, Your Booty

The only serious rival to the “glorious Greek” was the “noble savage,” preferably North American. And the genius of that Prince of Arrivistes, Benjamin West, was able to combine the two. When in 1760 he was shown the Apollo Belvedere he started back and exclaimed, “My God, how like it is to a young Mohawk warrior!” - Winckelmann and the Second Renascence, 1755-1955, by Gilbert Bagnani American Journal of Archaeology, 1955(115) Darcy G. Grigsby’s Nudity a la grecque in 1799 focuses on David’s rehabilitation in that year (in a new society in which revolutionary associations in one’s past were considered damning) that took the form of his exhibition of his Sabines paintings. David wrote a brochure to hand out to visitors (of which there were perhaps fifty thousand in all) in defense of his work, and in particular in defense of the male nude. It was also a defense of the artist as entrepreneur: “Isn’t it an idea that is as fair as it is wise that those who procure for the arts the means of


The savage and the civilized, that world historical couple, show up, conceptualizing ghosts, ghosts of concepts, transfigured outlines of the victim and the victim’s victim, in the oddest places. Consider the parallel between, on the one hand, the exhibited savage – Pocohantas at King James court, or the Venus Hottentot – and classical statuary. Not, perhaps, a couple you would expect. They do play a similar synecdochal role, parts – especially private parts – standing in for wholes; and – given that geographies for the eighteenth century European were cast as different levels of temporality upon that new measuring stick, progress – the Greeks and Romans were increasingly seen in savage terms themselves. Or rather, by the end of the 18th century, Laffitau’s famous remark that the customs of the Iroquois reminded him of the ancient Greeks was becoming a filter by which the ancient Greeks reminded the classicist of the Iroquois. The Great Transformation was, among other things, a great

discovery and knowledge

And so Goethe leaves behind Weimar, where he has official responsibilities, and goes to Italy as his father had, as Winklemann had, as Herder had – the great trip. But he goes under an incognito – an unknown man in unknown territory. The function of being “unknown” is, of course, relative to a knower. To take on an incognito is the same as coming down with amnesia; but, in a curious way, it mimics amnesia. It projects a certain forgetting of oneself on others. It is, above all, a dramatic conceit. The Lord of Dark Corners, the King in Measure for Measure, for instance, pretends to go on a trip in order to return to his city, under an assumed name, and see that thing we all dream of seeing: what things are like when we aren’t there. But of course the dramatic conceit requires a secret third, an audience, for it to work dramatically. The comparative task is entrusted to the audience in this experiment in bi-location. Goethe takes the chance that he really will disappear – and there are