Monday, December 9, 2019

The Joys of Pre or Postprandial Bliss

Epicurus (Castellani Collection; purchase, 1873)
Postprandial conversations and activities exist in a world all their own. Hunger can influence one's perspective about the nature of human existence with gnawing emptiness leading to a rather depressing prognosis about the prospects of the human race. Hunger is definitely a depressant. The jury is out about having a meal before sex. You may remember the famous scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen is about to introduce Diane Keaton to the joys of deli and suggests getting the kissing over first. There's something very satisfying about relieving the urge to merge before one enjoys a steak. Generally there's a glow to a couple who have just consummated and also they're less likely to overeat. However playing the devil's advocate one may argue that good food and conversation open the gateways to the heart. What would Epicurus, whose name is associated with both delicacy and the golden mean, have said?

Friday, December 6, 2019


Joie de vivre is a kind of throw-a-away, a tongue-in-cheek means of addressing the tip of the iceberg. Essentially it means nothing. Junkies chasing highs are joy seekers. However, beyond a certain hedonism, there are those who are driven by the gluttonous desire to milk the cow for everything its worth. If you can imagine the dandyish concept of art for art’s sake extended to longevity, you will be confronted with precisely the type of person who insists on prolonging his or her own life at any costs. Maybe fear is the motivation, yet you have undoubtedly read about the situation of families whose nest eggs are totally emptied in trying to defray the medical costs of an older generation who are living preternaturally long lives. Forget the quality of the lives in many cases reduced to no more than the ingestion and regurgitation of food. The fact is they're like black holes that seep the life out of others. Respect for the sanctity of life is often regarded as an admirable intention. However, does that apply to old people hanging on simply because they’re afraid to let go? Praise is often heaped on an aged individual just for persevering and continuing to eat, sleep and defecate every day while the lives of all those around them are squandered on the need to care for someone who has overstayed their welcome. "Living well is the best revenge," said George Herbert. No it's living so long that you outlive your own children.  Advances in medicine are extending the existence of the parent, literally and metaphorically, at the expense of the child.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Le Demi-monde

Alexander Dumas fils
Le monde is French for ‘the world.” You have “le monde” and Le Demi-monde which is the title of a play by Alexander Dumas fils. Demimondaines are the women of the demimonde. Sara Bernhardt was the daughter of a courtesan and an actress, both of which would have qualified her to be a member of the demimonde in the l8th or l9th century. Madame De Maintenon who would marry Louis the XIV also had humble origins qualified her to be demimondaine. In modern times Wallis Simpson who caused the Duke of Windsor to abdicate might have been termed a demimondaine not only due to being a commoner with aristocratic ambitions but because she was a divorcee, a status shared by Meghan Markle who recently married Prince Harry--a woman with no royal blood, a divorcee and an actress to boot. Les Liaisons Dangereux is an epistolary novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos later made into a movie with Jeanne Moreau by Roger Vadim. The story is full of manipulative women who use sex as a weapon and tool, but they're not demimondaines because they're all aristocrats, who one would assume were given a certain license to employ noblesse oblige. Sensibilities exist in particular times and places and art may reflect a particular way of life, but it may also create it. The Sufferings of Young Werther famously produced a rash of suicides in imitation of the the behavior of Goethe’s character. "Bounder" is a word used for cads, but it’s not one you’re likely to find in a work of contemporary fiction just as you’re unlikely to meet characters with names like Lady Fidget, Harry Horner and Jack Pinchwife (all characters out of Wycherley's The Country Wife), who marries a simple girl, incapable of cheating on him. When someone created the idea of the demimondaine they locked the door and threw away the key which would have freed their characters from the language (and history) in which they’d been created.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

And Now John Ruskin with Your Forecast..."

In his essay, “John Ruskin: Sermons and Stones,” (The New Criterion, 11/19), Paul Dean says this about the declining years of the great ideologist of pre-Raphaelitism: “One consequence of Ruskin’s mental disturbance was a growing obsession with the weather. One of the few things still generally known about him is that he coined the phrase “the pathetic fallacy” in Modern Painters, and his conviction that storm-clouds portended apocalyptic disaster is a textbook example of this.” Atmospheric conditions are usually considered like wallpaper. But there are, of course, people who look at them as omens and can’t tolerate one form of weather or another because of finding it disconsonant with their own being. When pilots talk about having “weather,” the forecast is usually bad. However, a sunny day might be like water to the Wicked Witch for someone with a phlegmatic personality. The Pre-Raphaelites placed great store on innocence. As Dean relates, Ruskin had a history of being obsessed with much younger women, falling in love with the 18-year-old Kathleen Oleander, who he encountered in the National Gallery, when he was almost 70. The virginal quality of the infatuation might have found a voice in the florid poetry of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, who along with John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt were founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  Ruskin had become famous as the great advocate of Turner and from a meteorological point of view you might say that Turner painted in a kind of cloud, as if he were perpetually preparing himself for a rainy day. In an alternate universe, Ruskin might very well have replaced Lonnie Quinn, the weather anchor on CBS 2 news at ll.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Final Solution: Majority Rules?

The Bill of Rights
Democracy functions on the notion of majority rules, but there are all kinds of interventions. For instance, the constitution allows everyone one the right to vote, but the Bill of Rights provides for inalienable rights--moral imperatives that transcend the will of the crowd. Here is where populism runs aground. It takes its impetus from democracy’s mandate of the majority, but places little value on the individual. If Congress were an energy company then the due process usually a function of the judiciary would be  regulation. In a polarized political maelstrom like the near civil war in which the United States finds itself, it’s hard to abide or even hear the call to principles amidst the din and fury of restless factions. In fact, this very situation was the one which the original founders were legislating in their writing of the early documents of a fledgling democracy. The idea of an electoral college which ironically brought Trump to power when he had less than a majority of the vote, is an attempt to protect against the abuse of democracy. The energy metaphor can also be literally applied. When you think of it the deployment of millions of people through elections was very much like unleashing the power of the atom, but atomic power plants have famously suffered from meltdowns like the ones at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. However rugged, down home or grass roots the electorate, democracy insures that power will go to right places by way of a delicate and often subtle latticework of mechanisms that act like car insurance to provide both for liability and collision. It's these protections that are threatened in the kind of populist uprisings which have threatened democratic institutions and processes not only in the United States, but in England and Europe.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Eclipse of the Antihero

There was a time say starting with the advent of Gregor Samsa that antiheroes came into vogue. You didn’t have to be the star of the football team or a war hero anymore, you could be just the reverse, a cockroach. Along the time line of this Age of Faint Praise, there was the Dustin Hoffman persona from Mike Nichols's The Graduate and, of course, Alexander Portnoy, whose notoriety as a character in literature derived from his masturbating into a piece of liver. Woody Allen, a mousy looking creep with glasses, impersonated himself and for a while was one of America’s premier directors as well as actors. In the days when comedians like Woody Allen and Louis CK were ascendant, you had a chance if you didn’t possess a bronze star. But today, the neurotic guys who think too much and have weird sexual peccadillos have no claim to fame. If Porn Hub issued the equivalent of an Academy Award to the sex addict who was capable of monopolizing the lion’s share of its millions of daily hits, there might be a chink of light. But now the curtain has come down and life has again become a nightmare for the meek and the last who neither inherit the earth nor are any longer first.