Luxe, Calme, et Volupté

This blogging stuff is hard work, especially when you’re trying to force your way uphill against what Paul Rosenberg calls our hegemonic discourse. For myself, I’d just like to recover a little of the America that an earnest young teacher once told me about in a junior high civics class, and my parents still believed in after ten years of depression and five more of world war. I hate seeing it sneered at by morons and sadists like Rush Limbaugh, or turned into a right-wing Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by shrunken souls like John Yoo and Dick Cheney.

I need to go look at some art. Not Delacroix, I think…especially not La Liberté guidant le peuple. Not today, anyway. Maybe Manet — I always liked Un bar aux Folies Bergère. I actually got to see it once, when I was in New York some twenty or so years ago. An older couple, friends-of-friends who had tickets to the VIP opening of the retrospective at the Met, found themselves with a prior commitment, and so sent me instead.

The exhibition filled a very large hall. Every painting by Manet that I’d ever seen in a book was hanging there, along with many I hadn’t known about at all. And there I was, just me and twenty or so other art lovers, walking from station to station with our eyes bugged out. It was one of those rare occasions when you understand what privileges are actually available to the privileged.

Beautiful refractions of a very mundane world, made all the more beautiful when you can see the actual brushstrokes which composed them — that’s what I thought once I was standing in front of it. And that black, that radiant black…the color that Manet claimed wasn’t one. I felt sorry for the young woman behind the bar, though — trapped, distracted, unaware that the painter is making her less beautiful, and the world more, as though to prove that the dignity of labor is overrated.

Once upon a time, I might have asked her what time she got off work. Now, I think of myself as one of her less-favored customers — old, fat, loud, and overly fond of pastis. Still male, though, unfortunately. Maybe I should consider pastis the old man’s virtue rather than his vice. That would be acceptable, I think, especially if I could sit at the back of the room and see what Manet saw.

But no, not the bar after all. When all is said and done, it does the woman an injustice, perhaps because Manet went to such lengths to disguise his reverence for her.

Matisse, I think. You know the one. Women unencumbered. Women and light. I think I might have caught a glimpse of Digby there, out of the corner of my eye, but not a sign of Ann Coulter, or Michelle Malkin. They don’t show up anywhere unless they’re paid.

25 thoughts on “Luxe, Calme, et Volupté

  1. LWM May 21, 2009 / 8:20 am

    “This blogging stuff is hard work, especially when you’re trying to force your way uphill against what Paul Rosenberg calls our hegemonic discourse.”

    It’s “teh reading” that has always stumped me. I’ve never been much of a reader. Everyone writes the same old shit. I’m counting on you to be “different”. And the links to art (pictures) are just my cup of tea.

  2. Karen M May 21, 2009 / 5:58 pm

    I need to go look at some art.

    That line attracted me, too. Bystander and I were just recently having an offline conversation about Art and how important it is these days.

    As for Digby… I heartily agree that she is an unencumbered woman. There was some video of her online a few years ago, when she received an award. It might have been at YearlyKos, but I don’t remember.

    • William Timberman May 21, 2009 / 6:22 pm

      Yes, I saw it. We should all have sisters like Digby. A Maha-atma, just like our friend Art.

  3. sysprog May 21, 2009 / 9:11 pm

    Greetings, W.T.

    As befits my WASP/Jewish heritage, the embodiment of Luxe, Calme, et Volupté whom I fell for at 17 was fully clothed.

    A challenge: click here and then don’t laugh.

    (He’s been fighting that discourse hegemony with this crowd.)

    Ach! enuff of all that.

    What’s it all for, anyway?

    In the midst of war, John Adams (with young John Quincy) went to Paris and wrote:

    12 May 1780 [to Abigail]

    My dear Portia,


    To take a Walk in the Gardens of the Palace of the Tuilleries, and describe the Statues there, all in marble, in which the ancient Divinities and Heroes are represented with exquisite Art, would be a very pleasant Amusement, and instructive Entertainment, improving in History, Mythology, Poetry, as well as in Statuary. Another Walk in the Gardens of Versailles, would be usefull and agreable. But to observe these Objects with Taste and describe them so as to be understood, would require more time and thought than I can possibly Spare. It is not indeed the fine Arts, which our Country requires. The Usefull, the mechanic Arts, are those which We have occasion for in a young Country, as yet simple and not far advanced in Luxury, altho perhaps much too far for her Age and Character.
    I could fill Volumes with Descriptions of Temples and Palaces, Paintings, Sculptures, Tapestry, Porcelaine, &c. &c. &c. — if I could have time. But I could not do this without neglecting my duty. The Science of Government it is my Duty to study, more than all other Studies Sciences: the Art of Legislation and Administration and Negotiation, ought to take Place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other Arts. I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Painting and Poetry Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.


    Tapestry! My 17 year old has announced that she will be a fabric designer.

    • William Timberman May 21, 2009 / 9:50 pm

      1) The Ingres. That’s the one in the Frick, right? If so, I remember it’s being in an alcove, with a little table in front of it, and me thinking that the stunning blue dress was almost lickable — never mind the lady inside it.

      2) I utterly failed the challenge.

      3) Yep. All those poor, mistreated loudmouths. It’s what I used to say about shooter. He could flip from being a bully to being a victim faster than you could blink. I don’t think he even realized he was doing it.

    • Karen M May 22, 2009 / 7:22 pm

      A fabric designer! That’s wonderful, sysprog!

      The ones I met (back in a previous life chapter) all seemed to have pretty interesting lives.

      I failed, too.

  4. sysprog May 21, 2009 / 9:20 pm


    Not quite.

    What I saw isn’t what I got.

    The “strike” tag worked in preview mode but got removed from the published comment.

    The words that were supposed to be struck were

    Studies (replaced by the next word, Sciences)


    Painting and Poetry (replaced by the next three words, Mathematicks and Philosophy).

    or just click the link to see the original letter.

    • William Timberman May 21, 2009 / 9:38 pm

      Sysprog, welcome. I tried editing the comment for you. Is what it looks like now what you wanted? If so, my WordPress template seems to be using the del tag instead of the s tag.


      Mmm…let’s see if this works after I hit publish.

      • William Timberman May 21, 2009 / 9:39 pm

        Okay, that’s it. Use del and it seems to work. I’m gonna go check your links now.

  5. LWM May 22, 2009 / 5:43 am

    On topic, more or less, I think Paul, whose left street cred is beyond reproach with me, is making a mountain out of a mole hill here. There is more substance to Greenwald’s peeve about the gratuitous use of “C in C” but even that is not something I can get too worked up about. No less than Stan Goff, an unapologetic radical Marxist/Feminist, has long advocated building bridges between the left and the military. Someone has to do the shooting when we put all the wingnuts up against the wall.


    • William Timberman May 22, 2009 / 6:41 am

      I was just looking for a link to one of Paul’s pieces on hegemony, and happened to choose the one dealing with the military, or rather with the militarization of civil discourse.

      This is maybe a discussion for another time — and I intend to write about it in more detail at some point — but suffice it to say that I grew up in a household run by a professional army officer, someone who was a slightly more urbane, but no less authoritarian figure than The Great Santini. Hair cut, shoes shined, no backtalk, otherwise righteous violence will follow as surely as death and taxes.

      The problem with fetishizing military service is that the military is not only by generally agreed upon necessity an authoritarian institution, but it also breeds authoritarians and a respect for authoritarianism which is generally without the merit we attribute to it. What we call esprit de corps tends to be misogynistic, contemptuous of weakness and complicated answers, narrow-minded, and extremely confident that it has the answers to everything.

      These are exactly the people whose asses you don’t want to be kissing if you want to preserve and propagate the virtues of a civil society.

      As with soldiers, so also with cops. Cincinnatus, or Dwight Eisenhower, for that matter, is an ideal, not a reality. I’m perfectly prepared to give the devil his due, but no more than that.

      Well, enough. As I say, a topic for a later date.

      • LWM May 23, 2009 / 1:46 am

        A couple of things:

        First, I’m uncomfortable about generalizing too much from the personal and specific and then from a work of literature, albeit informed from the personal and specific.

        Second, one needn’t have had a father in the military to have a similar experience growing up. Some religious wingnut would be just as bad and every negative you cite is there in the society at large, so I wouldn’t blame basic training too much. We could just say it’s men and a male dominated hierarchy.

        Third, especially with policing, which I studied, the rank and file have much broader latitude and discretion than the Chief of police in the course of a day on patrol. No one is looking over their shoulders when they do their jobs. It’s not like a corporate environment where the top man has the discretion and they are chained to a desk. It is one of the odd paradoxes about policing. But it has begun to change somewhat, especially in LA and other urban cities. Not necessarily for the better, but they were plagued with problems there. I’d chalk that up to the “style” encouraged by people like Gates. The military is not much different, but only when they are out in the field and bitching and griping and thumbing their noses in the face of command. Back on base it is different. But it is also very much like a commune, even “socialist”. No I in team means no place for the rugged individualist, but you are encouraged to “show initiative”.

        And lastly, I hardly think Obama’s remarks rise to the level of fetishism. If he puts on a flight suit, let me know.

        • William Timberman May 23, 2009 / 6:56 am

          Mmm…are you saying, then, that this is all quite normal, that we should all just move along, and not concern ourselves with how it got to be that way?

          One point of clarification, though. I don’t think that Obama is the one doing the fetishizing, any more than the average Catholic is responsible for setting the crucifixion fetish up behind the altar. Like the average Catholic, though, he does feel obliged to genuflect, and cross himself, when passing in front of it. Why does he feel the need, do you think? It seems downright Unamerican to me.

          • LWM May 23, 2009 / 1:06 pm

            Politics, William. He’s a politician.

            Let’s not forget, Washington always showed up in his “flight suit”.

            • William Timberman May 23, 2009 / 2:57 pm

              Not after he became President, at least not as I remember the story.

              • LWM May 23, 2009 / 4:29 pm

                No, but that’s my point about this. Washington was not one of the Founders who argued against standing armies. I doubt he would have any problem with Obama’s remarks and nothing but similar praise for Obama and the military. He might well have taken issue with Bush’s antics and posturing. One can be fairly certain of that.

                • William Timberman May 23, 2009 / 4:44 pm

                  We seem to be arguing different things here. Neither Paul nor I are arguing against standing armies. What we are arguing against is the creeping militarization of civil society, which Obama’s comments most certainly reflect, even if he himself isn’t a militarist, and therefore sees no harm in indulging the semantics which are standard arrows in the militarist’s quiver.

                  Unless you want to pretend that there isn’t a subtext at work here, or that we’ve misinterpreted it, I think we’ve made a reasonable case. If you’re going to indulge in kneejerk pieties in this day and age, it behooves you to know who’s jerking your knee.

  6. cocktailhag May 22, 2009 / 3:26 pm

    Ah, WT… I had a similar experience at the Musee d’Orsay. My mother loved French Impressionists, and copies and coffee tables filled our house. What surprised me was the different sizes of the paintings, which are rendered essentially the same in reprints. Pictures I thought were normal-sized were huge (The Planers, by Caillebotte, I found particularly arresting…) others were tiny. I’d never thought to check the fine print about size, evidently.
    They say, not without evidence, that bad times produce great art. We’ll see.

    • William Timberman May 22, 2009 / 6:18 pm

      Very true. One expects The NIght Watch to be huge, and it is. One somehow expects Van Gogh’s starry night to be just as big, and it isn’t. (Except of course, that it fills a room just as effectively.)

      It’s a mystery.

  7. LWM May 23, 2009 / 5:49 pm

    Perhaps we are arguing different things. Or perhaps Obama said something I am not aware of. We still don’t have compulsory military service, like Israel, which is arguably a case of the creeping militarization of society. I don’t think we will ever get to that. If anything, we have gone the other way. But the repercussions of the Rehnquist and Roberts court will be with us for years, and that, as Eisenhower would say, is who decides what is constitutional and who says what the law of the land is. I still doubt we will be packing full auto assault rifles anytime soon, or even keeping them in the closet with several thousand rounds of ammunition like every Swiss citizen. Perhaps you both mean to say the tendency to feel like we are on a permanent war footing. I’d acknowledge that but even there, I think it has been dialed back quite a bit.

    Nice long edit period. Thanks. I can use it.

    Let me give you an example:

    No, I Do Not Support “The “Troops”

    Not the worst but you’ve seen Jeremy Sapienza’s racist rant before.

    Even Orwell would contend that Silber was “objectively” pro-terrorist. Silber would probably have been “objectively pro-fascist” in the 1930’s. I’m not suggesting that either you or Paul are like Silber. But just look at all the pushback Paul has gotten from that post, from “Liberal-Progressives” as Silber puts it while accusing them of “Non-Opposition”.

    • William Timberman May 23, 2009 / 6:10 pm

      Yes, every Swiss citizen has a rifle in his closet, but the Swiss state doesn’t have 700+ military bases spread over the world, its people don’t genuflect when someone says the troops, and its generals don’t have orgasms when their staff officers come up with phrases like full spectrum dominance. The last time I looked, their hats aren’t getting any taller than they’ve always been, either — you know, the cheaper the crook, the gaudier the uniform, and all that….

      It’s like Nixon’s comic-opera palace guard, LWM. Taken individually, these things that Paul is objecting to may or may not be significant. Taken altogether, they’re a sad, and perhaps dangerous indicator of what’s very likely to come.

  8. LWM May 23, 2009 / 8:37 pm

    Ah, but the Swiss Guard occupy The Vatican, William. Most certainly the arch nemesis of the Illuminati, if not a still somewhat powerful state. And those lances and pantaloons. What’s up with that?

    I think I win this argument.

    • William Timberman May 23, 2009 / 9:31 pm

      Well, win or not, I concede. There’s no arguing with pantaloons…or with Matisse.

      • LWM May 24, 2009 / 1:57 pm

        To be fair, you are also comparing apples to oranges. Or perhaps acorns to chestnut trees.

        Read through any thread at Abu Muqawama, CTLAB or the Long or Small Wars Journals and you’ll begin to see the distinction between academic professionalism and wannabe fetishism, Full Spectrum Dominance nothwithstanding. And one can hardly find a field or discipline that doesn’t engage in arcane nomenclatures as a matter of course. I thought this was all made clear to most people before, (another peeve about blogs is you always have to school the never ending stream of FNGs). There is no substitute to the modern professional military in the modern age. There will always be a few horse’s asses in any herd. Don’t make me whip out Adam Smith on the standing army and professional military.

        Speaking of Smith, you might enjoy this:

        Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand: From Metaphor to Myth

        Gavin Kennedy

        […] modern economists took an isolated metaphor, used rarely by Adam Smith, and in his name invented a wholly misleading belief of how commercial markets function and how people in them necessarily and unintentionally work for public benefit, independent of the consequences of their actions. And they introduced a self-contradictory concept into economics, described as an ‘invisible hand explanation’, yet it does not explain anything close to the explanatory value offered by economics as a science, even where Smith left it. If anything, it obfuscates everything to which it is applied.

        I’m sure it went over well at GMU when Kennedy first presented this paper.

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