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.