Forgotten Art

Things may have been rather quiet at this blog recently, but articles continue to be re-published at Underneath the Bunker, my ‘sister site’. Particular attention should be paid to the works of Australia’s third-favourite art historian, D H Laven, whose forthcoming study The Story of Forgotten Art promises to revive a discipline dominated by repetitive and inferior scholarship. Underneath the Bunker has published several of Laven’s articles over the years, not least his pioneering research on three famously neglected painters: the French misanthrope Eugene Matendre, the luckless Spanish chump Luis Recagis, and the fanatical cow-loving Englishman Sir Anthony Tosh. From his chapter on the latter, I present you with the following quotation:

In my opinion, the relationship between Mrs Greenhalgh and Sir Anthony Tosh was more than just sexual. They were conspiring not only against Mr Greenhalgh (Sir Anthony was, of course, unmarried) but also against the religious faith of the Horsely Down community. Mrs Greenhalgh recorded the instances of Sir Anthony’s church readings in order to reveal to subsequent generations the part that he was playing in the propagation of a religious cult. In her faith she no doubt believed that these future generations would have long seen the light and would now have cause to praise Sir Anthony for his dedication. Instead of this, we find ourselves in a world in which the religious cult of which he was a part has – as far as I know – long sunk without trace.

If you are not compelled to read more, I have lost faith in you as a worthy reader. Go hence and bury your face in a novelette.

For more on Laven himself, your patience will be rewarded in due course.

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Tiny Pieces

It has, I think, been some time since I brought your worthy attention to a favourite ‘search term‘, perhaps because so few of the recent examples I have come across have caught my elegant fancy. Either that, or my mind has been on other things. In any case, a suitably strange term has just emerged. And this, if you will, is it:

‘animals breaking a rock into tiny pieces’

Is any further comment required? I can only hope that my humble blog offered this particular internet-surfer what they wanted. Somehow I doubt it, but one cannot be so hasty as to assume that one has a hold on the expectations of the contemporary web-wanderer. Perhaps this site is just the place for someone seeking information on/footage of/poems about rock-breaking animals. On the other hand…

Biographies of Bläss

How many biographies have there been of Bläss? Far too many, as anyone knows.

Bläss himself was always unworthy of having his life laid out on the page. He was a middling writer, who lived a largely ordinary life, punctuated by a series of mildly interesting incidents, none of which I can recall at present. Now I can’t say I believe wholeheartedly in that wonky old concept we call ‘genius’; needless to say, Bläss is nowhere near the mark. Not even close. There are salmon steaks sitting in supermarket freezers that possess more talent than he ever did, whatever your spin on his lifestory.

And yet, much like the salmon steaks, the biographies keep on coming. Why so?

It is hard to explain. Sometime someone started something – and now no one can bring a stop to it. It was, I think, in 1957, when the first book appeared: a vague, meandering work, almost entirely without merit.

Almost entirely. There’s the rub. For there was, safely hidden below the surface, some sort of quality that attracted people –  or a person, at least – enough to inspire a second attempt at Bläss’s biography. What that quality was I cannot tell. Suffice it to say that it existed, and that it has kept biographers busy for over half a century.

Each new biographer of Bläss appears to approach the project with much the same goal in mind: comprehensivity. No one would seem to believe that Bläss deserves so many biographies. Not in the least. But each of them believes that Bläss deserves one truly great biography – and that their offering is it. Greatness, however, does not necessary lie in the style, or the particular way in which they have dealt with the substance of the man’s life or work. It lies, as I have stated, in providing the most comprehensive account possible. As if this uncertain quality that so many sense in Bläss’s life will only reveal itself to the writer prepared to uncover absolutely everything there is to know about the man.

To prove this claim one need only look at the length of Bläss biographies. The 1957 life came in under two hundred pages. In 1978, we get the first two-volume tome: five hundred and ninety-six pages in all. In the 90s, there were two multi-volume efforts, the longest of which ran well over a thousand pages. Last year. however, the first of ten projected volumes was publicised. It was a mere four hundred pages, and followed Bläss up to his tenth birthday.

What spurs this desire to cover a man’s life so comprehensively? Clearly every biographer thinks that the careful approach will yield ever more fascinating details. And yet, to my mind, it doesn’t. Bläss is no less boring than he ever was. So we how know how many times he eat beef during the winter of 1924: so what? You may dig away as much sand as you like, but there are no guarantees that anything exciting will emerge. Plenty of new things, yes. But nothing remotely interesting. The man has many layers, maybe, but they all amount to the same thing in the end: mediocrity on top of mediocrity on top of mediocrity.

Handle with Carelessness

In his latest novel, The Land that Even the Land Forgot, Marshall Krinshek introduces a character called Lorna Effelwager, a part-time baker and full-time consumer of books. Effelwager’s approach to literature is, to say the least, a somewhat violent one. She doesn’t ever go so far as to ever eat books, granted, but only rarely does a book survive her readings without pages being stained, spines collapsing or whole sections falling out. ‘For her,’ writes Krinshek, ‘reading a book was a battle from beginning to end. A book was an opponent with whom she fought to the death. To say the books suffered was only half of it. Effelwager herself rarely came out of the ordeal without multiple wounds. At least four books had taken her to hospital. One book almost bled her to death’.

We can all learn from Effelwager, I think. A book is often a beautiful object, no doubt, but one can handle a book with too much care. The point, after all, is to read the damn thing – not to get to the end with the spine intact. What matter if a page rips, or if one spills wine on chapter four? So long as the words get through to the reader, what more do you need? The rest is preciousness: needless, pointless, preciousness.

Technology presents further difficulties. I have no great problem with the ‘kindle’, per se. But the name of it never ceases to worry me. It is redolent, I think, of comfort. It sounds like ‘kindness’ and ‘candle’. It is a warm, friendly word, which brings to mind a cosy armchair and a gentle, flickering fire. The perfect reading environment, some might say. Others, however, would disagree. Reading is not an act of kindness. It is not a gentle activity: something to while away the winter evenings. Reading is a matter of life and death. Reading, as Effelwager would have it, is a great battle. You versus the page. And may the best one win.