Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Jade Sphinx Gets Letters

The mailbox at The Jade Sphinx has, if nothing else, the charm of variety.  Here are excerpts from some of the missives that have recently made their way into our mailbox.

You like all of this old stuff.  Don’t you like anything that isn’t campy?

This, simply, knocked us for a loop.  Campy?  I believe this person should have their literacy surgically removed.  Camp is a word used by people who have no reality beyond their kitchen sink.

Are grand opera, Victorian novels, the paintings of Gerome campy?  No … but they often dwell in the realm of high emotion.  Emotion unprotected by irony terrifies modernists.  You might say our feet are planted in separate … camps.

I read your thoughts on Shelley and his poetry, as well as his political activism, and enjoyed them a lot.  I also saw your criticism of the entertainment at the White House in 2011.  I can’t get it – are you a liberal or a conservative?

I am an aesthete.  I cannot really align myself, then, with either party; the right has destroyed our Hellenistic political model, and the left, our culture.  Rather like the choice between burnt toast and burnt fingers – neither is satisfying.

You always seem so sure.  Do you ever have second thoughts?  Or have you reevaluated some of your opinions and changed your mind?

Good Lord, yes.  But first, a word on opinions.  Everyone has opinions; they are the most easily had and most disposable commodity in the world.  However, what is rare is an informed opinion.  Without that informed cultural background, an opinion is about as useful as the reader’s comments on Amazon.

That said, I often reevaluate and realize I’m off the mark, most frequently when I am writing about pop culture.  There are particular tropes, settings and ideas which gratify certain deep-seated longings and prejudices on my part; if a work of art touches on one of these things, I admit I am more disposed to like it.  For instance, most anything set in the 1930s will run a positive electrical current through what is laughingly called my brain; work set during the Victorian Era will do the same.  And I will meet any Western more than halfway.  And my mind is crammed with tons of lumber from my boyhood – gothic sensibilities, elegant or dramatic costume, grand gestures, romantic balderdash of all sorts find a happy home in my brain.  I do try, however, to be as clear-headed in my judgments as my natural prejudices allow.

A case in point is Orson Welles’ Black Magic, reviewed in these pages.  I am quite sure that it is an unjustly overlooked masterpiece… except when I’m not.

As long as we are making admissions, I also confess that there are several things that will never get a fair hearing in these pages, including popular music from the rock era onwards, irony, digital and electronic amusements, most television, surrealism and a host of other modernist ills.  I don’t understand these things, I don’t like them, and I don’t invest my time in them.

Though not a question, this comment was in our mailbox a few months ago:  You write about Oscar Wilde a lot and about cowboys a lot.  It’s weird.

Well, the writer has something there.  I might change the name of this blog to The Wilde, Wilde West and leave it at that.  No, scratch that.  I don’t understand, fully, why the art of the American West is not considered as “canonical” as European art.  I believe the West is the central American myth – more so than the Founding Fathers – and to truly understand contemporary America, one must first understand the settling of the West.  America is the core story of the 20th Century, and American aesthetes who disregard that fact in favor of Eurocentrism, do so at their peril.

Do you have any questions you would like answered?  Let me know and we’ll run your letters in upcoming columns.

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