Recent links of note:
“You can’t prove I meant X”
Clare Bucknell, London Review of Books
Reflecting on the sanctimonious prig I must have been in grade school, I remember being confounded more than once by that annoying and juvenile deflection: “I know you are, but what am I?” It is not a counterargument; it counters the entire project of argument itself. If such accusations could be thrown around so casually, it did no good to point out that someone was a playground cheat, an inveterate gossip, a known vector for “cooties.” The whole audience would be complicit, too: how could any of us children accuse the defendant, in light of the possibility that we had been secretly committing transgressions of the same order, or at least harbored fantasies of doing so?
This is of course a human behavior acknowledged long before Anna Freud slapped the label of “projection” onto it. Reading Clare Bucknell’s review of Poetics of the Pillory: English Literature and Seditious Libel by Thomas Keymer, I can’t help but sympathize with those lawyers of the king bringing charges of sedition against the insurrectionist John Thelwall in the 1790s. They had to deal with the exact same sort of spurious, almost childish accusations. Thelwall’s not-so-subtle fable about a preening barnyard despot, “King Chaunticlere; or, the Fate of Tyranny,” described the beheading of the eponymous rooster in highly suggestive terms. The allusion to George III was all but obvious, and, given the events that had just transpired in France, the case seemed cut and dry. But strangely enough, the tale’s absurdity worked to Thelwall’s benefit: his lawyers argued, successfully, that such a dark reading of an obvious fantasy could only have been cooked up by an already corrupt and seditious imagination. In other words, the defense pointed the finger back at the prosecution: “I know you are, but what am I?” Other authors—Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, Daniel Defoe, and more—employed even more inventive rhetorical means to forestall charges of rabble-rousing, making a high art of what began as a practical necessity.
“Fashion forward—the dashing designs of Antoine Watteau”
Kristen Tambling, Apollo
The relationship between illness and art is a subject offering boundless material for study, particularly appealing in times like our own. A recent article by Kristen Tambling for Apollo provides an entry in this field: the effortless style of Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), who died of consumption at the young age of thirty-six. Although today he is widely considered a painter of pleasure, fashion, and the ephemeral, commentators immediately after his death tended to present him as a more fastidious and measured artist than he actually was. It would not be until a century later, after the muscular neo-classicism of Jacques-Louis David had started to fall out of favor, that his work began to be celebrated on its own terms. Examining a number of Watteau’s paintings alongside Les figures des modes, a series of engravings he made to depict the regnant styles at Versailles, Tambling does a fine job teasing out the artistic sensibility that stands at the center of his work, his life, and his reception through the ages.
“Music for a While #24: Springtime, round two.” Jay Nordlinger, music critic of The New Criterion, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“James Panero on plagues, art, and Venice.” A new podcast from the Executive Editor of The New Criterion.
“Fried and battered,” by Andrew L. Shea. On Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.