Sunday 25th of September 2022

gone with the wind...


[A] work, inspired by a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, depicts the instant Bacchus’s boisterous posse happens upon a heartbroken Ariadne, abandoned by her lover Theseus on the island of Naxos, and has long been cherished for its sensuous portrayal of ‘the way in which the world seems to come to a stop at the moment when people fall for each other,’  as the art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon has described it.

Smack dab in the centre of his canvas, Titian has carefully, if curiously, positioned a caper flower, whose ivory petals and radiant bristle of exploding stamens are rendered with meticulous botanical detail. Follow the trajectory of the caper's strangely overextended pistil and it catches in its stigma’s crosshairs the floating crotch of Bacchus, who, blasted from his seat, is frozen forever in mid-air, in what is surely among the most ungainly poses in all of art history.

A mischievous levitation

That the Latin name for the caper flower, Capparis spinosa, is related to the Italian word capriolare (meaning ‘to jump in the air’), is a droll enough visual/verbal play to suggest that Titian is intentionally teasing us with the placement of the prickly perennial plant directly under the bouncing Bacchus. But it is the plant’s medicinal use, since antiquity, as a natural carminative (or remedy for excessive flatulence) that reveals the artist is truly letting rip with some mischievous fun. In the context of Titian’s carefully deployed caper, Bacchus's explosive propulsion from his seat appears more wittily, if crudely, choreographed by Titian, who demystifies the lovestruck levitation by providing us with a more down-to-earth explanation for the cheeky lift-off. In Titian’s retelling of Ovid’s myth, Bacchus has been hoisted by his own pungent petard, as Shakespeare, who likewise loved toilet humour, might have said.

Famously fond of flatulence himself, Shakespeare couldn’t resist squeezing potty puns into his plays. Hanging in the air behind the phrase ‘thereby hangs a tail’, from Othello, for example, is the lingering whiff of broken wind. Rather than crude blemishes that besmirch his plays’ achievement, however, such coarse scents attest to Shakespeare’s full range of observation, his depth of sensitivity to every clench and contour of being here. They show that, in capturing all of life, Shakespeare holds nothing back (or in) and that his works embrace all of human experience – the serious and the silly, the melodious and discordant, the fragrant and the foul.

So too with Titian. The 16th-Century Venetian master’s Bacchus and Ariadne, commissioned by the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso I d’Este, for display in the Camerino d'Alabastro, a private room of his palazzo, is widely revered as an explosion of intense emotion through bold colour. The rich, rippling crimson of Bacchus’s drapery and the lush ultramarine of Ariadne’s cloak seem magicked from a purity of pigments powderised by the gods themselves. But what truly makes the scene so urgent and powerful is its heightened awareness of all the textures of this, the world we share with those mythic beings – a realm of rich hues, musical merriment, drunken delirium, and, yes, appalling pongs.

If you doubt that Titian in his day would have been alive to the importance of an odiferous dimension to Ovid’s vision, compare the painter’s visual portrayal of Bacchus and his half-cut crew with a verbal illustration of the same rambunctious retinue by his exact contemporary, François Rabelais. The fifth and final book of the French Renaissance writer’s magnum opus, The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, describes at length the discovery in a temple of a mosaic that features Bacchus and his gang. “The satyrs, captains, sergeants, and corporals of companies, sounding the orgies with cornets, in a furious manner went round the army,” Rabelais writes, melting the artwork into language, “skipping, capering, bounding, jerking, farting, flying out at heels, kicking and prancing like mad…

Mapping Rabelais’s verbal description onto Titian’s canvas, one sees that the elements are all there — the skipping and bounding, the jerking and kicking, the flying at the heels and prancing like mad, and, indeed, even the capering and farting. In order to follow the trajectory of the caper’s distended pistil to the buoyant bottom of Bacchus, our gaze must first bisect the legs and groin of an impish satyr, just above the flower, who glances knowingly our way. Given the satyr is often linked with flatulence in classical literature (Sophocles said they ‘boasted of their farting power’), the interposition of one here is telling.

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Rabelais, a native from Chinon (Loire) and a Franciscan monk, is considered an illustrious case of scatological talent and joyous rebellness, and in his work you'll find drunkards, monks, blasphemers and unrepentant gluttons with no respect for the politically-correct clergy of that time — which it seems was much more tolerant than our contemporary secular clergy (to paraphrase Régis Debray), because if some one wrote a modern equivalent of Gargantua he'd be sure thrown on the pyre by the hygienists and all the victimization lobbies looking for a witch who dares raise her broom above the correct line of thinking. Reading Rabelais's vivid and colorful prose is akin to taking part to fiery pagan parties and you almost feel you're splashed with wine and meat sauce. There's even an adjective in French, gargantuesque, to express the wild, happy gluttony and unrestrained drinking practiced in a spirit of humorous debauchery. 

I happen to have found during lunch break in Saint Mandé the other day a "translation" (from old French to modern French) of Gargantua et Pantagruel which Rabelais wrote in 1534. This 1936 "translation" makes it more easy to understand the language than the original which is demanding in terms of attention and going aroung strange disused words. 

The book was lying among many other books (often less interesting) on a table in this weekly old-books street market, it was only 2 €, so I bought it for the fun of it. As I leafed randomly through the volume I was stunned at the vividness of these scenes and exchanges, it's so bewildering to think that this was written so many centuries ago, it's so free-wheeling and wild, some would say with a Tarantino touch in the gore side of certain scenes along with something of Charles Bukowski's excesses albeit with a more light-hearted tone


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Cardi B has a new single out and it’s reportedly about her vagina. It isn’t clear how this distinguishes it from every other Cardi B single, or even from the other songs of the summer, which include a paean to oral sex and various lyric poetry about “bad bitches.” But no matter. Celebrations of raw sexuality are transgressive, our cultural commissars insist in unison, just as they were 55 years ago. Only paternalistic conservatives would dare to arch an eyebrow at Ms. B’s track, which is called “WAP” (you can probably guess the acronym) and features a cameo from someone named Megan Thee Stallion.

One of those conservatives is Ben Shapiro, who was roundly mocked this week for reading the lyrics to “WAP” on his radio show. Admittedly, the video is pretty funny. Shapiro employs an earnest monotone that makes him sound absurdly fuddy-duddy. He also says “P-word,” instead of the original Greek “pussy,” which Ms. B employs. Yet the bit, which Shapiro later admitted to the Spectator USA‘s Cockburn was supposed to be self-deprecating, has inspired several chin-stroking think pieces from the left, which insist it proves that every conservative is deep down a scowling Claude Frollo.

From the Daily Beast:

It’s clear enough that Ben Shapiro and Republican candidate James P. Bradley’s puritanical pearl-clutching over Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s (censored!) music video “WAP”…is largely irrelevant.

And Forbes:

The world has been making fun of Shapiro for years, and it’s starting to get stale. Yes, the man talks like a VHS tape on fast-forward, has an abundance of poorly thought-out opinions, and a puritanical attitude to fun music videos.

And the AV Club:

In the time since he got on air to read out the lyrics in the nasally whine of a true nerd puritan, he’s followed up on his success by claiming he’s in on the joke and tweeting about how he can’t turn on his wife.

So now we have a new P-word: puritan. In which case the hypocrisy here is so overwhelming that it barely seems worth pointing out. The same people who spent the last two months trembling in front of Gone With the Wind, fainting amid the racist singing animals on Splash Mountain, cheering the removal of a black woman’s face from a syrup bottle, do not now get to turn around and call anyone else a puritan. These shrinking violets can’t even leave “WAP” alone. At one point in its music video, Kylie Jenner, for reasons unknown, appears and walks down a hallway. This immediately drew a petitiondemanding she be removed, not because her stroll is apropos of nothing, but because she isn’t black.

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wash this man out of my hair...


US President Donald Trump quite likes his trademark barnet. So much so, he’s attempting to change US law to safeguard it.

As the race to the White House heats up before the November 3 poll, Mr Trump had other priorities on Wednesday as the US Energy Department proposed to ease water efficiency requirements for showerheads.

The President has made multiple complaints about the struggles of washing his hair due to the water flow and rallied against “drip, drip, drip” showers, low-flow toilets as well as taps and other appliances.

“You turn on the shower – if you’re like me, you can’t wash your beautiful hair properly,” Mr Trump said during a visit to an Ohio manufacturing plant earlier this month.

“You waste 20 minutes longer. Please come out. The water, it drips, right?”

The plan would allow manufacturers to bypass a 2.5 gallon-per-minute maximum flow rate set by Congress in the 1990s, Bloomberg reports.

Currently, all the showerheads in a single shower count towards that maximum flow rate, but under the new plan, multiple showerheads can be installed in each shower each with a 2.5 gallon-per-minute (9.5 litres) flow rate.

Environmental group Appliance Standards Awareness Project says it would subvert a law signed by Republican George HW Bush in 1992 and would lead to a huge uptick in water waste and greenhouse gas.

“There really is no good reason to reduce water and energy standards that have been around for 20 years,” executive director Andrew deLaski told Bloomberg.

The campaign continues

Joe Biden has raised $US26 million ($36.4 million) in the 24 hours after he named Kamala Harris as his running mate, doubling his previous one-day record.

Democrats are close to matching, if not surpassing, the massive $US300 million cash stockpile President Donald Trump and Republicans reported in July. Ms Harris is expected to play a key role in that effort.

Ms Harris joined Mr Biden in Delaware on Thursday (Australian time) for their first fundraiser together as running mates, where she talked to grassroots donors about how her parents’ activism inspired her interest in politics.

With large in-person events out of the question due to the pandemic, the campaign has an aggressive schedule of online fundraisers planned for Ms Harris. 

That could play to one of her political strengths and offset an area where Mr Biden has sometimes struggled.


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