Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Apologies for my post yesterday, which turned into such a mess that I couldn't even go back and tweak to try to fix it this morning. And yet the ideas churning in my head bother me still this morning, and I thought about it all a bit more just now, on my walk in the chill damp atmospheric rain. Which did sort of clear my head. Anyway, what I was thinking about was these two art-historians, and their theories seemed to me to be very much in line with those of Empire. And that Empire is so powerful, that it can cast and recast history -- including intellectual history, such as seemingly benign, rarified, above-the-fray art history -- as it likes, in its image. So Thomas Cole gets subtly compared to Ned Ludd, a mythical "bogey man" of a Luddite. Cole was born and raised in the very same region in England as the Luddites, in a period of time that saw the rapid industrialization of the beautiful valley surrounded by wild moors. The industrialization -- factories with new technologies that made the mass-production of fabric possible -- displaced individual textile weavers, who found themselves utterly redundant, out of work, without means of supporting themselves and their families. And so some of them -- the Luddites -- set about to burn the factories -- and Cole must have seen the fires. I mean, which is fine, I can believe that that happened, and that that point in time, in that place where he grew up, made a formative impression. But afterward, Cole emigrated to America, and took up residence eventually in Catskill, and from what I understand of him, was horrified by the rapidly industrializing and otherwise developing wild, rural landscape -- he had already seen the effects of that in England, and so sounded the alarm here. Well, okay, maybe I don't have an issue with this particular art-historian, now that I think of it -- it's just that that image (that he flashed onscreen in a powerpoint) of Ludd, in a dress, made an impression, and maybe it's me who is making the linkage between Thomas Cole and the "radical" Ned Ludd, that they’re on the same scale -- both, in their ways, one through art, the other through violent revolutionary means, protesting the march of capitalist progress, that caused so much ruin for many, and desecrated a landscape, and fouled water and air.

Maybe I'm very sensitive on this point (to the point of spluttering about it, in inarticulate writerly fashion) because I myself once was sort of sneeringly dismissed as a Luddite, in the last professional position I held. I was the project manager for a rezoning initiative, that I was instrumental in spearheading, designed to endeavor to protect the character of the existing built landscape of a rundown fishing village of an island, that despite its frayed edges had quite a bit of architectural charm left to it -- a legacy of a veritable built pattern-book of all sorts of 19th and 20th century American vernacular styles -- and was a close-knit community, small-scale, cherished by those who lived there and visited. And the existing built-character was being threatened by the rampant real-estate speculative development of the 1990's -- modest detached houses with front and back gardens were being demolished in favor of behemoth semi-detached or attached houses, with parking pods instead of flowerpots in the front. Anyway. The rezoning was finally accomplished, with the agency dragging its feet about it (the whole thing start to finish took five years -- almost as long as, say, World War II itself -- for a minor, rather silly rezoning project, in the scheme of things). For five years I felt like a salmon swimming upstream on this single project, which I got so tired of thinking about, that I could hardly think straight about it after a while. I mean, it just wasn't that stimulating, or huge. The agency didn't really care about it, not really. The powers there were - unsurprisingly - the radical free-marketers -- who disdained any constraints whatever on real-estate development -- essentially, they disdained and abhorred zoning regulation of any kind, really as a matter of principle. And here these types were -- in charge of zoning. And for me to have a "preservationist" point of view -- standing in the way of "progress”? Yes, the word Luddite was sneeringly, in passing, cast my way from time to time from one smart-aleck there or another. Didn't I want housing for the masses? What was I -- some kind of elitist? Detached houses in New York City -- a thing of the past!

Ah, anyway. All behind me now -- but thus my sensitivity. To be called a Luddite, or to be compared to one, really is to be tarred with a brush -- certainly from the point of view of Empire.

And so my reaction is very similar, when I hear another art-historian marginalize -- it seems to me -- the achievements of Alexander Jackson Downing, by (and in a sneering, mocking tone) insinuating that he was "sentimental." Downing too, was a preservationist, it seems, by nature -- witnessing what was being lost in the rapidly changing American landscape, and fabric of civil society, and how the two -- built form and community -- are inextricably intertwined and linked. If he is to be dismissed (ultimately) as sentimental for suggesting that comfortable homes make for happier families which in turns strengthens communities and makes for a more nationalistic nation -- is that thought so very different from the conservative political philosophy of Edmund Burke? But perhaps now -- and I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised -- from the point of view of radical free-market ideology -- Burke is viewed not as "conservative" (because the meanings behind that label have been shifted in recent decades) but quite possibly viewed, by these radicals, as "quaint," "sentimental" -- and who knows -- possibly Luddite - in his reactionism.

And so then, by sheer coincidence, the following morning I'm at church, and the gospel readings seem to relate to this subject. That to be caretaker of one's home, of one's garden, of one's grapevine, of one's orchard, of one's fruit -- is so fundamental to Christ's teachings. Is He to be dismissed as a sentimental Luddite as well? Well, we know what happened to Him.

I'm glad to be learning of the Gospels in this direct, affecting way that speaks to me and moves me very much. I am glad that I don't have to get caught up in the trappings of a formal religious hierarchy, whose ways and purpose too often seem at direct odds with Christ's teachings -- and far more allied with the pomp and power of Empire.

Okay darlings, rant over, I think. I think I've said about as best as I can say, what's been bothering me. Off to -- I don't know, bake a blueberry yogurt cake, maybe. From scratch.


No comments:

Post a Comment