Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Protest, Degrees, Byatt

“The work is horrible, Dr. Himmelblau. It digusts. It desecrates. Her studio—in which the poor creature also eats and sleeps—is papered with posters of Matisse’s work. La Rêve. Le Nu rose. Le Nu bleu. Grande Robe bleue. La Musique. L’Artiste et son modèle. Zorba sure la terasse. And they have all been smeared and defaced. With what look like organic matter—blood, Dr. Himmelblau, beef stew or feces—I incline toward the latter since I cannot imagine good daube finding its way into that miserable tenement. Some of the daubing are deliberate reworkings of bodies or faces—changes of outlines—some are like thrown tomatoes—probably are thrown tomatoes—and eggs, yes—and some are great swastikas of shit. It is appalling. It is pathetic.”

“It is no doubt meant to disgust and desecrate,’ states Dr. Himmelblau, neutrally.

“And what does that matter? How can that excuse it?’ roars Perry Diss, startling the young Chinese woman, who is lighting the wax lamps under the plate warmer, so that she jumps back.

“In recent times,” says Dr. Himmelblau, “art has traditionally had an element of protest.”

Traditional protest, hmph,” shouts Perry Diss, his neck reddening. “Nobody minds protests, I’ve protested in my time, we all have, you aren’t the real thing if you don’t have a go at being shocking, protest is de rigeur, I know. But what I object to here, is the shoddiness, the laziness. It seems to me—forgive me, Dr. Himmelblau—but this—this caca offends something I do hold sacred, a word that would make that little bitch snigger, no doubt, but sacred, yet—it seems to me, that if she could have produced worked copies of those—those masterpieces—those shining—never mind—if she could have done some work—understood the blues, and the pinks, and the whites, and the oranges, yes, and the blacks too—and if she could still have brought herself to feel she must—must savage them—then I would have had to feel some respect.”

“You have to be careful about the word masterpieces,” murmurs Dr. Himmelblau.

“Oh, I know all that stuff, I know it well. But you have got to listen to me. It can have taken at the maximum half an hour—and there’s no evidence anywhere in the silly girl’s work that she’s ever spent more than that actually looking at Matisse—she has no accurate memory of one when we talk, none, she amalgamates them all in her mind into one monstrous female corpse bursting with male aggression—she can’t see, can’t you see? And for half an hour’s shit-spreading we must give her a degree?”

Byatt, A. S. “The Chinese Lobster.” The Matisse Stories. New York: Vintage, 1993. 106-108.

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