Some of the blog’s 8 readers know I have a thing for Ruskin, and perhaps I’m just being totally jealous that Jessica’s having this educational opportunity that I never had. But I am fascinated by Ruskin, & if I had to put the case for him in five points or less, it’d go something like this:
•Some of the very best, perhaps the best, English prose of the 19th century. Call it occasionally “purple,” call it overwrought, it’s still magnificent.And of course I’m leaving aside the sheer weirdness of the guy: begins his career writing a book on Turner that morphs into a 7-volume celebration of Venetian Renaissance painting; becomes promoter-in-chief for the pre-Raphaelites; after his wife walks out of their (unconsummated, because of some hangup he had with female anatomy) marriage, becomes a confirmed (but never active) pedophile; invents, with Fors Clavigera, the weblog (only about 120 years before the internet) in between bouts of sheer barking madness.
•Wonderfully perceptive and thought-thru art criticism; you may think he’s dead wrong about what he values and what he disses, but you can’t dismiss his discussions.
•Along with Karl Marx, the most biting social critic of the 19th century (yes, he takes it in a totally different direction than Marx, but he recognizes the cash nexus and alienated labor as the main problems in contemporary society, & he writes about them more eloquently than anyone else).
•The beginnings of cultural criticism as we know it: someone’s got to write the book that links Ruskin to Pound (who called JR a “goose,” but who owed him pretty much everything), to Benjamin, and to the rest of the Frankfurt School.
•The crucial link between Victorianism and Modernism (which I gather is the theme of the course, & which I’d give my eye-teeth to be sitting in on – can I get a syllabus when Fall comes around, Jessica?).
Now doesn't that sound like more fun than the Battle of Malden and The Owl and the Nightingale?