Tuesday, June 16, 2009

reading (around) Ruskin

Spent much of the day pitchforking thru great stacks of old mail around the house. My papercuts have papercuts. Must have opened 150 envelopes or more.
Taking a break from Modern Painters & reading some secondary texts on Ruskin. Giovanni Cianci & Peter Nicholls's Ruskin & Modernism (Palgrave 2001) seems to hit almost all of the obvious interesting points of JR's influence, direct & indirect, on the high modernists – except for (a) Pound, which has been covered in a number of articles over the years & (b) Joyce, which I'm not sure has received its due. Essays all a bit too short – they feel like conference papers, which I guess they are; but most of them quite solid.

Then turned to an oldie, George Landow's The Aesthetic and Critical Theories of John Ruskin (Princeton UP 1971). They don't publish them like this anymore: solid 450+ pages, footnotes at the foot of the page where you can use them. The style is clear without being simplistic, the pace measured without being otiose (too often). Me, I need someone to say things like this, this clearly (part of a discussion of JR's version of ut pictura poesis, in the context of Romanticism):
As long as critics considered poetry a mimetic art, its natural analogue was painting; but once it became an art whose central operation and purpose were expressive, poetry's natural analogue became music.
That makes a lot of sense. How one gets from Sir Joshua Reynolds & Pope to Pater. (Note how Landow's sentence, clearly no grand shakes stylistically, derives a certain authoritativeness from the chiastic juggling of "poetry" and the pronominal substitution "it.")
Bloomsday – or pre-Bloomsday – last weekend went just fine: good time had by all. I venture to think my talk was actually "entertaining," as they kept billing it; entertaining enough for the pub to keep me fed and drinking for the rest of the evening, which was fine by me. We ran thru our scratch set of 3 songs, then played another three, then found ourselves in an actual session, with other (real!) musicians sitting in.


Vance Maverick said...

When does Landow think poetry changed from a mimetic to an expressive art? I ask because (obviously enough) painting went through a change of purpose that could be stated in the same terms -- when its mimetic function was usurped by photography. I suppose the rise of 19thC landscape and documentary photography is too late literally to have influenced the career of Turner, but the strong expressionistic element in T's style is obviously ready to start playing music.

There's a further contortion in that music, while paradigmatically "expressive", actually consists entirely of recycled bits of other music -- indeed that's how even the most "original" music works. But we needn't go there.

Vance Maverick said...

hmm, to tease out the relevant point I was trying to make: this strikes me as odd because Ruskin was famously an advocate for a painter whose work prefigures painting's move from mimesis to music. Of course, I should admit that I don't remember in what terms Ruskin advocates him!

Mark Scroggins said...

Ah, the key phrase, Vance, is "as long as critics considered" poetry to be such or the other; I'd guess the shift between Addisonian/Johnsonian evaluations of poetry as mimetic to evaluations of poetry as expressive come along with Coleridge & Wordsworth & the gradual acceptance of the Romantic model of the poet over the first 3 decades of the 19th century.

While we're apt to see late Turner as prefiguring Whistler (all those "Sonatas" etc), Ruskin defends him oddly enough as being the preeminent *realist* of the day, the only painter who's actually looked at landscape & accurately recorded what he sees. (Of course, he's mounting a defence of Impressionism avant la lettre, in one sense.

But Ruskin was in many ways an idiot about music, & I think (here I'm stretching against the limits of my real knowledge) that he would resist a "musicalisation" of either painting or poetry on the grounds that (instrumental) music conveys only emotion, that it's not a representational language, capable of conveying truth in the same way that painting or words can.

Vance Maverick said...

Points taken: it's clearly unreasonable to import modern critical ideas about the art of Ruskin's day into discussion of Ruskin's critical ideas about the art of days before.