Monday, June 29, 2009
Fort Worth's Own Little Stonewall, 40 Years Late
The Day After
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Liberty and Justice for ALL! Happy Stonewall 40!
Stonewall means Fight Back!
The struggle continues until we have full and equal rights as citizens of the United States, and of the World.
Burn down the closet! Freedom and Dignity for LGBTs!
Happy Gay Day to all!
From the Office of Inexplicable Obsessions
Here's something to go with the music. I never knew International Harvester made refrigerators.
Some of you may still prefer the Spike Jones version.
"Muscular," But Not Healthy, Christianity
Two years ago, then-SBC president Frank Page said the declining numbers can be blamed, in part, on a perception that Baptists are "mean-spirited, hurtful and angry people" and that the denomination has been known too much in recent years for "what we're against" than "what we're for," Page said.
"Our culture is increasingly antagonistic and sometimes adverse to a conversation about a faith in Christ. Sometimes that's our fault because we have not always presented a winsome Christian life that would engender trust and a desire on the part of many people to engage in a conversation on the Gospel," he said.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Michael and the cats hate thunder and lightning. When I was a wee tot, thunder and lightning terrified me, especially at night. Now, I love it. In fact, I miss those apocalyptic looking thunderstorms that were a regular part of late Spring in Texas and the Midwest. I miss the sky going all dark in the afternoon. I miss the bolts of lightning and the loud claps of thunder. I miss the ominous rumble of distant thunder. I miss watching curtains of rain approaching in the distance, along with the sudden wind gusts kicking up the dry dust.
The most spectacular storms I've ever seen were in north east New Mexico. I remember driving through a hailstorm of pea-sized hail, and lots of it. The ground was covered about an inch deep with it. That storm was followed by the most brilliant rainbow I've ever seen.
We have thunderstorms in New York. In fact, watching the lightning strike the tall buildings can be quite spectacular. I sometimes see those same curtains of rain coming down the avenues in Manhattan. But, we've never had anything quite like what I remember seeing every spring in Texas and in the Midwest.
Of course, I most enjoy them from a dry and safe vantage point.
This Indian miniature showing the goddess Lakshmi dancing as the monsoon storms approach best expresses how I really feel about summer thunderstorms. For me, the bolts of lightning and the claps of thunder are the force of life.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Farrah Fawcett 1947 - 2009
Michael Jackson 1958 - 2009
The Citizen Kane of pop music just said "rosebud."
Tomorrow Is Another Day; The Gay Movement Today and Tomorrow
I am astonished at the progress of LGBTs that I’ve seen in my lifetime. What began for me in early adolescence as something terrifyingly occult and painfully secret is now a major social, political, and cultural force around the world. The idea of gay marriage is no longer just standard fodder for locker room humor and stand-up comedy, it is legal reality in 6 states with more coming. Being gay or lesbian is now broadly recognized as part of the variety of nature, something all of us who are gay have always known instinctively. We all knew in our heart of hearts from an early age that there was something fundamentally arbitrary and unjust in the criminal defective status assigned to us by the enforcers of conventional society. We now have the social and political space in which to build healthy lives and relationships over the course of entire lifetimes.
One of the great successes of LGBT politics since Stonewall is to take the marginal status once assigned to us by law and psychology and to turn it around to our advantage. It is not entirely coincidental that gay political activism first began to stir in the late 19th century. It was then that psychologists in Germany first coined the term “homosexual” and identified it as an innate status rather than as a series of sexual acts. The German Imperial government criminalized homosexuals and homosexual acts in 1871 in Paragraph 175 of their criminal code. The first ideas of homosexuals as a people appeared in the protests against that law in Germany at the close of the 19th century, and quickly spread through the rest of Europe and to the Americas. It was with Stonewall that, as historian Joan Nestle remarked, gays and lesbians ceased to be a police report, a medical case study, a locker room joke, and became a people.
And yet, despite all of that tremendous progress over the last 40 years, today’s LGBTs have exactly the same civil rights guarantees on the Federal level as they did the first night of the Stonewall riots, -- zero. The legal status of LGBTs is a now a widely varying patchwork of state and local laws. Only 16 states include LGBTs in their civil rights codes. Gay marriage rights in some states, but not in others, will not change that status. Our legal standing is just as much at the sufferance of the majority as it was in 1969. As we have seen repeatedly from Anita Bryant’s successful campaign to force Dade County, Florida to repeal its gay rights protections in 1973 to the victory of Prop 8 in California last year, the majority can turn on us. We can be fashionable and popular one year and be yesterday’s fish the next. Popular today, despised tomorrow, we will always be LGBT no matter which way the fashionable winds blow. Minorities are the creations of majorities. By definition, the minority must lose if its rights are ever put up for a vote by the majority. Until our status as full and lawful citizens of the United States is guaranteed by Federal law, we will remain vulnerable.
The leadership of the gay movement today is more diverse than ever before. However, its public face is still mostly affluent white male. Gender, race, and class divisions plague the movement now as they did 40 years ago. Yes, they do reflect larger divisions in American society, but these petty bigotries are luxuries we cannot afford. Lesbians have been much better friends to gay men than we have been to them. Misogyny does gay men no favors, especially when we have common cause against patriarchy with both lesbians and the feminist movement. The persons on the front line of the LGBT struggle these days more often than not are people of color and blue-collar folk. They have enough to worry about without having to face segregation within the gay community. The battle line no longer runs through San Francisco or New York, but today runs through places like Oklahoma and Newark. Perhaps the song we should be singing at our rallies these days is not just “We Are Family,” but the old union song, “Solidarity Forever.”
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Jesus Kicks Ass!
"... Some here will remember the dictums (dare I call them “battle-cries”?) of that muscular Christianity that once reigned in these lands – in Canada and in the US: “No cross, no crown!” “No pain, no gain.”-- Bishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America.
Honestly folks, I can't tell whether these pictures are satire or serious.
Christ takes an axe to the Cross and cuts down the sacrificial role assigned to him by obscurantist priests. He raises his left fist to declare His new role as embodiment of the awakened proletariat. Orozco has a point here. Jesus was a carpenter. He probably had a union card.
Orozco certainly liked the idea of "muscular" Christianity just as much as Bishop Duncan. But, Orozco was an atheist who believed that priests like Duncan were nothing more than agents of the bank.
Rembrandt, that pansy Amsterdam liberal, didn't like the idea of "muscular" Christianity, or Warrior Jesus, at all. Hero Jesus was for Rubens and the Catholics down in Antwerp (and in verbal form for the extreme Gomarist Calvinists in Rembrandt's native Leyden).
Rembrandt imagined Christ as a very ordinary man with an ordinary build suffering as any ordinary person would dying in extreme pain. He doesn't look like He could put up much of a fight, or kick anyone's ass -- sorta like all the rest of us.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
A Song For Our Time
"Unhealthy Influences." Power, Liberty, and Sexuality
Sex is the one thing that successfully resists all of our attempts to rationalize it, whether through religion, ideology, or economics. The burning desires of our flesh keep us out of both Heaven and Utopia. But as other poets have pointed out, they also keep us out of hell. Not only do they disrupt our ambitions to be perfectly good, so do they also sabotage our best laid plans to do evil.
Get Ready... Get Set... Lower Your Expectations!
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Road Rage in the City
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Happy Bloom's Day!
It's June 16th and time for Leopold Bloom to take his annual walk through Dublin. Like most people who've tried to read Ulysees, I couldn't finish it. It was too dense. But, I do enjoy it. I especially liked the ladies lining up to climb to the top of Nelson's Pillar, where all that repressed Victorian sexuality is finally allowed free reign, if only in the imagination. I really liked a routine conversation between Stephen Daedalus and the Headmaster of the school where he teaches turned into a reflection on the whole long history of Anglo-Irish conflict.
Joyce is commemorated in plaques and statues all over Dublin now. For decades, he was the city's Invisible and Unmentionable Son. Now, you can take Ulysees tours around the city the same way you can take Dante tours around Florence.
Here are the Pogues in 1984 singing a punk version of an old pub song that Joyce cerainly knew (and we could imagine Leopold Bloom singing, though not quite like this).
For those of you who can't understand brogue shouted at you by young men banging tambourines on their heads, here are the words.
Monday, June 15, 2009
It is possible that Ahmadinejad really won that election, though probably not with a 2 to 1 majority. He is bitterly hated in the cosmopolitan cities, among professionals and the educated, what in this country are referred to by right wing opinionators as the "ay-leets" (elites). Ahmadinejad has a devoted base, much as Dubya still does, and one that is similar to Dubya's. Ahmadinejad's supporters are largely poor with limited education and opportunities. They are very deeply and conservatively religious. They are mostly rural, though not exclusively. His most devoted supporters are veterans of the long bloody war with Iraq. Like Dubya, Ahmadinejad exploits the class and regional differences between his supporters and his opponents. Resentment of the cities is a powerful political force in a population that is still largely rural. Ahmadinejad openly exploits the bigotry (especially the antisemitism and xenophobia) of his constituents. His campaign rhetoric is a mix of piety and jingoism.
Like Dubya in the 2000 election, Ahmadinejad may have "won" this election because the Powers That Be (the mullahs there, the majority shareholders here) wanted him to win.
What may prove to be Ahmadinejad's downfall are not the divisions between urban and rural, or the class divisions, but the growing generational divide in Iran. It was a generational divide that put Obama in power, with the under 30 demogaphic turning out in droves to vote him into the presidency (for the first time in my life, in November 2008 I was one of the few old people at a polling station that was swarming with kids, and I mean kids, all under 25). It is the under 30 demographic which dropped the Republican party like a hot brick.
Something similar could happen to Ahmadinejad whose most fervent supporters are mostly middle aged and elderly. The younger generations in Iran, like the young all over the world, are leaving their villages behind and pouring into the cities to start new lives. Most dangerous for the regime are rising expectations from a huge population of people under 30. Dashing those expectations in an Ahmadinejad election may prove to be a Pyhric victory for the theocratic establishment which clearly favored him. As DeToqueville always reminded us, expectation is the spark of revolution.
Democracy Was Never This Pretty
Looking at the whole squalid mess in Albany now might make us yearn for the golden days of Athenian Democracy.
If we read our copies of Thucydides, we would thank God and our lucky stars for the mess in Albany. The Athenian democracy was a much worse, and bloodier mess, than anything Albany ever dreamed of. The Athenian Assembly was dominated by demagogues who played factional politics of the worst kind and persuaded the Assembly to exile war heroes like Themistocles, driving him into the arms of the Persians. The Assembly voted to rebuild the temple to Athena (breaking a solemn oath not to do so), and to pay for it with funds embezzled from the Delian League, a mutual defense fund among all the allied Greek city states in the event the Persians returned (well, we did get the Parthenon out of that scandal). They voted to wage a disastrous war with Sparta, and in the midst of that war to launch an even more disastrous imperial adventure in Sicily. It was the Athenian Assembly that voted to massacre the inhabitants of Melos for disloyalty to the Athenian empire.
Democracy is ugly. It's not about selfless heroes rushing in on winged feet to save civilization. It is about committees negotiating between competing claims and interests, and hammering out agreements that no one likes, but everyone is willing to live with. Coalition building and parliamentary manipulation are inevitable, and unattractive, parts of this process. It's not pretty, it breaks our hearts with disappointment, it repels us with its vulgarity and chicanery, but it somehow works, at least better than anything else.
What may emerge from the attempted coup in Albany is a more truly democratic state legislature where policy is fought out on the chamber floor rather than settled in a hotel room between 3 people; the Senate majority leader, the Assembly majority leader, and the Governor. Thus was this state governed for decades.
Borat Goes Gay
Now Sacha Baron Cohen is about to take on homophobia with another regular of his Da Ali G Show, a potty-mouthed extravagantly gay Austrian fashion designer named Bruno (with an umlaut over the u). From what I've read, gay groups are very divided over this movie. Most of the argument seems to be over whether or not audiences (and American audiences in particular) will get that it's satire.
Another difference seems to me is that Borat was a caricature of an antisemite. Bruno is not a caricature of a homophobe, but of a popular stereotype of gay men exaggerated exponentially. His strategy is to confront people not with the spectacle of their own prejudices made ridiculous, but with an embodiment of their worst fears. I wonder if that might backfire.
The publicity for the movie is already at full throttle (aided and abetted by this blog) complete with the public stunts for which Cohen is famous. Here's one at the recent MTV awards:
Here is the trailer for the movie.
Saturday Dreamboat on Monday
Here is that healthiest of gay role models, Olympic Gold Medal winner Matthew Mitcham from Down Under. He's gay, out, partnered, a champion athlete and a national treasure. He is something that is only now possible, after Stonewall, and after so many years of struggle pushing back on that iron closet door.
The bad old days of criminalized homosexuality produced some great artists (like Bacon), and a lot of great writers (Wilde, Rimbaud, Gide, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Allen Ginsberg, etc.). But something like Matthew Mitcham is entirely a creation of the better new days, when gay men could imagine a life that was something other than underground.
And for those of us who are old enough to remember, here is the man more than any other who made out gay athletes possible, the ever lovely Greg Louganis in a famous photo by Annie Leibowitz.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Bacon May Be Dead, But He's Still Controversial
Saturday, June 13, 2009
"I Am An Optimist About Nothing," Francis Bacon at the Met
I spent part of the day yesterday looking at the Bacon show at the Metropolitan Museum. I plan to return and look at it again.
Francis Bacon is 100 years old this year.
Angry jaundiced British modern painting is now a cliché (take that Lucian Freud!), but once it was new and brilliant in the postwar years. The most brilliant of them all still is the late Francis Bacon, an artist whose work is passionately loved and loathed, even now 17 years after his death.
Francis Bacon and I go way back. He was an early art school discovery of mine. The critic David Sylvester’s book length interview with Bacon was a favorite book of art students back in my day. Bacon was the dark star of art students at a time when our professors wanted us to look at Cezanne or Hans Hoffmann.
Bacon was famously gay with a taste for very rough sex with rough young men. It was art school legend that Bacon insisted on sleeping with all of his male students. And yet, straight boys in art school adored his work. They loved the violence and the scariness of it. It was through Bacon that a lot of them found their way to everything from Velazquez’s portraits to TS Eliot’s poetry to Eisenstein’s movies. Remarkably, Bacon’s candor about his homosexuality only enhanced their affection for him. The visual arts are a lot more hetero than most people assume, but they have always been very gay friendly for as long as I can remember.
With all of my straight boy art buddies, I too fell in love with Bacon’s work, and I’m still in love with it.
Bacon made his career with multiple paintings based on a Crucifixion motif. However, we should not read too much religious content into them. This is definitely not the Christian story. This is the crucifixion of Everyman by history. Bacon takes a traditional religious subject and compositional format, the triptych invented in Northern Europe for altarpieces, and remakes them to suit his own purposes. In the center panel, what appears to be a violently mutilated corpse displays itself to us like a bloody odalisque on a bed. In the right panel, what appears to be a cross between a violated corpse and a side of meat displays itself before a dog; spectacle or food? On the left are the indifferent bystanders, the folks who slow down to look at the car crash and are glad it isn't them. The whole scene is set in bare red oval rooms with windows out onto a pitch black night, mercilessly lit by bright electric lights.
Bacon was an existentialist of the old school. He was a true believing atheist who denied any afterlife, any transcendence, any apparent meaning to life. Like a lot of gay artists and writers, he believed that all claims to legitimate authority were ultimately bogus, and but a fig-leaf for raw power and domination. Artists and writers like Genet, Wojnarowicz, and Foucault come to mind; they shared Bacon’s skepticism about any legitimacy claimed for power. Perhaps this deeply felt anarchism among so many gay intellectuals comes from the experience of having one’s deepest desires criminalized for apparently arbitrary reasons. History, they all believed, was but the biological struggle for survival and domination projected into the social sphere. Bacon painted history as though is was a giant human abattoir. Though I do not share Bacon’s atheism, there is much in this old existential outlook that resonates with me.
Bacon lived through the darkest years of the 20th century. He spent part of his boyhood in London during World War I. His chronic asthma kept him out of military service in World War II, but he sometimes worked in volunteer rescue units during the Blitz. After witnessing, even from a distance, the carnage of the Great War and the rise of Hitler and Stalin, it was hard not to conclude that history was nothing but an abbatoir.
Bacon was an amazing painter, doubly amazing when we consider how little formal education he had, and how much failure and hardship he endured as a young man. He really learned his lessons from the great Velazquez, whose work he studied and paid homage to all his life. Those strokes and scumbles only come together at a distance, as in Velazquez’s work. His technique is a Baroque bravura of the thinnest whispers of scumbles to impasto laid on with a trowel. No other artist captured the harshness of indoor electric lighting better than Bacon (his only possible rival might be Max Beckmann). My little glazes and scumbles look so pedestrian in comparison to his canvases. Bacon could paint a very accurate likeness, and then take a rag and destroy it. He would then paint a line or a few strokes that would turn the mess back into form. His paint application brilliantly suggests everything from raw meat to dead mutilated flesh to a man’s muscular back. His figures can be alternately ghostly and richly physical in the same painting.
Bacon's paintings after Velazquez's famous portrait are among the most famous anti-authoritarian images of 20th century art. Bacon faces down the ogre, and sees the frightened animal behind the ecclesiastical pomp. This painting is a brilliant hybrid of Velazquez, and a still from Eisenstein's movie Potemkin which Bacon may have made famous. The face of the screaming wounded nanny from the massacre on the Odessa steps is grafted onto Velazquez's portrait of the wary and nervous looking Pope.
Bacon was born into an affluent English family living in Ireland. He was born in Dublin, and spent much of his boyhood in County Kildare. His father was a former army officer and racehorse breeder who was domineering and tryannical with his family. Francis' burgeoning early homosexuality became too much for him, so he threw Francis out of the house. At 16 years old, Francis Bacon was on his own, living off a very small allowance from his mother. He wandered between London, Paris, and Berlin into his 30s. He made a precarious living hustling and doing odd jobs. For awhile in the 1930s, he was a moderately successful interior designer. His painting education was through night schools and various free academies.
The wall text and the catalogue at the Met show were very disappointing. They made more literal minded readings into the meaning of his work than I think were there. His homosexuality was discussed, but not exactly candidly. The interpretations seemed to me to be a little too anxiously high-minded, skirting around a central fact of Bacon’s work that hits us in the face as soon as we walk into a gallery of his paintings. So much of Bacon’s work is about men having sex with each other. I think of Bacon as the gay male Picasso. Like Picasso, Bacon tears his lovers apart with his brush and rearranges their bodies according to his desire. An example is the painting above of his lover from the 1960s, a sometime thief and drug addict named George Dyer (who died of an overdose in 1971 the day before the opening of a major show of Bacon's work in Paris). Bacon shows him twice, seated clothed over on the right, and nude in the painting on the left. Like Picasso tearing into Marie Therese Walter, Bacon does the same with Dyer's body, only with even more violence, showing him filleted and literally pinned to the canvas.
The wall text for this painting at the Met dwelt at length on the carnivorous bird in the center panel pecking away at the filleted figure with discussions of Aeschylus and the furies. It could be any figure from Classical mythology getting his innards pecked by a big bird from Prometheus to Tityus. It ignored what I think is so blatantly obvious in this painting, a night of rough casual sex with a piece of trade. That toilet overflowing with blood in the center panel should have been a clue.
In this panel from the triptych, we see a large head in a frame which could be the glowering figure of paternal authority. More likely, it is a photo of the call-boy which merges into the actual hustler himself dressed in a leather jacket and undressed at the same time. An unzipped travel case (which appears in a lot of Bacon's paintings) appears beside him.
Before you go running off to pull down your annotated poems of TS Eliot to make sense of this painting, the title was created by a dealer, not by Bacon himself. Bacon was (amazingly) a fan of Eliot's poetry. What this painting is really about is a furtive and violent sexual encounter between men at a time when that was still a criminal act in British (and American) law. In the side panels we see the lovers, spent with exhaustion in the left panel with lots of cigarette butts on that bed/table. In the right panel, they grapple and merge together in copulation while a figure in the background appears to be calling to complain about the noise or to report the pair to the police.
Significantly, Bacon's paintings of copulating men are based on photos of wrestlers. Like Picasso, Bacon brings out the violence implicit in all sexual desire, and especially the violence (real and imaginary) of sex between men. The center panel shows an apparent bloody aftermath with the open travel bag. Perhaps this was a tryst that ended in robbery, assault, and maybe murder. The sexual encounters in all of Bacon’s work are furtive anonymous trysts. They always take place in a cheap hotel room under harsh electric light. There is always an air of menace and threat in Bacon's paintings, which adds both anxiety and the thrill of risk.
Bacon's scariest paintings, in my opinion, are a series of dark portraits of an anonymous middle aged man in a blue suit, all from 1953. The man is shown seated in what appears to be an office at night or in a dark hotel room. Sometimes, he sits on a bed as in this painting. They were painted at the height of legal crackdowns on gay men on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950s. The man in the blue suit alternates in roles between a harsh relentless power figure who views us as an insect specimen to be pinned to the wall, or even more frighteningly, as a potentially predatory sex partner. The terror of these paintings is the cop/employer/ bureaucrat/ priest as preying mantis.
These paintings are all based on lived experience. Bacon hustled in his youth, and in his later years was attracted to men from the outer fringes of society who stole, sold and took drugs, and hustled. Many times over the course of his life, he emerged bruised and bloodied from sexual encounters that began or ended in fights.
In Bacon’s work, even at its scariest and most violent, there is real passion for life. The only other artist I can think of who turned alienation and suffering into a real rage to live was David Wojnarowicz. In Bacon’s work, there is the thrill of going through the slaughterhouse of history and coming out alive at the other end. He lived through 2 World Wars and 2 periods of postwar shortages and hardship. He survived disinheritance, poverty, and brutality. That was better than a lot people in those years.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Promise Them the Moon, But Give Them a Walmart Discount Card
Is there Such a Thing as "Just" Discrimination?
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Traditionally Intolerant Are All Alike
The White Man's Last Stand
There is a surge in Right Wing violence. We saw it yesterday in the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, and last week in the murder of Dr. Tillman, and in other recent incidents. Indeed, we were warned that such a surge in right wing extremist violence would happen by no less than the Department of Homeland Security in a recent report which Republican Congressmen forced the department to withdraw and publicly apologize for (which the Obama Administration did, adding to my fears that they are just more spineless Democrats, quavering in the face of corporate power and right wing intimidation, and capitulating at every challenge).
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I'll Bet Our State Legislature is More Dysfunctional Than Yours
Gay Israelis Press For Marriage Rights
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
I must admit that I like Chumbawamba a little better, but this is great for those times when George Will, Cokie Roberts, and Andrew Sullivan are on the teevee telling me to respect my Betters. It sure beats throwing things at the teevee.
A Beautiful Building
Exterior facing the Giudecca Canal.
Dome and vaults of the interior
The Redentore was Palladio's last and greatest church, built on the Giudecca, far from the city center, but visible from San Marco. Like so many splendid Venetian things, it has it origins in the plague. A visitation of the plague in 1576 killed approximately 46,000 to 50,000 people, almost a third of the city's population. Among the more famous victims was the great painter Titian. The Venetian Senate publicly prayed to Christ the Redeemer to deliver the city. The plague soon lifted, and the Senate resolved to build a church in gratitude, and to build it quickly. Construction began in 1577, but was not finished until 1592. The church was to be under the care of the Capuchin friars. About 20 monks still live in the monastery attached to the church. The Senate also resolved to make a solemn procession through the city to the church every year, a tradition that continues to this day, every 3rd Sunday in July (today the Festa del Redentore is part solemn religious observance and part huge party on the water concluding with a spectacular fireworks display). It was decided to locate the church across the wide Giudecca canal, which meant that the concluding length of the annual procession takes place across a temporary pontoon bridge built for the occasion. The church was to be the destination of a long pilgrimage procession through the city.
Palladio beautifully finesses some difficult problems with this building. Palladio, the arch-classicist whose building designs and surveys of ancient Roman buildings would have a huge influence on English and American architecture (especially on Jefferson), was required by Counter-Reformation church regulations to incorporate a very large nave into a classical design. The Capuchin friars, who were given charge of the church, wanted it to be built primarily out of brick with a minimal amount of marble used on on the facade. The dome of the church, like the domes of all great Venetian churches, was required to harmonize with the 5 domes of the great 11th century Byzantine Church of San Marco in the city center. The church would face north, its facade in perpetual shadow, and its apse facing the full force of the direct southern sunlight.
The Redentore, in my opinion, is the West's answer to the Taj Mahal. It is an incredibly beautiful building that remains neglected in the architecture survey textbooks and on tourist itineraries, mostly because of its distance from the city center. The facade is a brilliant variation on Alberti's original idea to incorporate the Roman triumphal arch and temple portico into a single structure. It describes the nave and side chapels behind it splendidly. Architecture, like music, is about the transitions, and the transitions from part to part in this building have a happy inevitability that by all logic shouldn't work. The building is a hybrid of disparite influences; Roman classical architecture (as interpreted by Alberti), a medieval nave floor plan, and Byzantine, and even Islamic, elements in the dome and bell towers. Palladio turns the awkward lighting of the site into an advantage in the splendid interior. The light of the church's interior brightens in stages as it moves south to the altar. It is an effect that is hard to photograph. We move from the diffuse light of the nave to the brighter light of the domed apse above the altar. In a brilliant stroke, Palladio puts the monks' choir behind the altar, and makes it the most brilliantly lit part of the church silhouetting the screen of tall Corinthian columns behind the altar. Palladio wanted the light to be the main drama in his church interiors, and discouraged extensive fresco painting and decoration. The austere Capuchins were happy to oblige.
What so strikes me about Palladio's best work is not so much the order and the harmony of his buildings, but that the effect in the end is so happy. The sensation of his architecture is like that of so much of Mozart's music, not so much grandeur and order, but happiness. The great German poet Goethe always insisted that classicism is about health. Palladio's architecture, like Mozart's music is about not just health, but happy resolutions. And in this case, it is the happy transcendent resolution to a very dark chapter in Venice's history, the assurance that all those lost in the disaster of 1576 rest with the saints in light.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Well, Maybe Not.
Gay Marriage in New York This Year?
It all hinges now on the state Senate. There are conflicting reports about the number of votes that suggest that prospects for its passage are brighter than first thought. It has already passed the Assembly. Governor Patterson will sign it. Leading the opposition is Ruben Diaz, senator from the Bronx. He is officially a Democrat, but he is also a conservative evangelical minister who takes a hard line against both gay rights and reproductive rights. He recently got into a lot of hot water with the Jewish community for comparing abortion in the USA to the Holocaust. He also made trouble for himself when he said that Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court would be "bad for Christians." He backed away from that statement after a lot of complaints from his own constituents. The Tillman murder out in Kansas has dogged him (fairly or unfairly) in recent days, even though he said that he unequivocally condemns the murder. To his credit, Senator Diaz opposes the death penalty, unlike most American conservative evangelicals.
Ruben Diaz opposes gay marriage for entirely religious reasons. Almost all of the arguments for gay marriage try to separate the civil from the religious argument. The religious argument gets sidestepped entirely. That's understandable because of the very wide diversity of religious allegiances in this state, and because of the constitutional separation of church and state in this country. But, I think the religious argument FOR gay marriage can and should be made in public. Religion is not supposed to sway legislative decisions (officially anyway), but it certainly does sway public opinion. A religious argument should be made, and made publicly, to challenge the likes of Ruben Diaz.