Friday, November 30, 2012

Ruskin the perv

[Kate Greenaway, "Girls at Play"]

There is not a shadow of evidence that Ruskin's relationships with young girls went anywhere beyond the realm of strictest propriety. In the scores of memoirs of Ruskin furnished by women who knew him when they were children, he is always remembered as kindly, generous, affectionate: there is never even a hint of the "creepy." He never photographed young girls in the nude (as did Lewis Carroll), nor did he draw them thus.

Nonetheless, there's a moment in his late correspondence which belongs nowhere but in the realm of the "pervy." One of the more embarrassing aspects of late Ruskin, it must be admitted, is the decay of his taste: where in the 1850s he was the strident defender of JMW Turner and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, by the early 1880s he was delivering lectures in which he promoted as among the finest contemporary British art not merely his friend Edward Burne-Jones, but the children's book illustrator Kate Greenaway, of whose adorable wee nymphets Ruskin apparently couldn't get enough.

He was in correspondence with Greenaway by the early 1880s, advising her on her drawings – taking charge of her artistic education, as it were. For one thing, Ruskin felt that Greenaway had problems depicting her children's hands and feet rightly. In a letter of 6 July 1883, he coaxes her to go a bit further in divesting her nymphs of their regency costumes:
As we've got so far as taking off hats, I trust we may in time get to taking off just a little more – say, mittens – and then – perhaps – even – shoes! – and (for fairies) even – stockings – And then –

My dear Kate, – (see my third lecture sent to you to-day) – is is absolutely necessary for you to be – now – sometimes, Classical. I return you – though heartbrokenly (for the day) – one of those three sylphs, come this morning.

WILL you – (it's all for your own good!) make her stand up, and then draw her for me without her hat – and, without her shoes, – (because of the heels) and without her mittens, and without her – frock and its frill? And let me see exactly how tall she is – and how – round.

It will be so good of – and for – you – And to, and for – me.
In the margin, Joan Severn (Ruskin's cousin and – largely – caretaker) wrote, "Do nothing of the kind." I don't know whether Greenaway ever complied with Ruskin's desire, but apparently he never repeated the request.

Monday, November 26, 2012

wilde on ruskin

Oscar Wilde on Ruskin, in the New York Times, 1891:

Who cares whether Mr. Ruskin’s views on Turner are sound or not? What does it matter? That mighty and majestic prose of his, so fervid and so fiery coloured in its noble eloquence, so rich in its symphonic music, so sure and certain, at its best in subtle choice of word and epithet, is at least as great a work of art as any of those sunsets that bleach or rot on their corrupted canvases in England’s gallery; greater, indeed, one is apt to think at times, not merely because its equal beauty is more enduring, but on account of the fuller variety of its appeal, soul speaking to soul in those long-cadenced lines, not through form and colour alone, though through these, indeed, completely and without loss, but with intellectual and emotional utterance, with lofty passion and with loftier thought, with imaginative insight and with poetic aim; greater I think even as literature is the greater art.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The King of the Golden River - On Stage.

While looking for other resources, I found this YouTube trailer for a stage production of The King of the Golden river. Unfortunately, I am not sure if the rest was recorded, but what is here is quite amusing. They added some slapstick to the fight between Hans and Schwartz. I think the fast motion and choreography give  it an amusing silent movie style.

This was produced as a children's production at the California Theatre Center in 2011.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


[as promised – to the seminar – some notes on "Storm-Cloud," written much on the fly at some point last summer:]

"The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century" (1884) somewhat of a disappointment. The first lecture is familiar territory, from commentary and anthologization; the second is merely a series of annotations, commentaries, and expansions. Ruskin spends a good deal of time describing the meteorological phenemena of bygone times – indeed, that's the bulk of the lecture – and then rather than showing what contemporary "plague-clouds" look like, he simply bids his listeners to look outside, to reflect on the weather that they're experiencing.

Ruskin dates the storm-cloud from the early 1870s (1871, to be precise, though he specifies that these phenomena have come on gradually). For the most part, he refuses to engage contemporary scientific explanation; his commentary on scientists of his day here consists mostly of attacks on their specific use of language (though at one moment he actually gets a jab in at Tyndall on the issue of the movement of glaciers, an argument which took up way too much of Deucalion). Though early on, describing one cloudscape, Ruskin mentions how many factory smokestacks there are in the vicinity, he never makes a clear connection between their smoke and the conditions of the atmosphere. He brings up (in a note) the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, which everyone's agreed had a worldwide effect on cloud cover, only to immediately dismiss it. It's as though he determined from the very beginning to resist any purely physical explanation of what he's observed, that eschewing physical explanation is a fundamental rhetorical basis of his discussion of the weather.

 It's as if Ruskin were reluctant to adduce physical causes for the climate change he sees about him, because such explanations might hinder him in his advancing, seemingly reluctantly and tentatively, his own moral "explanation." That explanation has to do with what's he's been inveighing against for so many years: the immorality and materialism of contemporary English society.

Of what "use" then is Ruskin for contemporary environmental discourse – or rather, since he's clearly of no use whatsoever except as a precise and dogged observer of atmospheric conditions, what does he has to say to contemporary writers/critics interested in the environment?

The issue of science is central here: Environmental discourse is premised on scientific knowledge of the various interrelated phenomena that make up the human environment, their causes and outcomes, the way they mesh and clash with one another. But since the environment is an environment for something or someone – in most cases the average person thinks about it as an environment for us as human beings – purely scientific discourse is always, in environmental argument, tied with up with moral (having to do with human behavior, with "oughts") and political discourse. We see this most clearly in the global warming debate, where the relatively clear scientific consensus believes in anthropogenic climate change; this is taken up by environmentalists, who charge this in itself neutral conclusion with moral weight – we are changing and have changed the global climate to something it was not in our parents' time, to something that will be far more inimical to our children (or, at the very least, the process of adapting to such climate change will involve a huge amount of suffering, particularly in third-world countries, and widespread international conflict). Arresting such change, then, is a moral imperative. The environmentalists, in short, draw moral and political conclusions from what they see as "dispassionate" scientific evidence.

The global warming "deniers," on the other hand, dispute this scientific "consensus." As hard as it is to take this particular discourse seriously, it's worth untangling some of the various strands:
•there is among many rank and file denialists a kind of unwillingness to acknowledge that human activity might have an impact on a system as huge and complex as the global climate – we're only ants in God's sight, after all; how can ants change the conditions of this vast world? 
•there is an assertion that "climate change" is a natural, periodic phenomenon (as it indeed might well be), that we have not caused: it's really in the hands of God what climate we live in, and we've simply got to endure it. 
•there is a questioning of the motives of the vast majority of climate scientists, who are distrusted as being fundamentally suspicious of late capitalism as it has developed, and who are willing to bend evidence (or even to invent evidence) in order to make a scientific-sounding case for a turn away from the laissez-faire, free-market based system under which we live. 

Leaving aside the degree to which most global warming denialism is fostered and even funded by industries whose deepest interests lie precisely in the fossil fuels that scientists finger as the primary culprits in global warming, it's clear that denialism is as much a moral and political discourse as environmentalism, if in many of its forms it takes a far more skeptical view of science (or, to be more precise, of the neutrality of science). But both discourses (save for the Know-Nothings) of the first denialist category I adduced) pay at least lip service to science, the reigning discourse of our own day, in ways that Ruskin really doesn't.

 The problem with Ruskin's environmentalism and science is twofold: 1) In Ruskin's day, environmental science is really in an embryonic state, and frankly isn't able to provide particularly good explanations of meteorogical phenomena. And 2) Ruskin's own revulsion against scientific discourse (see his resignation from Oxford over the issue of vivisection, and the cancelled anti-scientist lectures from his last Oxford series, among much else) ensures that he is unwilling, at all costs, to enlist the scientists in his own cause.

What's left then is his moral message, which proves exceedingly vague in the crucial matter of mechanism. When Pat Robertson claimed that the fall of the Twin Towers was due to America's fallen moral state, his argument – never explicit, but easily figured out – went something like this: "America has given herself up to sensuality, godlessness, and homosexuality; therefore God sent, as his chosen vessels, these Islamic terrorists, to send a message." That is in short a message from the Hebrew Prophets: fall away from the Lord, and he will make of Assyria or Babylon an instrument to destroy you. Such "explanations" short-circuit all conventional sorts of historical, political, and scientific causality. (And that of course is part of what makes them so compelling to the religious-minded, and for that matter the lazy-minded.) Ruskin's discourse of the "plague-wind" is ultimately of this sort, though he is far more reticent than Robertson, or Ezekiel for that matter.

What's left for Ruskin and the environmentally-interested critic?

1) Clearly, Ruskin has a place of honor among writers who have devoted themselves to careful observation and recording of the natural world – Gilbert White, Thoreau, etc. That can't be denied on any level.

2) Ruskin's observations of the storm-cloud amount to the following: Over the course of my adult life, the condition of the sky has changed for the worse, and I have the records to demonstrate it so. No longer is the sky as hospitable and as beautiful as it once was.

3) Since the beauty of the sky (as argued in Modern Painters) is, for the human being, a theophanic mark, a demonstration of God's desiring to provide us with beautiful spectacles, something must have changed in our relationship with the heavenly powers (call them God, Athena, etc.), and for the worse.

Ruskin will not argue a materialist, causal explanation: You have poured so many millions of tons of smoke out of your factory chimneys, in pursuit of ill-gotten gains, that you have poisoned the sky; this – look above you! – is the result of your laissez-faire, of your headlong commercialism. Why not? On the one hand, he's at the very end of his productive career, liable to go off the rails at any moment; that may explain why so much of the main lecture is devoted to affectionately recalling the sunsets of his youth, and of classical literature. He has not much energy left for sustained argument, nor the desire to do the spadework necessary to bring causal arguments up to speed. On the other – and this is just a guess, a pure speculation – his distrust of science goes so deep that he might fear a "scientific" explanation of the storm-cloud would in some way blunt its deeper moral significance.

[And there my notes break off. I can only refer readers to Raymond E. Fitch's The Poison Sky: Myth and Apocalypse in Ruskin (Ohio UP, 1986), a 732-page (!!) volume which doubtless delves deeper into these matters than anyone else. No, I haven't read it yet; it's on my list.]

Friday, November 16, 2012

annotations & its discontents, installment #493

Here's Ruskin in the 11th chapter of Praeterita, describing his Oxford friend Francis Charteris:
I have always held Charteris the most ideal Scotsman, and on the whole the grandest type of European Circassian race hitherto visible to me ; and his subtle, effortless, inevitable, unmalicious sarcasm, and generally sufficient and available sense, gave a constantly natural, and therefore inoffensive, hauteur to his delicate beauty. He could do what he liked with anyone, — at least with anyone of good humour and sympathy ; and when one day, the old sub-dean coming out of Canterbury gate at the instant Charteris was dismounting at it in forbidden pink, and Charteris turned serenely to him, as he took his foot out of the stirrup, to inform him that ' he had been out with the Dean's hounds,' the old man and the boy were both alike pleased. 
Francis O'Gorman's Oxford World's Classics edition of Praeterita (2012) is on the whole a very good one. The introduction is solid and comprehensive, the bibliography is extensive, there's a super-useful chronology of the book's (serial) publication, & there's a handy glossary of characters at the end, as well as an index. But what about the notes, the ultimate test of a teaching text? What does O'Gorman make of that paragraph?

Well, what he annotates is that word Circassian: "JR perhaps means Caucasian, but neither term is very meaningful." Let's leave aside the clunky repetition of "meaning," which makes the sentence stylistically awful, to note that Circassian (referring to the Adyghe, or Cherkess, a northern Caucasian people displaced by the Russians in the 19th century) is a perfectly meaningful word, as for that matter is Caucasian – we just don't happen to know what the hell Ruskin intended by calling his Scottish friend that. Was it for him some vague epithet for "northern"?

I propose that the undergraduate or graduate 1st-time reader of Praeterita is liable to be just as puzzled, if not more so, by the description of Charteris "dismounting... in forbidden pink." What dress code precisely is Charteris transgressing? (And does it somehow also involve gender codes?) "Pink," of course, is the traditional name – no one quite knows why – for the scarlet hunting jacket worn by the British horsey set. That, I would argue, would have been a far more useful annotation than a bit of vaguery about what JR meant by "Circassian."


The American poet Ted Berrigan (1934-1983), sounding a bit like JR in The Eagle's Nest:
It's my conception that it would be a good thing if everybody wrote poetry, in the world, because it seems to me that it's a natural human activity. Just like singing is for the birds. Birds don't sing because they think they're Neil Young, you know; I mean, they sing because that's what birds do.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fors Clavigera

The Wheel of Fortune found throughout the Middle Ages and beyond was a direct legacy of the second book of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy. The Wheel appears in many renditions from tiny miniatures in manuscripts to huge stained glass windows in cathedrals, such as at Amiens. Lady Fortune is usually represented as larger than life to underscore her importance. The wheel characteristically has four shelves, or stages of life, with four human figures, usually labeled on the left regnabo (I shall reign), on the top regno (I reign) and is usually crowned, decending on the right regnavi (I have reigned) and the lowly figure on the bottom is marked sum sine regno (I have no kingdom). Medieval representations of Fortune emphasize her duality and instability, such as two faces side by side like Janus; one face smiling the other frowning; half the face white the other black; she may be blindfolded but without scales, blind to justice. Occasionally her vivid clothing and bold demeanor suggest the prostitute. She was associated with the cornucopia, ship's rudder, the ball and the wheel. Fors as Fortune had a very complex definition for Ruskin as he spanned the world of classical scholarship to being one of the first of the wealthy middle class to become a gentleman commoner at Christ Church, Oxford.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Punch and Judy early Christmas gift

Santa Claus, Punch and Judy (1948) Christmas Puppet Show. Puppets teach little children that it's funny to beat others to the ground with a club. If you are wondering why your parents used a paddle on your ass, this is probably a good answer as to where they got the idea. Enjoy!
Punch and Judy is a traditional, popular English puppet show featuring the characters of Punch and his wife Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically the anarchic Punch and one other character. The show is traditionally performed by a single puppeteer, known since Victorian times as a "professor".
The English Punch is associated with the Greek Pan who is associated with Herne, the Hunter in Celtic mythology. We all know who grow up on Herne Hill in London.
Hello, All -
I am reading some letters from Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton and I don't know what to make of the following:

JR: "And again - do not confuse my Spiritual Platonism with the Economical abstractions - It is not my Platonism, but a mathematical axiom - that a line is Length without its breadth - nor is it Platonism - but an economical axiom - that Wealth means that which that which conduces life."

I've read about Platonism, neo-Platonism, Christian Platonism..... but I am not sure what JR is saying about his own beliefs here.  Can anyone shed any light?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The solitary vice

The Jugum Penis 
 The Jugum Penis
The Jugum Penis was intended to cure "spermatorrhoea", a Victorian-era name for nocturnal emissions. The device was fashioned out of a metal ring, which would fit at the base of the penis and was attached with a clip.

Sylvester Graham was a Victorian philosophy that was the antithesis of the 20th century's “Playboy philosophy”: if it feels good, Graham might have said, don't do it! Those who did do it, who ate meat, drank whisky, or chewed tobacco, were condemned to suffer stimulation-induced inflammation in the immediately affected organ that could pass through the nervous system to all other parts of the body. Because sex was the most stimulating activity of all (even Graham knew that), it was considered the most dangerous. Some forms of sex, nevertheless, were more dangerous than others. Least risky was the marital variety, the form established by the Creator for replenishing the earth. If enjoyed no more than once a month, connubial commerce was free of threat—so long as the partners were young and in robust health. There was such a thing as “marital excess,” and it led to injury. Even so, it entailed less danger than the “social vice” of premarital or extramarital sex. Lest his readers foolishly suppose that 1 orgasm was much like another, Graham reminded them that adultery involved additional excitements. Both in the violation of a social taboo and the prolonged anticipation and final realization of coupling with a new body, one experienced stimulation far beyond anything to be found in the marital bed; to Graham's mind, the great virtue of marital sex was that it so soon became boring.
Far more treacherous was the “solitary vice,” masturbation, which had been thought of as somewhat less rousing than the real thing. Graham, however, pointed out that as a solitary activity, the practice of masturbation was likely to start at an earlier age and to occur more often than partnered sex. Most important, the lack of a partner meant resorting to fantasy and the conjuring of erotic scenes and lewd images that surely stirred the brain to a fever pitch. (By this analysis, lusting in the heart was physiologically equivalent to lusting in the flesh.) Because the brain's inflamed state could be transmitted to any organ or tissue of the body through the nervous system, all manner of disease could follow. But with sexual solitaire, the climax—rather the culmination—was insanity:
 “This general mental decay,” Graham warned, “continues with the continued abuses, till the wretched transgressor sinks into a miserable fatuity, and finally becomes a confirmed and degraded idiot, whose deeply sunken and vacant glassy eye, and livid, shriveled countenance, and ulcerous, toothless gums, and fetid breath, and feeble broken voice, and emaciated and dwarfish and crooked body, and almost hairless head—covered, perhaps, with suppurating blisters and running sores—denote a premature old age—a blighted body—and a ruined soul!” Graham S. A Lecture to Young Men on Chastity. Providence, RI: Weeden and Cory; 1834. (pp.25-26)
Yes, Dr. Sylvester Graham created Graham crackers to help stop masturbation.

Onania: Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pater, Ruskin and Botticelli

The last time we met for class Johanna (sorry if my spelling is off) remarked that there was no Ruskin  assigned for this week's class. So, I did a little bit of skimming through the always magnificent JSTOR and I came across a very interesting article which connected Ruskin and Pater. Apparently, the two had a bit of a feud concerning the rediscovery of Botticelli in the 19th Century. Both men wanted to claim credit for it! In 1883 Ruskin explicitly stated that  he alone  rediscovered Botticelli. However in August of 1870 Pater published an essay entitled, "A Fragment on Sandro Botticelli" while it was not until a year later in 1871 that Ruskin mentioned Botticelli in an Oxford lecture during the Lent term. This lecture was not published until 3yrs later in 1873. It appears that Pater clearly wins the debate here. Yet, there is a letter from Ruskin to Charles Elliot Norton dated July 1870 (a month before Pater's article) in which Ruskin devotes a single sentence to Botticelli and his general dislike of the painter.While Ruskin is typically credited with the rediscovery of Botticelli in the 19th century, it does appear that perhaps this is slightly incorrect. 

Monday, October 1, 2012


The spirit sherry takes its name from the town of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. In 1725 an Irishman by the almost comically stereotypical name of Patrick Murphy founded the sherry company that would be taken over by the Domecq family.

 In 1814 the Scotsman John James Ruskin combined with Pedro Domecq and Henry Telford to found Ruskin, Domecq, and Telford, the sherry-importing business that would make Ruskin and his son John, the critic, rather fabulously wealthy.

In 1994 Pedro Domecq combined with Allied Lyons (itself the product of a merger between Allied Breweries and J. Lyons and Co., a catering, restaurant, and hotel group) to form Allied Domecq.

In 2005 Allied Domecq was acquired by Pernod Ricard SA. Late that year, Pernod announced that it was spinning off the restaurant arm of what had been Allied Lyons – including Dunkin' Donuts/Baskin Robbins – to a consortium of 3 US private equity firms: Thomas H. Lee Partners, The Carlyle Group, and Bain Capital LLP.

The Domecq name (which can still be found on certain brands of sherry) remains in the hands of Pernod Ricard SA, the descendent of the Pernod Fils company (founded on the production of absinthe), which owns the Seagram name and has most recently acquired Absolut Vodka.

faith, or the capacity for faith?

[Ruskin, writing to Charles Eliot Norton, 27 December 1872, responding to a manuscript on Sienese history Norton had sent him:]

I was greatly surprised by the early dates you assign, and prove, for the fall of Siena and also, by your ascribing it in the end, so completely to the failure of religious faith.

Q. and this is the only thing which – during the whole day I wanted my pen to suggest – all the rest being unquestionable and as perfect as work can be – should we not rather say, – the failure of the qualities which render religious faith possible, – and which, if it be taught – make it acceptable?

How far religion made – how far destroyed – the Italians is now a quite hopelessly difficult question with me. My work will only be to give materials for its solution.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

thomas carlyle's trickle-down moral economics

[from Latter-Day Pamphlets #4, "The New Downing Street," 15 April 1850:]

We may depend upon it, where there is a Pauper, there is a sin; to make one Pauper there go many sins. Pauperism is our Social Sin grown manifest; developed from the state of a spiritual ignobleness, a practical impropriety and base oblivion of duty, to an affair of the ledger. Here is not now an unheeded sin against God; here is a concrete ugly bulk of Beggary demanding that you should buy Indian meal for it. Men of reflection have long looked with a horror for which there was no response in the idle public, upon Pauperism; but the quantity of meal it demands has now awakened men of no reflection to consider it. Pauperism is the poisonous dripping from all the sins, and putrid unveracities and god-forgetting greedinesses and devil-serving cants and jesuitisms, that exist among us. Not one idle Sham lounging about Creation upon false pretences, upon means which he has not earned, upon theories which he does not practise, but yields his share of Pauperism somewhere or other. His sham-work oozes down; finds at last its issue as human Pauperism,—in a human being that by those false pretences cannot live. The Idle Workhouse, now about to burst of overfilling, what is it but the scandalous poison-tank of drainage from the universal Stygian quagmire of our affairs?

Monday, September 24, 2012

How times have changed. Imagine Ruskin's response to This Quandry.

Australian Liberal Party Senator Cory Bernardi canceled an appearance at Oxford University this weekend in the wake of comments he made suggesting marriage equality might lead to calls for polygamous marriages and legal bestiality. On Tuesday, Bernardi said in a speech in Parliament: ‘The next step [after gay marriage] is having three people that love each other enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people. There are even some creepy people out there, who say that it’s okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?”
The controversial politico was scheduled to address the European Young Conservative Freedom Summit at Oxford’s St Hugh’s College but withdrew because he felt his appearance would be a “distraction.” On Thursday night, Senator Bernardi—who was made to step down as the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s parliamentary secretary—told reporters he had been quoted out of context. But outrage still brewed in both Australia and the UK. ”We strongly condemn Mr Bernardi’s comments, which do not reflect David Cameron’s or the Conservative Party’s viewpoint in any way,” said Ben Howlett of Conservative Future, the youth wing of the Conservative Party.