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When I was barely an adolescent I read “Les Miserables” and the vast scope of the work caught my brain on fire. It was like living hundreds–or maybe thousands–of lives over multiple generations. We can (and will) return to that remarkable novel’s great themes of humanism, systematic oppression, historicism, Christianity, and economics (among other things), but for now I would like to concentrate on the first chapter of Book III. The chapter is titled “The Year 1817” and it details what everyone was talking about in France in 1817.
Naturally, the excited 14-year-old me was hoping for soaring words about battle, republic, redemption, and perfect compassion, and so the chapter was an immense disappointment. It was about the mincing affairs of unknown aristocrats and quibbles about fashion or taste which were utterly incomprehensible (and even more ridiculous). Here is a random sample of this Bourbon Restoration word salad:
Criticism, assuming an authoritative tone, preferred Lafon to Talma. M. de Feletez signed himself A.; M. Hoffmann signed himself Z. Charles Nodier wrote Therese Aubert. Divorce was abolished. Lyceums called themselves colleges. The collegians, decorated on the collar with a golden fleur-de-lys, fought each other apropos of the King of Rome. The counter-police of the chateau had denounced to her Royal Highness Madame, the portrait, everywhere exhibited, of M. the Duc d’Orleans, who made a better appearance in his uniform of a colonel-general of hussars than M. the Duc de Berri, in his uniform of colonel-general of dragoons– a serious inconvenience.
It goes on in this fashion for several pages. If you want the full effect, you can read the rest here (along with the other 1200 pages of the book, come to think of it).
Now I can understand these words individually, and even piece together their social importance, but the sense of momentous grandeur is entirely gone. This is, of course, as Victor Hugo wanted it. His true story was about people vastly beneath the notice of M. the Duc d’Orleans. To give the appropriate sense of scale, he needed to show how ephemeral the allegedly important and noteworthy people and things in a year actually are. What is really important takes longer to comprehend—and even the consensus of history keeps changing as history progresses. Naturally Hugo also wanted us to take a step back from our own time and realize that soon it will all be as dull, insipid, and inconsequential as the affairs of 1817.
I really really hope you will take that lesson to heart, because most of our shared experience is made of flotsam—stupid tv shows, bad songs, political hacks who are already fading away, ugly fashions, and useless hype. In 25 years, nobody but old fogeys and experts in early 21st century culture will have any idea who Beyonce is. In a hundred years nobody will understand Facebook or Google. Even if he destroys the republic and precipitates universal war, precious few people will recall Trump in 2217. By next week we will have forgotten this accursed “Milo” (who, I guess, is a failed actor who pretended to be a Nazi to make money off of conservative frenzy?). It already doesn’t make sense!
As you proceed through the year 2017, hang on to the lessons of “The Year 1817”. Most things that are current and fashionable and celebrated are useless piffle. Celebrity culture has always been a meretricious mask used to defraud people of their money and attention. The great are mostly not so great (sorry, Beyonce and Duc de Orleans), but beyond that, even the fundamental concept of current events or contemporary culture is predominantly a soap-bubble. And where does that leave us?
Today features a traditional-style porcelain Russian decanter in elegant blue and white glaze. The decanter is handmade Gzhel porcelain with traditional Russian folk-art patterns. However the vessel is not completely traditional—it is in the shape of a rocket. The piece commemorates Belka and Strelka, two dogs who went in to orbit on Sputnik 5 in 1960 and returned safely to Earth. They were space pioneers in all sorts of ways!
I like this sort of object–which combines except it commemorates an even which happened more than 50 years ago. Our space milestones are receding in the past, and although the robot probes exploring the solar system are learning amazing things, they do not seem to keep the public’s attention the same way that two lovable Soviet dogs did.
Happy Valentine’s Day! The three traditional symbols of this holiday are (1) a voluptuous heart-shape, (2) Cupid, and (3) a pair of doves. The first of these—the shapely heart–is a medieval symbol, but the other two holiday symbols are much older and trace their way back to the ancient Greco-Roman world. The mischievous archer Cupid was the god of infatuation and besottment—with his phallic arrow, he is so ouvert that he is barely a symbol. In the world of Christian iconography, doves represent peace, divine revelation, and the holy spirit, however in the classical world they were the bird of Aprodite/Venus. Valentine’s Day is really Lupercalia—the fertility festival to Lupercus (Pan). In the modern world it (barely) masquerades as an acceptable holiday, but its wild roots are never far away. I get the sense these doves are really the amorous doves of Venus and not representations of peace.
To celebrate, here are some Valentine’s doves from Valentines throughout the ages.
Doves pulled the chariot of Venus and they nearly always attended to her. Their tenderness with each other and their ability to rapidly proliferate made them abiding symbols of love. Additionally, doves are uniquely beautiful and otherworldly and yet also commonplace. They can fly to the heights of heaven and yet consist on meager scraps in wastelands. Maybe doves really are a good symbol of love!
Ferrebeekeeper has long served Athena, the virgin goddess of truth and wisdom (although she is never the most popular goddess, she is certainly the BEST and is always is victorious in the end), and, in my time, I have also served Dionysus. All American are compelled to serve Hera for 8 hours every workday (except the super-rich, who serve her constantly). Yet Aphrodite has almost always eluded me. Springs come and go and the long decades pass, but love is elusive. Maybe some sacred doves will please coy Aphrodite.
In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone. I hope you find the love you are looking for in your life. Or at least I hope you enjoy these doves and maybe some chocolate!
Saturday (January 28th, 2017) was Chinese New Year! It’s now year 4714, the year of the fire rooster! Holy smokes, that sounds like an intense animal. Ferrebeekeeper is going to celebrate the spring festival with a whole week devoted to chickens (especially roosters). I write a lot about other animals, but I owe a truly inconceivable debt to chickens, since chicken and rice are my staple foods. Indeed, I eat so many chickens that, I am probably going to get to the afterlife and find hundreds of thousands of angry spirit chickens waiting for me with flame eyes and needle sharp ghost beaks. A week of pro-chicken posts can only help when that day comes.
Tomorrow we will talk about the ancestral wild chickens—the red junglefowl of the subcontinent—and how they became humankind’s favorite bird (if you look at the scale of chicken farming, I think you will agree that no mighty eagle, or super-intelligent pet parrot can compare in our collective esteem). We have some other observations to make about chickens as domestic animals and some rooster anecdotes. A brain-damaged rooster was the animal sidekick in Disney’s latest (amazing) princess film. My parents have an ugly multicolor rooster who is somehow endearing himself to them. Before then though, so I have something on this first workday of, uh, 4714, I would like to present these 4 chicken themed flounders.
The one at the top is a fairly straightforward rooster, greeting the dawn from the back of a turbot which is swimming between classical urns and stars which look like flowers. We will talk more later about the second flounder/chicken hybrid (which not only evokes the lost world of zoomorphs, but also speaks to my roommate’s latest creative/spiritual/magical pursuits (?). This leaves the third flatfish (in glowing green), a clear allegory of the serpent tempting humankind to taste chickens (as various mythical animals and imps excluded from creation look on from beyond the charmed circle).
Finally, there is a contortionist aiming her bow at a target beyond this world as a glowing multicolor cock stares her beadily in the eye. The sable flounder is surrounded by bats in the crepuscular sky as well as an armadillo and a horny toad. We will talk more about chickens tomorrow, but these images should give you plenty to think about as you start off the new year.
A popular luxury item of the ancient Mediterranean world was the unguentarium–a little glass container which contained perfume, salve, balm, or suchlike precious unguents (the purpose is right there in the name, people). Today we would probably keep such cosmetics or medicines in a hermetically sealed plastic containers vacuum sealed by machines with metal or foil tops, but the Romans did not have such materials or technology. In order to keep their basalms fresh, they used the glassblower’s art. The jalop was put in the container during manufacture and the glassmaker sealed it in.
In order to use such a material, the buyer would snap the glass and break the seal (and alas, the vessel). Dove-shaped unguentariums (or whatever the English plural of that word is) were particularly popular because the shape was beautiful and effective. A user could break the beak for getting small amounts or snap off the tail if she wanted to use all of her lotion at once. Additionally, doves were sacred to Venus–a particular favorite goddess of the Romans. I wonder what sort of lubricious lotions and potions were in these lovely glass doves. In some cases we could perhaps find out. Some of these were never broken by the people they were made for, now dead for more than a thousand years. We could break them and find out what the contents were with our machines…but after so long it seems like an unimaginable shame.
It’s Friday the 13th today and I made a little show of unlucky flounder drawings to celebrate the occasion…unfortunately (or perhaps predictably) after I handed them over to my gallerist, I realized that I had accidentally erased the digital photographs I made. I only have pictures of the three drawings I photographed for Instagram. Gah! this is sad and frustratind, but it is 12:30 AM here, and I am not going to have time to conceive a whole new blog post (not if I want to be able to comprehend infernally over-complicated transactional spreadsheets with any degree of comprehension tomorrow). So, here are three of the thirteen thirteen-themed flounder.
With its engraving-style lines and elaborate ornamentation (and its green color) the first flounder 9at the top) evokes currency. the title is “Banknote Flounder” and I already sold it! Yet if you look closely at the ornate margins, you will see they are filled with little parasites and scavengers. The Latin phrase means (roughly) “fishing using a golden hook” (which is funny considering that I immediately sold this picture…which looks like money).
The second picture features a lovely leopard gecko and thirteen colorful dots. It has thirteen translated into other mathematical notations (hexidecimal and binary). the flounder’s back is covered with various spirals, fractal patterns, and chaos scribbles which also denote different systems of order. Here is a second phot of it in different light.
Finally, just for fun, there is a “Luckyduck Flounder” with a cartoon cat, a good-hearted duck, and a shepherds primitic tally for thirteen. the flounder is attractively mottled and seems broadly happy.
Of course there are ten more thirteen themed flounder out there, but you will just have to imagine what they are like until I get my act together and learn to save images to the cloud right away. Although…come to think of it, there is another Friday 13th in October this year [spooky floundery music plays].
I promised a post with New Year’s Resolutions, but we’re already up to January 10th. The year is whipping by fast. What happened?
On New Years Day I looked around to take stock and I noticed that I have become middle-aged and I am a failure on pretty much every level. I have no wife and children. I have no towering art achievements (other than those that hang on my own walls seen by no one but myself). I have no fame. I have no money. I have a new job which takes all of my concentration and plays to none of my strengths. Waking up every morning to go into that thing is like going to…well, there is no need to get into it on this public forum, but let it suffice to say I really have to expand my talents quickly.
I think my blog readership is dwindling, possibly because I write less because of time constraints, but also possibly because my content is slipping or just because my posts are becoming depressing (for example…this one). Not just that! My country is swiftly becoming a fascist failed state. After a few fat cow (fat cat?) years when the masters vote to give everything worthwhile to themselves and break everything else, there is going to be no upcoming boom in the future. Plus, in the not-so-distant periphery of doom, the machines are coming for all of us anyway.
This is all a bit discouraging. Especially since, in our primate world, people tend to be drawn towards blustery self-confidence even if it is all false and made up.
All of which is a maudlin way of saying that this year’s resolutions are going to need to be really good. Here’s what I have so far, but maybe you can help me out a bit. In 2017, I resolve to:
1) Finish the Four Great Classics of Chinese Literature: I have actually already read three of the four, so this is almost cheating…except each of these things is a thousand plus pages long. Also, they also all have casts with hundreds–or thousands–of characters (with superficially similar Chinese names) and Chinese literature is almost impossibly sad. But the final one, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is different than the other four in fundamental disturbing ways. I will flesh this resolution out more in tomorrow’s post.
2) Get really good at boring transactional work with lots of numbers and pettifogging details. I have always fled from this horrible stuff, but there is nowhere left to flee. Whenever I try something, there is a spreadsheet, or a collections list, or an unimaginably complex tax bill, or some other organizational challenge in the way. It ends now. I have decided to change my attitude. I LOVE my dayjob. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow. I love nightmarish spreadsheets. I thrive on monetary sums and incomprehensible alphanumeric codes. From now on, I am going to be the best at . If you need help doing you taxes or refinancing, you just call me. You have to use the time.
3) Keep up my art production. Despite less than ideal circumstances, I made an immense amount of art last year. I improved too (albeit in a direction towards beautiful visionary madness rather than towards realism) . This year, I will work even harder and produce even more. And I’m going to take it out in the world and show it to people too (if for no other reason than the fact that my walls are full). Just you watch! Also, do you maybe happen to know anybody in the art world?
4) Speaking of jobs and the art world. I am going to get much better at applications, and I am going to send them out by the score. Last year I resolved not to be upset if my applications were rejected, and I failed at that somewhat (grumble). This year i just resolve to apply more. Who cares how I feel afterwards so long as the darn things get written and go out.
5) Apologize less. for example I was going to apologize for this ridiculously autobiographical post…but 2017 showed that those who apologize for themselves are crushed by society. What I have written here is unflinchingly honest and nakedly forthright. if life is an emotional roller coaster than so be it. There are ups and downs, but you can’t doubt who you really are.
I have not thrown away my sword. I will not lie down in the frozen mud and give up . There are wonders ahead, readers! Come with me. I know there has been some raggedness around the edges these last few years and I don’t pretend the coming years will be any easier. They may be a lot harder. Yet we have come so far, and it was amazing! We cannot let ignorance and greed win out. We mustn’t give in to despair. Life is so beautiful, and we are not so far from all of our goals as it seems. Not at all.
Ahem…cough. Anyway those are my goals (plus eating more vegetables and taking my cat to the vetrinarian). What do you have planned? Please tell me. I know I have been responding slowly (uh, i vow to better about that too), but I really read them all and they mean alot to me. Happy 2017! Come Tartarus or grievous flood, or any other damned challege WE ARE GOING TO AND MAKE IT GOOD.
I colored a flounder drawing I made last Halloween with watercolor and colored pencils. This is “The Sole and the Souls” (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, Ink, watercolor, and colored pencil on paper). It features a sole covered with parti-colored fungi swimming through a Roman cemetery of late antiquity. I think those might be Charun’s snakes in the sky (and his servitor dragging the gladiator into the darkness).