A cure for a cultural hangover

The up-and-coming independent publishing company Castalia House recently produced a rather fascinating, and very well-written, book called Victoria: A Novel of 4th Generation War by none other than William S. Lind. The book depicts (among other things) the downfall of America's government and the re-establishment of political bodies which aim explicitly to restore Greco-Roman philosophy and Judeo-Christian morality as their core value systems.

It's a brilliant book- and it is extremely politically incorrect. I consider myself to be far more of a right-wing nut-job than most nominal libertarians are comfortable with admitting, and even I was taken aback by some of the ideas written into the book. (Not so much the stuff about blacks, Mexicans, and Muslims generally being dyscivic groups inherently incapable of maintaining or progressing a civilisation bequeathed to them by their betters- I don't exactly disagree with that part; the stuff about rejecting computers, electricity, and cars, though, was rather beyond my ken.)

One of the ideas that the book explores early on, though, is that the so-called "culture" which surrounds us is really just forcing bile and sewage down our throats. The book asserts that the modern "art" and "music" which surround us today are nothing more than crass commercialism thrown at us to numb our senses, to destroy our ability to feel genuine emotions and appreciate great works by great geniuses.

Based on what I'm seeing around me these days, I have to say, that argument is not entirely without merit.

One of the best things about living in a large and busy city like London or New York is that a great museum or art gallery is never far away. London, in particular, is home to my three favourite cultural spots on Earth:

The British Museum near Russell Square (I used to live near it as a student, back in the day), where a man could easily spend a week wandering through all of its various halls and chambers and not experience all of the wondrous things that have been collected there, preserved through time by the love and diligent care of good men and women;

The National Art Gallery near Trafalgar Square, which contains some of the most magnificent works of art by the greatest talents humanity has ever produced;

And my personal favourite, the Tate Britain, where nearly 500 years' worth of British art is preserved lovingly as a tribute to the skill and quality of the greatest of the British masters.

If you're looking for a way to escape from the stupidity, the insipidity, the utter folly and crassness of the culture that you see around you, there are few better ways to do so than to walk into an art gallery like the Tate Britain.

William Blake - The Ghost of a Flea
The Ghost of a Flea by William Blake
There you will find works by legendary masters like J.M.W. Turner, William Blake, and in particular my three favourite paintings of all time, by the excellent John Martin. To wander into the Tate Britain and view the works hanging in the galleries from before, say, 1890, is to be transported into a time when colour photography didn't exist, and artists were judged by their skill with brush and canvas.

You'll go on a journey that will remind you of just what the mind of Man is capable of- and of what we have lost through "progress" into our modern so-called "culture".

... su colosal tamaño cuando la ví en la Tate Britain de Londres
The Lady of Shalott by JW Waterhouse
You'll be stunned at how lifelike the maid Elaine's appearance is as she lowers herself down into the boat that will carry her to her death, cursed as she is for gazing upon the visage of Sir Lancelot and falling in love with him.

You'll gaze in fascination at the painting of Proserpine as her eyes stare down at you from the wall, and you'll almost see her turn to face you with the pomegranate in her hand, missing six of its seeds.

You'll see the sun set over the great empire of Carthage as its people decline and fall into disarray and squalor.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Proserpina, 1874, Tate Britain
Proserpine by Rosetti
You'll squint at the bursting of a flare over the field of Waterloo in the bloody and tragic aftermath of the Duke of Wellington's greatest battle, and you'll almost be able to hear the keening cries of the war widows as they search by dim light among the bodies of the dead for their fathers and husbands and brothers and sons.

You'll find yourself sitting underneath John Martin's The Plains of Heaven and contemplating its vivid colours and serene landscapes with a contented, quiet smile on your face.

You'll examine a picture of terrible glory depicting a scene from the Book of Revelations as the dead rise up from the sea, stunned at the incredible realism of the artist's depictions of the human form, even as you are repelled by the horror of what is happening- a sure sign that the artist captured the atmosphere of the Last Judgement perfectly.

Even when you come across a painting as simple and mundane as three young women playing cards, you'll swear that you're not looking at an oil painting on canvas- you're looking at a moment frozen in time of almost haunting realism.

Joseph Mallord William Turner - The Field of Waterloo, 1818 at Tate ...
The Field of Waterloo by JMW Turner
And then, as you stumble entranced out of the galleries from 1540 to 1890 and into the "modern" era, half-convinced that the paintings on the wall came alive before your eyes, you'll find yourself staring at paintings full of discordant angles and strange colours. You'll be eyeing with distaste blocky sculptures made from plastic and wood, not marble and stone, that are supposed to depict... well, actually, you have no idea what, exactly.

You'll be looking at photographs taken recently of dead-eyed people frozen in time, lifeless and flat. You'll be staring at portraits that look like they were painted by six-year-olds using felt-tips and crayons, rather than sepia and oil and watercolours.

In short, you will find yourself experiencing the entire catastrophic decline of Western culture in the space of a single thirty-minute walk through the galleries of one of the greatest art museums in the world.

It is enough to make a man who appreciates such things feel like he's in the midst of a throbbing hangover.

When you turn on the TV and you see these ridiculous music videos glorifying sex and drugs and violence, where barely-dressed voluptuous harlots gyrate and moan and writhe to what feels like someone scraping a cheesegrater over your eardums while driving a jackhammer into your skull, you find yourself wondering if there is anything worth saving of the sewer that is modern "culture".

The answer, of course, is "no". But this isn't an affliction unique to this day and age, and it isn't a problem unique to Western society. This has happened before.

Legends of antiquity tell us that as the Western Roman Empire began its final plunge into the abyss, the emperors of Byzantium in the East wisely saw that their artists and sculptors did not yet have the skills required to replicate the magnificent sculptures and paintings from the past glories of Rome. To avoid the loss of their culture and their identity, and to allow future generations to learn from the works of past masters, the Eastern Empire took the finest works of the West to Constantinople as guides for the artists of the East. In so doing, they preserved the best of Rome while building their own unique cultural identity.

But there was no stopping Rome's artistic and cultural collapse. When the fall finally came, Imperial Roman culture had lost whatever virility and strength that it once had- weakened from without by war and famine and disease, weakened from within by a suicidal multi-generational compact with barbarian tribes from beyond the old imperial borders. And when Rome did collapse, not with a bang but with a whimper, as the last Roman emperor simply stepped off the throne and handed it to Odoacer, Europe underwent three hundred years of turmoil and uncertainty that we now remember (not entirely correctly) as the Dark Ages, in which art and artistic appreciation regressed to (supposedly) barbaric levels. (Again, in reality, the Dark Ages weren't really that bad- it's just that the great public works and artistic achievements of the past went to pot during this time.)

A similar cultural catastrophe has befallen us now. You can see it all around you- this putrescence of so-called "modern art", this excrement that permeates all around it with its stench, does nothing to elevate the mind and soul of Man, but instead tears it down with its insistence on jarring the senses as thoroughly as possible. Where the art of old seeks to inspire wonder, to show off the artist's virtuosity, to ennoble Mankind through brilliant use of light and colour and space, the "art" of today is hardly even worthy of the label.

Fortunately, the remedy, however palliative and however temporary, is not difficult to find.

All you have to do is walk into a museum or art gallery displaying the works of old masters. All you have to see is a single painting of ingenious brushwork and magnificent skill, and you'll have reason to be hopeful once again. That's all it takes.

The current Sargasso of ugliness and absurdity that we find ourselves swimming in will one day clear out, to be replaced with real art and real morality. Real artists with real skill- not hacks who think that dunking a cross in urine, or "performance art" pieces consisting of a movie star sitting in a room with a paper bag on his head, are valid modes of artistic expression- will make a comeback. We'll see real paintings, sculptures, and music come forth once more.

Until that time, though, the simplest cure for this horrible throbbing hangover can be found in any decent art gallery that displays decent old-school paintings. Go there, spend the afternoon with a hot cup of tea and the company of a good woman, and I promise you that you'll find reason for hope and joy once more.

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