Portuguese-Men-Of-Art

As related at New English Review, a recent perusal of a book of photographs of mid-20th Century Portugal caused Dalrymple to think about old-world beauty and to conclude that “in progress there is also loss”:

One of the questions that I have never been able to answer satisfactorily is why peasants the world over lose their aesthetic sense the moment they move from the country to the town, and become aficionados of kitsch.

Those who until then had an instinctive understanding of form and colour seem to care about them no longer: I have observed this in India, Africa and South America. Indeed, they not only lose their instinctive good taste but acquire instinctive bad taste to replace it.

What is the explanation for this? Is it that abundance and cheapness of acquired goods means that one no longer has to look at them with the same concentration as in conditions of relative shortage? Is it that, making almost nothing any more for oneself, one loses the appreciation of form and colour? Is it that, in the new conditions, all that belongs to the past comes to seem retrograde and associated in the mind with poverty and oppression? Is it that everything from the past – the earthenware pots, for example – come to seem almost childish by comparison with the modernity of aluminium pots and pans? Is it that life loses in intensity what it gains in extension?

2 thoughts on “Portuguese-Men-Of-Art

  1. Carolyn Kunin

    All these things — and the irresistible pull of the new. Like Dorothy in Oz which dazzles and causes her to forget her home and her old friends back in Kansas; or like she and her friends in the Emerald City, when they are fitted with green spectacles, the specs not only color everything a new color, but lend everything the sheen and glamour of novelty of technicolor. MGM counted on the novelty of technicolor to pull in the audience to see The Wizard of Oz, not the then young and unknown star, Judy Garland, or the old has-been vaudevillians who played the Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion – and certainly not Yip Harburg’s new song (which was nearly cut altogether).

    And yet, after a while, even the new begins to pale, and Dorothy “would give anything to get out of Oz altogether.” Oh, and I nearly forgot the contribution of the Noel Langley, the Brit who came to Hollywood to write the screenplay.

    Well, none of that could have made a legend of a schoolgirl or brought has-beens back to be beloved of the public as Bert Lahr et al. Even the green witch and the ruby slippers (instead of the monochromatic witch and silver shoes of Baum’s original story) were done to enhance the wonders of the new color technology.

    Anyway, we now all flock back to beautiful black and white films in the art houses and prefer peasant bread to wonderbread. There is, when all is said and done, nothing new under the sun.

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  2. Alphonsus Jr.

    One of the fundamental errors of the myth of progress and the chronological snobbery it breeds is to conflate mere development and progress. Development is most definitely not necessarily progress. For example, it’s not at clear that the technological development of the internet is also progress. Nor is it at all clear that the development of the legalized hiring of surgical hitmen to commit surgical infanticide constitutes progress rather than barbaric regress. Many more examples could follow.

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