The Captor's Image, by Basil Dufallo

 

 

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I have been grazing at this fascinating book that looks at discussions of Romans writing about Greek art. Through these discussions the Romans define or redefine Greek art while also establishing their own identity. 

“Vergil’s account of sculptures by the legendary Greek artist Daedalus in *Aeneid 6, with its visual narrative of deception, lust, wandering, and loss uncannily similar to Aeneas’s own, is among the most familiar examples of my subject matter in Latin literature.”, notes Dufallo in his introduction.  Shortly thereafter he quotes Horace: “Captured Greece captured its uncivilized conqueror and brought the Arts to rustic Latium.”

It sounds familiar.  I feel I have encountered ecphrasis.  Can we think of  the discussions of classical art in the writings of Goethe, Winckelmann, Adalbert Stifter, Walter Pater, Edith Hamilton and others as ecphrasis?  This is a question for Mr. Dufallo.

I am a modernist and my heart is with the Symbolistes, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Imagistes, all of whom, in various ways, sought an authentic voice that was not beholden in any way to classical values.  In fact, they actively sought a divorce from classical values.  Modernists are immersed in imagism, but in imagism the emphasis is placed on images of nature.  In ecphrasis, the object is an art object, man-made, with intent.   Roman identity is emerging through its embrace and usurpation of Greek art.  We modernists emerged out of a break with classical art.  

Our break with classical antiquity encourages a conflation of Greek and Roman values.  Dufallo's work shows us that the two cannot be conflated.  I am reminded of Harold Bloom's book, Jesus and Yahweh, where Bloom dismisses the notion that the "new" testament completes the "old".  

It is striking to see the Romans creating Greek culture as such.  While the Greek legends were of diverse origins, (Dufallo mentions Adonis, a Greek import from a Mesopotamian pantheon... ")  The Romans "take"  Greek culture; the wrap it up into a unity that seems to be unprecedented? Perhaps that unity says more about the Romans than about the Greeks?  It a bit like Americans taking English culture as such, while Shakespeare revelled in the differences between Saxon and  Norman French.

We think immediately of Dante’s Vergil, and yet Dante brings something new to the table--Arnaud Daniel and the troubadour poetry, which, I propose, is really very new and distinct from the Greek & Roman ethos?  In this sense, Dante is the first Pre-Raphaelite,  While William Morris and the rest looked to the Gothic arch (as distinct from the Romanesque), Dante looked to the troubadour poetry, but they were both groping toward the same thing—the authentic European, weaned from classical antiquity. 

Throughout the still ongoing Greek debt crisis, I was picking at Holderlin's  Hyperion, thinking about how some of the names can be swapped with names from the present.  Here is a notable example of the tired but sadly still relevant north/south dynamic. Merkel is to her Greek counterpart as Holderlin’s German protagonist is to his Greek friend.

Adalbert Stifter's Nachsommer contains remarkable discussions of classical art, and is widely understood to be one of the finest expressions of the Humanitäts-Ideal, which involves embrace, appropriation, & usurpation of classical values.  In Nachsommer there is misunderstanding in lieu of deception, subtle Victorian lust, & much wandering. Stifter's discusssions (in the words of his fictional Baron von Risach) are most surely knowing  of much of the ecphrasis that Dufallo studies.   Dufallo's work gives us context for Stifter's discussion of Greek & Roman art, and of course no less for Goethe's discussions of Winckelmann, Goethe's classical works, the Roman Elegies, etc.

We are tempted to circle back to Walter Pater & Edith Hamilton. Can we call any of their writings "ecphrasis"?  I wonder.

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In the US, we have our charming Greek revival homes all over the northeast, and the neoclassical structures in New York City that Ayn Rand hated so much, flowing northward through Chelsea before being overtaken by Mies Van Der Rohe’s Seagram’s Building.  Phillip Johnson brings us to the present with the chippendale atop his AT&T Building.  Johnson’s re-embrace of ornamentation creates a powerful frisson, showing us that we are still confused about our relation to ornamentation.  We are at sea.  Moreover, the problems surrounding ornamentation are a European problem that the Americans cut into via Ezra Pound, TS Eliot and that bunch.  Here, I have a vague intuition that William James's resonances with Bergson underpin & shore up the transatlantic  anti-classical dialogue, via TE Hulme and Gertrude Stein.

US culture is dominated by a different cultural appropriation: blues & folk--the appropriation of and romance (interesting choice of words) with the culture of its underclasses.  Dylan’s Nobel Prize is the first European acknowledgement of the US’s achievement of its authentic voice, a voice that is thoroughly distinct from the European strands of art and dialogues on art.  We should concede Dylan's Nobel Prize was a first establishment nod to the ultimate relevance of American pop culture.  That Elvis, Dylan, Paul Simon, Beyonce and so many others sell in Europe and overshadow Europe's highly subsidized high culture must have been a huge frustration before Dylan's Nobel.  Dylan's Nobel prize was a capitulation long after the markets had their say.

If you follow the money, Emerson's so perfectly apt Americanization of Wordworth & Goethe seems like a minor sideshow to the rise of the culture of America's oppressed. (Think of the French influences upon Duke Ellington.)

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The CIA discouraged nationalist music, discouraged anything “folkish” in Germany after the war through its support of Darmstadt, through its support for Milton Babbitt and the RCA synthesizer.    Yet, like whack-a-mole, folk music popped up here in the biggest way, soon amplified through the British Invasion.  

A resonance was appreciated by Arnold Toynbee, who noticed that Americans relate to their slaves and underclasses much as the Romans related to their Christian slaves.    In both cases the culture of the enslaved rose to prominence and domination.

It may be safe to say that Dufallo's subject is generally overshadowed by the study of Greek paedeia--the Hellenistic cultural forces acting on the Jews, who banned representational art, paving the way for Christianity, which is always steeped in imagery.  (See also Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil.)  

The overwhelming Greco-Roman influence on the tone of Axial Judaism and early Christianity has encouraged us to lump Greece & Rome together.  It seems that Winkelmann paved the way for Dufallo's study, as Winkelmann is credited with discerning the distinct natures of Greek, Greco-Roman and Roman art.