Kitsch from the French "Enlightenment"
Thoughts on Louvre, Portrait of a Museum, Stewart, Tabori and Chang, New York, 1998 (originally published in France as Louvre, Éditions Robert Laffont, Paris, 1997)
By Michael Moriarty
"The only beauty is greatness." – Napoleon Bonaparte
Kitsch, a German word for art so superficial you can make fun of it, has been redefined by Americans ever since that Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, Leonardo Da Vinci, gave the United States the Mona Lisa, the first smiley face you could make fun of by drawing mustaches on it and inferring that the lady might not be a lady after all. Auguste Rodin followed in Da Vinci's footsteps with The Thinker. Americans really went to work on that. The Thinker is really sitting on the john. He's constipated. Well, you get the idea, I think.
"Da Vinci is kitsch?" To the bourgeois Americans, he's been kitsch for a long time.
"There you go!," say the defenders of Matriarchal Marxism, those devout believers in Franco-German Intellectual Supremacy. "Nothing is so disgusting as life seen through the eyes of a common American, a type that one can always underestimate!"
Here we go.
"No intellect on earth ever reached the heights that Da Vinci's did!" And he's not even French!
"It was Descartes, however," exclaims the embittered face at Paris' famed café, Les Deux Magots, hunched over his wine and… well, Left Bank Communists don't smoke Gitaines in public anymore, not like they used to. The gendarmes are there to say emphatically, "Cessez de fumer!" It happened to me in Padua, when the carabinieri shouted "troppo fumare!" Why didn't the headwaiter warn me? I was in a smoking section but… oh, well, that's the New Italy for you.
At any rate, the French intellectual rambles on: "It was Descartes who, in realizing the true and only possible God on earth, the human intellect, liberated all of Man. In doing so, he supercedes the genius of Da Vinci."
Oh, so all the masterpieces in the Louvre are French, are they? Mao Zedong is linked to a small ghetto in Paris called "Little Beijing." It was "Little Peking" back then, of course, until Mao arrived in Peking to do what Lenin did to St. Petersburg. Well, Leningrad's back to being St. Petersburg and I have no doubt that Beijing will eventually and forever remain Peking. Oh, by the way, is it Beijing Duck now or is it still Peking Duck?
The Louvre, that temple of the savants, or "enlightened despots," as the wise Voltaire described them, is the giant of European art museums, replete with Napoleonic improvements for over 200 years. It was transformed in the 1980s and 1990s by a Chinese-American architect named Ioh Ming Pei. He became a United States citizen in 1935, when he was 18 years old. Pei surrendered his aesthetic vision to Germany's Bauhaus school of architecture. His favorite media were stone, concrete, glass and metal. With those materials, he resurrected the memory of Napoleon Bonaparte with a glass structure now known as the Pei Pyramid, which stands in the Court of Napoleon. Beneath the pyramid is a busy workspace filled with computers and laboratories. I have no idea what a lab is doing in an art museum, but there is much ado about the marriage of science and art at the Louvre.
What has Pei's pyramid to do with Napoleon? The pyramid was the signature monument of Egypt, one of the first lands conquered by Bonaparte. He took possession of this triumph of the Pharaoh and brought tons of ancient antique "booty" back to Paris. For that and his undeniable charisma, Napoleon was made first consul of the Directorate and later Emperor of France. That adventure across Europe lasted a bit longer than Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign, but when the British Empire showed up at Waterloo, the flaws in France's grand design for the human race tore the Napoleonic tapestry apart.
What does any of this have to do with Kitsch? The superficiality within all Kitsch is always held up or supported by the "underlying delusions" within the mind of the artist and his countrymen. For Nazi Germany, the delusion was Richard Wagner.
You ask, "How can I dismiss a genius like Wagner?"
Well, I just fired Da Vinci. What have I got to lose?
Had France, after her humiliation at Waterloo, remained content to be simply hermetic aesthetes, poetic dreamers on the Left Bank who organized pilgrimages to the Napoleonic Court and left it at that, the 20th Century would never have been the nightmare it became.
"What's kitsch about that?"
How about Charlie Chaplin's portrait of Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator, a revelation of the ultimately kitschy mind of this evil genius? "Chaplin was a great communist and saw through the Banana Republican mind of Hitler, into the depravity of his intelligence."
The enlightened Third Millennium French intelligence sits brooding with a classic face: the lidded eyes of Mao Zedong and the pouting mouth of Jeanne Moreau. This psychic rift within France will lead to further unrest across Europe. That's not kitsch: It's inevitability. When France became "enlightened," all of Europe followed.
At the I.M. Pei Institute – that is the real name for the Third Millennium Louvre – the stone, concrete, glass and metal of the Pei Pyramid may very well be all that's left when France is sundered between the Matriarchal Marxists and the Maoists. Who will the Matriarchal Marxists turn to for help? America again?
If I were president, I'd tell them, "You prayed for a pure Napoleon, one devoid and utterly untainted by Judeo-Christian civilization, one free of the ‘opiate of the people,' one so certain of his destiny and so ruthlessly committed to his Godlike status that Lenin's ‘any means to an end' would prove the key to an Eternal Greatness. Your prayers were answered with Mao Zedong. There's not an ounce of goodness in his DNA, let alone his soul.
"So, face the moment when the generals of his million-man army tell you, ‘You cannot destroy the tree of a civilization and keep its fruits. These so-called works of art you so revere are as corrupt and virulently infectious as the civilization you wanted to see ended. We will burn the Louvre, every bit of art in it and leave only the Pei Pyramid. Little did you know that its glass and metal contain the icy, glacier-veined determination of the reptile with wings, the Chinese Dragon."
Meanwhile, the real image of the Chinese – the lone, brave man facing off the cold-blooded, Red Chinese Dragon tank in Tiananmen Square, the irresistible Panda of Chinese legend, the little bear with the heart of a lion – that China will inevitably rise to institute a "Cultural Imperialism" that will make that of America look like a warm-up exercise.
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who has appeared in the landmark television series Law and Order, the mini-series Taken, the TV-movie The 4400 and Hitler Meets Christ, a surreal tragicomedy based on the actor's controversial New York stage play.
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