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13

The Cleric of Treason

on Anthony Blunt

18
terms
2
notes

divided into two sections: 1) Anthony Blunt the art critic (he was very diligent, though I zoned out through some of the descriptions of his contributions) who was knighted for his work; and 2) Anthony Blunt the Soviet spy who worked for MI5 after the war.

the two main reasons Steiner gives for his sympathy to the Soviet cause: a) the fact that art under communism is a lot more free than it is under capitalism; and b) homosexuality? i don't really follow this one

Steiner, G. (2009). The Cleric of Treason. In Steiner, G. At the New Yorker. New Directions, pp. 13-46

(noun) an intimate and often exclusive group of persons with a unifying common interest or purpose

13

These works "cannot reach more than the limited coterie of aesthetes".

Quoting Anthony Blunt

—p.13 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago

These works "cannot reach more than the limited coterie of aesthetes".

Quoting Anthony Blunt

—p.13 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago
17

Throughout 1938, these stern hopes seemed to wither. The choice before the artist grew ever more stark. He could, wrote Blunt in his Spectator piece for June 24th, either discipline himself to paint the world as it was, paint something else as mere frivolous distraction, or commit suicide. [...]

on Mexican artists

—p.17 by George Steiner 2 years, 5 months ago

Throughout 1938, these stern hopes seemed to wither. The choice before the artist grew ever more stark. He could, wrote Blunt in his Spectator piece for June 24th, either discipline himself to paint the world as it was, paint something else as mere frivolous distraction, or commit suicide. [...]

on Mexican artists

—p.17 by George Steiner 2 years, 5 months ago

(noun) historically, a high government bureaucrat of the Chinese Empire OR a pedantic or elitist bureaucrat OR senior person of influence in academia or literary circles / (adj) deliberately superior or complex; esoteric, highbrow, obscurantist

18

the fiercely mandarin Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes

I knew it had something to do with Chinese bureaucrats but wasn't sure of the adjectival meaning

—p.18 by George Steiner
strange
2 years, 5 months ago

the fiercely mandarin Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes

I knew it had something to do with Chinese bureaucrats but wasn't sure of the adjectival meaning

—p.18 by George Steiner
strange
2 years, 5 months ago

(noun) a series of columns set at regular intervals and usually supporting the base of a roof structure

21

To whom do we assign this colonnade or that vestibule?

—p.21 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

To whom do we assign this colonnade or that vestibule?

—p.21 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

a hardening of tissue and other anatomical features / becoming rigid and unresponsive; losing the ability to adapt

21

against the cant of a sclerotic state religion

—p.21 by George Steiner
notable
2 years, 5 months ago

against the cant of a sclerotic state religion

—p.21 by George Steiner
notable
2 years, 5 months ago

(adj) fitting, appropriate, deserved, especially denoting punishment

27

He seems to have taken the news with condign aplomb

—p.27 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

He seems to have taken the news with condign aplomb

—p.27 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago
30

The Marxist sentiments voiced in Blunt's art reviews and in his contribution to The Mind in Chains are banal. They constitute the widespread routine of anger of a middle-class generation caught up in the threefold context of Western economic deprivation, rising Fascism and Nazism, and what were believed to be the dynamic, libertarian successes of the Russian Revolution. Nothing Blunt writes exhibits any particular grasp either of the philosophical aspects of Marxist dialectical materialism or of the economic and labor theory on which this materialism is founded. It is parlor-pink talk in the approved nineteen-thirties style. Except, perhaps, in one respect. Blunt had arrived early at the conviction that great art, to which he ascribed preeminent value in human consciousness and society, could not survive the fragmented, anarchic, and always modish governance of private patronage and mass-media trivialization. If Western painting, sculpture, and architecture were to regain classic stature, they must do so under the control of an enlightened, educative, and historically purposeful state. [...] The art dealer and the private collector, the tycoon and the journalist-critic, as they mushroom under capitalism, cannot match such coherence. On the contrary, it is the cash nexus that has fatally split the world of art into the esoteric, at one end, and kitsch, and the other. [...] Blunt is shrewd enough to know that the price may be steep, at least during a period of historical transition. But how else are the arts, without which a man would recede into animality, to be rescued from their isolation, from the prostitution of the money market? It may well be because he found no other answer to this question that Anthony Blunt slid from undergraduate and salon Marxism into the practicalities of treason.

[...] We touch here on a problem about which I feel considerable ambivalence. The private ownership of great art, its seclusion from the general view of men and women, let alone from that of interested amateurs and scholars, is a curious business. The literal disappearance of a Turner or a van Gogh into some Middle Eastern or Latin-American bank vault to be kept as investment and collateral, the sardonic decision of a Greek shipping tycoon to put an incomparable El Greco on his yacht, where it hangs at persistent risk--these are phenomena that verge on vandalism. Ought there to be private possession of great art, with everything that such possession entails of material risk, of greed, of removal from the general currents of thought and feeling? [...] To say that private collectors, especially in the United States, have been generous in allowing scholarly guests to look at their treasures (not always, in fact) is no answer. Should mere wealth or the speculative fever of the investor determine the location, the accessibility of universal and always irreplaceable products in the legacy of man? There are times when I feel that the answer ought to be emphatically negative--that great art is not, cannot be, private property. But I am not certain. My conjecture is that Blunt was certain, and that the young scholar-connoisseur, barred from certain paintings and drawings of genius because they were locked up in private keeping, experienced a spasm of contemptuous loathing for capitalism. In the Soviet Union, he knew, great art hangs in public galleries. No scholars, no men and women wanting to mend their souls before a Raphael or a Matisse need wait, cap in hand, at the mansion door.

makes you think: why is there private possession of great art? why is great art valued so highly? could it because there's a surplus of capital with a deficit of productive ways to invest it!!?!?!

also: the difference between Blunt's era and now is that while one can, today, easily feel the same contempt for capitalism that he likely did, there is no comparable outlet for our feelings. there is no nation-state alternative to capitalism. there is no Soviet Union that we can spy for. obviously the Soviet Union was little more than an illusory alternative - in that it was a flawed implementation that wouldn't have fixed many of the negative aspects of capitalism - but now we have nothing! is that better or worse? i don't know.

—p.30 by George Steiner 2 years, 5 months ago

The Marxist sentiments voiced in Blunt's art reviews and in his contribution to The Mind in Chains are banal. They constitute the widespread routine of anger of a middle-class generation caught up in the threefold context of Western economic deprivation, rising Fascism and Nazism, and what were believed to be the dynamic, libertarian successes of the Russian Revolution. Nothing Blunt writes exhibits any particular grasp either of the philosophical aspects of Marxist dialectical materialism or of the economic and labor theory on which this materialism is founded. It is parlor-pink talk in the approved nineteen-thirties style. Except, perhaps, in one respect. Blunt had arrived early at the conviction that great art, to which he ascribed preeminent value in human consciousness and society, could not survive the fragmented, anarchic, and always modish governance of private patronage and mass-media trivialization. If Western painting, sculpture, and architecture were to regain classic stature, they must do so under the control of an enlightened, educative, and historically purposeful state. [...] The art dealer and the private collector, the tycoon and the journalist-critic, as they mushroom under capitalism, cannot match such coherence. On the contrary, it is the cash nexus that has fatally split the world of art into the esoteric, at one end, and kitsch, and the other. [...] Blunt is shrewd enough to know that the price may be steep, at least during a period of historical transition. But how else are the arts, without which a man would recede into animality, to be rescued from their isolation, from the prostitution of the money market? It may well be because he found no other answer to this question that Anthony Blunt slid from undergraduate and salon Marxism into the practicalities of treason.

[...] We touch here on a problem about which I feel considerable ambivalence. The private ownership of great art, its seclusion from the general view of men and women, let alone from that of interested amateurs and scholars, is a curious business. The literal disappearance of a Turner or a van Gogh into some Middle Eastern or Latin-American bank vault to be kept as investment and collateral, the sardonic decision of a Greek shipping tycoon to put an incomparable El Greco on his yacht, where it hangs at persistent risk--these are phenomena that verge on vandalism. Ought there to be private possession of great art, with everything that such possession entails of material risk, of greed, of removal from the general currents of thought and feeling? [...] To say that private collectors, especially in the United States, have been generous in allowing scholarly guests to look at their treasures (not always, in fact) is no answer. Should mere wealth or the speculative fever of the investor determine the location, the accessibility of universal and always irreplaceable products in the legacy of man? There are times when I feel that the answer ought to be emphatically negative--that great art is not, cannot be, private property. But I am not certain. My conjecture is that Blunt was certain, and that the young scholar-connoisseur, barred from certain paintings and drawings of genius because they were locked up in private keeping, experienced a spasm of contemptuous loathing for capitalism. In the Soviet Union, he knew, great art hangs in public galleries. No scholars, no men and women wanting to mend their souls before a Raphael or a Matisse need wait, cap in hand, at the mansion door.

makes you think: why is there private possession of great art? why is great art valued so highly? could it because there's a surplus of capital with a deficit of productive ways to invest it!!?!?!

also: the difference between Blunt's era and now is that while one can, today, easily feel the same contempt for capitalism that he likely did, there is no comparable outlet for our feelings. there is no nation-state alternative to capitalism. there is no Soviet Union that we can spy for. obviously the Soviet Union was little more than an illusory alternative - in that it was a flawed implementation that wouldn't have fixed many of the negative aspects of capitalism - but now we have nothing! is that better or worse? i don't know.

—p.30 by George Steiner 2 years, 5 months ago

(noun) a division or split in a group or union; schism / (noun) an action or process of cutting, dividing, or splitting; the state of being cut, divided, or split

30

What are the sources of such scission?

—p.30 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago

What are the sources of such scission?

—p.30 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago

related to the slang term "Pinko", which was coined in 1925 in the United States to describe a person regarded as being sympathetic to communism; often used, derogatorily, to describe anyone perceived to have leftist or socialist sympathies

30

It is parlor-pink talk in the approved nineteen-thirties style.

—p.30 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago

It is parlor-pink talk in the approved nineteen-thirties style.

—p.30 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago

(adjective) fashionable, stylish

31

always modish governance of private patronage and mass-media trivialization

can guess the meaning but never seen it used like this before

—p.31 by George Steiner
strange
2 years, 5 months ago

always modish governance of private patronage and mass-media trivialization

can guess the meaning but never seen it used like this before

—p.31 by George Steiner
strange
2 years, 5 months ago

(noun) a roofed open gallery especially at an upper story overlooking an open court

31

the loggia or façade that they designed

—p.31 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

the loggia or façade that they designed

—p.31 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

(adjective) of, forming, or resembling the Roman imperial bodyguard / (adjective) of or relating to a praetor

35

Burgess, Philby, Maclean, Blunt, and their praetorians

used metaphorically here I assume

—p.35 by George Steiner
unknown
2 years, 5 months ago

Burgess, Philby, Maclean, Blunt, and their praetorians

used metaphorically here I assume

—p.35 by George Steiner
unknown
2 years, 5 months ago

the repeal or abolition of a law, right, or agreement

36

always to be subject to critical examination and, if need be, abrogation

—p.36 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago

always to be subject to critical examination and, if need be, abrogation

—p.36 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago

(adjective) gray or white with or as if with age / (adjective) extremely old; ancient

37

hoary jokes about the pure pedant's forgetfulness

forgot the meaning

—p.37 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

hoary jokes about the pure pedant's forgetfulness

forgot the meaning

—p.37 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

(adjective) of or relating to the libido

37

a libidinal thrust more powerful than love or hatred

Nietzsche's thoughts on being interested in something

—p.37 by George Steiner
notable
2 years, 5 months ago

a libidinal thrust more powerful than love or hatred

Nietzsche's thoughts on being interested in something

—p.37 by George Steiner
notable
2 years, 5 months ago

causing vertigo, especially by being extremely high or steep

37

vertiginous attempt to classify the dung beetles of one corner of New Guinea

forgot the meaning again

—p.37 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

vertiginous attempt to classify the dung beetles of one corner of New Guinea

forgot the meaning again

—p.37 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

(noun) one who collects or studies antiquities / (adjective) of or relating to antiquarians or antiquities / (adjective) dealing in old or rare books

38

The archivist, the monographer, the antiquarian

—p.38 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago

The archivist, the monographer, the antiquarian

—p.38 by George Steiner
confirm
2 years, 5 months ago

(noun) the study of literature and of disciplines relevant to literature or to language as used in literature

39

the philologist at his corrupt codex

—p.39 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

the philologist at his corrupt codex

—p.39 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

(adjective) of or indicative of a peevish ill-natured disposition, sickeningly unpleasant

40

in the wake of bilious textual controversy

—p.40 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

in the wake of bilious textual controversy

—p.40 by George Steiner
uncertain
2 years, 5 months ago

(adjective) having an insipid often unpleasant taste / (adjective) sickly or puerilely sentimental

44

mawkish fatuousness

—p.44 by George Steiner
notable
2 years, 5 months ago

mawkish fatuousness

—p.44 by George Steiner
notable
2 years, 5 months ago