The World Turns Clown

"When the whole world turns clown, and paints itself red with its own heart's blood instead of vermillion, it is something else than comic, I think," Ruskin said when he addressed an Exchange that had invited him to speak about architecture, to advise them the design of their building. The world turning clown has to do with false values espoused as real ones.
"Your harbour piers, your warehouses, your exchange - all these are built to your great goddess of 'Getting-on.'" But this 'getting-on' does not occur for the spending of riches and contributing to the commonwealth, but to mere accumulatiom. What is more, the activity of the Exchange requires no heroism or conquest. Ruskin writes of the "wide difference between being captains or governors of work, and taking the profits of it". While he can but preach, he advises the stock exchange men to change, for, "Change must come, but it is ours to determine whether change of growth, or change of death." He ironically describes what the exchange statue could represent and look like - a stark contrast to his interpretation of statues of Athena: her snake-trimmed aegis and Gorgon shield turning men to stone out of the superficial spheres of knowledge (the hardening of the man from the child) from which springs disdain; where Athena herself reveals perfect strength and peace, crowned as she is with olive spray.
Behind Ruskin's criticism of his age is essentially an argument on education and the reluctant admission that education is to differ for different classes. There will always be an upper and a lower class (is this not conspicuous today, with the disappearing middle class). Part of the problem of class is that the poor criticise the idle rich, and the rich criticse the idle poor: no class criticises their own idle.
"None of us, or very few of us, do either hard or soft work because we think we ought, but because we have chanced to fall in to the way of it and cannot help ourselves." I would venture to say that a lot of sixties and seventies children might admit that this is the realisation they come to in their later years. How many went off to fish in the Atlantic, or spent summers or youth as labourers only to realise that was not their work. This is in part because of education; Ruskin write that if one comes to appreciate Dante or Beethoven, he will not return to costermongering of his own will. He implies that the affinities are to remain different, as they already are.
The biggest problems, and in my understanding of Ruskin, the biggest trends against education, are those of money and mechanical production. "Manufacture not only is unable to produce [art], but invariably destroys whatever seeds of it exist." And lust for money? It is stupidity, "stupidity is always the basis of the Judas bargain." Judas couldn't "make the worth out of Him, or the meaning of Him." Judas was unable to understand the consequence of his betrayal.




The world turns clown if it values money above all else. It will spend its rivers and human lives and not understand the consequence of its betrayal. Much has been written about money and art, though when Ruskin writes about this, he brings war into the equation. Albeit the war of defense of home, not the war for money (wherein Austria borrows from England to bomb them in India, and the Austrian peasant is robbed, the Polish peasant assassinated and banished, and the English live on the produce of theft of the prize of assassination).
Coppola wrote about money and art, arguing that it should not have to cost money: he makes his on his wine and reminds readers of earlier patrons and commissions. But I would bring time into the equation, like Ruskin does war.
Our relationship to time is compromised. I've written before about a lecture Bob Thurman gave on education; how it requires the discipline of silent reading as one of its cornerstones. I don't think anything of quality can develop without long periods of time. Like the old Chinese saying 千里送鹅毛: Sending a feather across a thousand li (the gift is light, but the sentiment is heavy). A goose father feather has no monetary value - but it is sent at great distance, so must be worth the trouble. This one feather must be invested with far more premeditation than a simple smiley.
And ditto with education. The century or so of more accessible education (I'm thinking of the G.I. Bill and worker's colleges) is drawing to a close. But the Victorian thinkers were not as naive as we are today: Pharr's incipit states that not all boys are for ancient Greek. Not everyone sees the value of the work of the mind. So education in many places becomes more akin to the entertaining circus than a place of quiet learning. Bells and whistles. I am thinking also of the changes that seem to be afoot, the best article reviewed succinctly and I think wisely by Mary Beard.
In contrast to the clown is the statue of Athena: knowledge protected by the Gorgon shield. In contrast to the lectures that promise everything, Ruskin's opening lines: "My friends - I have not come among you tonight to endeavour to give you an entertaining lecture; but to tell you a few plain facts, and ask you a few plain questions." In contrast to the "fuming heap of the city of play because it only makes money for the sake of it" the English countryside lauded by the departed actor, Peter Cushing - Cushing, who learned his lines as he walked through the woods, who knew the different bird calls, who implored us to protect our nature - and be conscious of the consequence of our betrayal if we do otherwise. Education teaches us our vermillion to spare our hearts.



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