Tag Archives: mann

Body and (great) art.

About the boy.

I know, I know, I bang on a lot about ‘the boy’ and some I know question my motives for doing so. The simple answer could be that I just like upsetting people but that would not be true, the question is important with regard to culture and society and so much so Greer wrote a book and made a television documentary on the subject of what she called the ‘beautiful boy’. On the back jacket of the book she declared her intention as follows, ‘I’d like to reclaim for women the right to appreciate the short-lived beauty of boys’.

The book and television documentary drew a lot of criticism with Australian tabloid newspapers accusing her of being a ‘once great academic who was now just a silly old woman’ when they did not outright call her a pedophile. Pedophile I don’t know but great academic she could arguably be and there had to be good reason she identified the ‘beautiful boy’ as something important to female equality. She suggests one reason herself – the boy, she writes, is the most ubiquitous representation of the human form in western art from the renaissance up unto, she claims, the nineteenth century when mysteriously he disappears from art gallery walls. In a well-received essay I wrote over ten years ago, I argued the boy did not disappear in the nineteenth century as a result of women gaining access to art galleries as Greer claims but rather disappeared in the nineteen seventies and as a result of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) been run over by the feminist/LGBTQI movement. Visconti’s 1971 screen adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novelette “Death in Venice” is probably the last major work of art which discuses and celebrates art and culture as embodied in and informed by the ‘beautiful boy’.

This is where the interest, mine included, lies; western art and culture in all its exceptional manifestations is undeniably based on the young male aesthetic and that not just since the renaissance but since antiquity. Many have pointed out the high points of western civilization are also the periods when the most statues, paintings and written texts were created and that celebrate the beauty of young males. Any alien scientist studying the human species would make that observation and declare there must exist a connection between freedom to appreciate the beauty of young males and the creation of great art. Greer made that connection but where she could well have been a ‘silly old woman’ was in the belief that right could be reclaimed (implying it was previously denied) and women would go on to produce works equivalent to those of the best of the male-created masterpieces. She got it all wrong in focusing on the gender and sexual aspects of the issue and she suffered the consequences of that mistake so easily made by someone who does not understand what s/he is trying to discuss. Greer and all those who only see the sexual should read / reread the following passage in Death in Venice,

Ashenbash has received a letter asking him to contribute to a discussion on ‘a certain important cultural problem’ and one Mann writes, ‘that is close to his experience’. Ashenbach, (a famous author in the book and musician in the film) sits down at a table by the beach to write a response – Tadzio, the beautiful boy, is as usual loitering in sight of the writer.

“And what he craved, indeed, was to work on it in Tadzio’s presence, to take the boy’s physique for a model as he wrote, to let his style follow the lineaments of this body which he saw as divine, and to carry its beauty on high into the spiritual world, as the eagle once carried the Trojan shepherd boy into the ether. Never had he felt the joy of the word more sweetly, never had he known so clearly that Eros dwells in language, as during those perilously precious hours in which, seated at his rough table under the awning, in full view of his idol and with the music of his voice in his ears, he shaped upon Tadzio’s beauty his brief essay – that page and a half of exquisite prose which with its limpid nobility and vibrant controlled passion was soon to win the admiration of many.”

In brief and pulling no punches because I and others are getting sick and tired of having to continuously explain ourselves to the most ignorant and prejudiced people God ever breathed life into, if you don’t understand how style can follow the human form in what is its most uncompromised expression then please go fuck yourself or – male or female or as yet not classified – go jerk off to the best of your Kylie video collection.