· · ·

Down with Priesthoods

A certain person who has worked with Carlo Pedretti, the renowned Leonardo da Vinci scholar, told me that, during the restoration under the Sforza palazzo in Milan, working with the pedestal for Leonardo’s incomparable horse, Pedretti has uncovered new information about Leonardo’s use of perspective.

“But he’s saving it for when the time is right,” the person confided.
Oh, and when will that be? “You mean he’s selfishly hoarding it for when he’s concerned that his illustrious career is flagging,” I said, with my usual tact.
“No, no, he’s just waiting for the right time,” the person insisted.
“The right time?” I cried. “The right time is now! I hope some enterprising grad student takes initiative and posts the information on the web!” The person stiffened and wandered off, drink in hand.
The point is that Leonardo da Vinci does not belong to Professore Pedretti, no matter how many decades Pedretti has invested in him. Leonardo belongs to the world. Leonardo belongs to humanity. If Pedretti has uncovered new information about Leonardo, who is one of the top ten most interesting people in history, Pedretti has a moral obligation to share it as fast as possible with as many people as possible. To sit on this information for any reason is petty selfishness of the worst sort. It reeks of Pedretti’s personal quest for power and glory, gain and status. It is corrupt.
I stand for the democratization of knowledge. But this places a terrible burden on civilians like me. The priesthoods who want knowledge concentrated within their own hands are not going to dispense that knowledge with any kind of grace. We have to bring ourselves to it, and work to understand.
Nowhere is this more easily visible than in science. Scientists don’t make it easy for non-scientists to understand what the hell is going on, and this is a big problem, because right now, scientists run the world. By that I mean they control what we eat, what we drink, what we breathe, what medicines we are administered, and so forth. Americans are, right now, guinea pigs in a giant laboratory experiment regarding genetically modified foods. Sure, an apricot with a few fish genes spliced in is shinier. But is it really, REALLY just as healthy as the regular kind of apricot that has a few speckles and brown spots, and a full complement of apricot genes, and only apricot genes? No one can really say for sure. Our grandchildren will be able to tell us, because their bodies will show the results of eating fishy apricots.
And don’t think the American Government is going to protect us. The FDA is nothing more, and nothing less, than a shill for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies. In the American Government’s quest to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few people who own a lot of companies, and to reward those who help them do that, under the venal slogan that “The business of America is business,” scientists from biotech companies like Monsanto regularly leave their company position to work in the FDA when their company needs a product approved. There is no objective neutral analysis of data, because companies that have to spend the money to get through the approval process want to recoup that money as fast as possible. Is anyone really surprised that pharmaceutical companies were only releasing those trials that had the positive results they wanted? Corruption isn’t confined to scholars.
· · ·

Art historians, modern literary crap & the stink of scientology

I found myself writing to a former professor that the translator of Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists” should be taken out behind the ivy tower and shot in both knee-caps. The reason being that the “Lives” are wonderfully gossipy and dishy, once the reader gets past the god-awful diction. Unfortunately, and unforgivably, the frequent infelicities of language make it hard for a reader to stay that long. We should be indulging ourselves in guilty pleasure, the naughty deliciousness of scoping out intimate, graphic details of the actual personalities of master artists from Cimabue to Sansovino. Instead we’re slogging through a contorted, antiquated dialect of English to which it is very hard to relate.

So regular, civilian readers do not get to savor these all-too-human lives. Thus the ravishing nourishment they offer the soul passes from our collective awareness. We’re left with the fetish of reality TV, which is probably another post on how the decline of story is a barometer for the decline of civilization.

So what is it about art historians and scholarship in general that demands impenetrable rhetoric? Does writing that badly prove how smart they are, because the rest of us can’t understand it? Or are they just boorish and don’t care how sentence after crabbed, meaningless sentence affects their readers? I read a lot of art history for research purposes for my novels, and I am boggled by how badly written most of these books are.
And it’s not just art history that’s poorly written. People in the publishing industry complain about how there are fewer readers every year. Well, why do they expect people to partake of the meal, when the fare consists mostly of wormy fruit and twinkies? Take what is considered literature these days. Ninety nine percent of it is precious, self-congratulatory, and self-referential, with unlikeable characters. It’s an absolute dereliction of a novelist’s duty to write that way.
Self-reference and self-congratulation has been a post-modernist virus, nurtured carefully by the moral relativism of psychotherapy. I am all for self-esteem, but in my opinion, we are not going to build it within ourselves by telling ourselves that whatever we do is okay. We are going to earn it. By acting in honorable ways: keeping our word, choosing integrity, behaving with courtesy and respect for others, accomplishing difficult and worthwhile tasks, and so forth. By returning to those old-fashioned values that have stood the test of millennia. Let me state right now that I do not refer to perfectionism, with is a virulent form of self-hate. Nor have I been a paragon of model behavior. I’ve made a lot mistakes, broken a whole bunch of the 10 Commandments, and hurt plenty of people. But that’s not who I want to be. I aspire to better.
And I think that self-reference is what puts people off about scientology, despite the enormous appeal and considerable talent of its most famous proponent, Tom Cruise. There’s this queasy sense of arrogant self-entitlement that radiates out from scientology, so it doesn’t feel like a religion with any spirituality to it. Spirituality has to do with love, charity, kindness and compassion that elevate beyond the self.