Category Archives: taste

Kavanaugh’s excruciatingly bad taste

The age of emotional kitsch

In his statement to the American legislature, Brett Kavanaugh said that his 10-year-old daughter had prayed for his accuser. To this, Dalrymple had the kind of allergic reaction he used to have when, at his junior school just before the Great War, his teachers caught their nail running down the blackboard. It was, he says,

a blatant attempt to manipulate the emotions of the committee.

Taste is a more reliable guide to character than opinion

Dalrymple writes that he knows many people who,

when they enter a house for the first time, are inclined (even if they control themselves) to go straight up to the bookshelves to find out what their hosts are made of.

He confesses that he is like this.

I control myself, but in a room with a substantial number of books, I feel a tension mounting in myself until I have found out what they are. Indeed, I often fake or manufacture a reason for sidling up to them, and examining them out of the corner of my eye.

We dare not judge

Kuru, Dalrymple explains, is

a neurodegenerative disease that occurred among the Fore tribe of New Guinea.

It is contracted by

eating the brains of one’s deceased relatives, a funerary custom among the tribe.

Dalrymple comments:

Chacun à son goût.

An eyesore in Lima

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-08-36-22Dalrymple writes of the æsthetic shambles that is the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología:

The building is awkward, angular, without overall unity; its spaces are mean, narrow, and oppressive and its proportions a mess. And this is all before the concrete, for the moment pristine, begins to deteriorate.

One of the architects, an Irishwoman, says of the atrocity she has perpetrated:

We’re interested in weight. For us, the enjoyment of architecture is the sense of weight being borne down or supported, the feeling of moving with the forces of gravity. It’s a very primal need.

Architect Shelley McNamara: interested in weight

Architect Shelley McNamara: weight problem

Dalrymple comments:

I have noticed that when an artist or architect begins by saying ‘I’m interested in…’ bilge is sure to follow, as the night the day. What does it mean, that the enjoyment of architecture is the sense of weight being borne down or supported? Does anyone see the Taj Mahal for the first time and say, ‘Oh, what a wonderful sense of weight being borne down or supported’?

The problem, he says, is that

the pseudo-cerebrations of architects now take precedence over taste.

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-09-00-23screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-09-02-28screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-09-03-54

Disgusted of Bridgnorth

screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-09-30-40Everywhere must be Streatham

The problem with freedom in Britain, writes Dalrymple, is that

once people exercise it, execrable taste becomes predominant and civilisation suffers.

Strolling outside the National Gallery, Dalrymple has to

run the gauntlet of the English at play. Not a single one dressed with self-respect. They chewed the gum with which the paving stones were mottled. Several had set up loudspeakers, down which they relayed their attempt at rock music. They obviously dreamed of celebrity, that ambition of the talentless. Most looked unwashed, raddled by drugs and malnutrition. What a cacophony, a descent into a circle of Hell!

Must, he asks,

freedom and equality mean that everywhere is reduced to the aesthetic level of Streatham? Is it fascist not to want to be aesthetically and auditorily disgusted everywhere?

Epilepsy of the judgment

The first qualification, writes Dalrymple, for producers of operas

is proneness to severe lapses of taste, a kind of epilepsy of the judgment, or an absence of aesthetic common sense.

Orgies,

if not a compulsory element of any production, are at least very frequent, however inappropriate to the story or production as a whole. It is as if the plots of operas are not sufficiently melodramatic without the addition of a little light pornography.

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Hopeless, stagnant Britain

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-23-14-04On the train to the airport in England, and at the airport itself, Dalrymple sees a population that strikes him as

more militantly ugly and unintelligent than any other known to me, one that consumes without discrimination and enjoys without taste.

With regard to ugliness, he writes,

it added to whatever ugliness nature had bestowed upon it by refusing to wear any clothes that might lend it any dignity, choosing apparel that accentuated its natural unattractiveness. Grossly fat slobs insisted on wearing figure-hugging T-shirts that did not quite meet the tops of the shorts that exposed their fat white tattooed calves, exposing their repellent midriffs to the appalled gaze of the minimally sensitive.

Of the women, he says,

it would be kinder not to speak; suffice it to say that they made the men look like Beau Nash or Beau Brummel.

The taste of the British in everything from food to music and clothes

is base, vulgar, stupid, and crude.

Dalrymple notes that it is not that they know no better—innocent vulgarity can be amusing and even refreshing—but that

they know better and reject and hate it.

They refuse to aspire to what is better,

and try to intimidate others into abandoning it, with some success.

The productivity of such a nation, Dalrymple points out,

is unlikely to rise very fast or far. It will be lucky if in the modern world, with so much competition, it achieves stagnation.

The crude and corrupt British state broadcaster

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 17.15.49For the right to receive television broadcasts in their homes, British households must pay a poll tax equivalent to about $210, which subsidises the British Broadcasting Corporation. 

This broadcasting system, writes Dalrymple, exemplifies two of the guiding principles of contemporary British public life:

  • the active promotion of adolescent vulgarity and sniggering crudity
  • the shameless looting of the public purse

Needless to say, the BBC

is losing viewers and listeners all the time; a growing proportion of the population never tunes in to any of its programmes.

The BBC certainly cannot claim any longer

that it produces, as it once did, the kind of intelligent programmes that commercial broadcasters shun.

Dalrymple points to vast payments made to the BBC’s fifth-rate ‘comedians’. These payments, he notes,

represent a gift from state functionaries (who themselves have also looted the public purse unmercifully)

on condition that the ‘comedians’

keep contributing to the ideologically-driven vulgarisation of the culture.

There has been a return, says Dalrymple,

to the 18th-century days of state patronage, with this difference: that the men who exercised it back then were men of taste and discrimination. They knew a Dr Johnson when they saw one.

Against this I raise my sword-spraycan

Heygate Estate, Walworth. Tim Tinker, 1974

Heygate Estate, Walworth, London. Tim Tinker, 1974

Enemies of Corbusian profanation do not hesitate to act

Whole acres, writes Dalrymple, of man-made surfaces are disfigured in Europe by graffiti,

in which some people, ever on the lookout for something counter-intuitive to say, claim to have found art. This is the tribute money pays to poverty without having to part with anything.

The need to assert (rather than express) oneself in some way, no matter how pointless, becomes imperative in a society in which

  • we are all called upon to be unique individuals
  • celebrity has an exaggerated importance in the mental economy of so many
  • employment is often precarious and is felt to be without dignity
  • powerlessness is obvious (powerlessness in a democracy is more humiliating than powerlessness in a tyranny)
Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London. Denys Lasdun, 1967–76

Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London. Denys Lasdun, 1967–76

Taggers tend to deface

ugly surfaces, often of inhuman size, in which modern urban spaces are so richly, or impoverishingly, supplied. It is true that tagging never improves those surfaces, but they are often in themselves of degrading hideousness.

The epidemiology of graffiti

suggests a subliminal aesthetic criticism. It is a commentary on the kind of building and concrete surface that the fascist modernist architect, Le Corbusier, extolled and desired, with the enthusiasm of a revivalist evangelical, to spread throughout the whole world. In a sense, taggers in England and France are endowed with taste.

Having said that, in Italy or Portugal,

18th-century buildings are not exempted from the attentions of bruised and inflamed young egos.

England, foul England

Discobolus, copy of fifth-century Greek original, Water Gardens, Hemel Hempstead. It was in private ownership and stood at Amersfoot Hall, Potten End, until acquired by the development corporation in 1960

Discobolus, copy of fifth-century Greek original. Water Gardens, Hemel Hempstead. The statue was in the possession of a private collector and stood at Amersfoot Hall, Potten End, until acquired at auction by the town’s development corporation in 1960

The British townscape has been coarsened to a degree unequalled in Europe

Dalrymple writes that the destruction of Britain’s urban patrimony,

and its replacement by modernist multi-story parking garages and office buildings, represent a lowering of every Briton’s quality of life.

The unremitting tastelessness of British modernity

Britain’s townscape,

once civilised and gracious, has fallen prey to an ideological pincer movement:

  1. The rawest and shortest-sighted commercial interests demanded and won freedom to do whatever they wished with the inherited townscape, in the cheapest and most profitable way, so that harmonious assemblages of buildings centuries old suffered the most philistine and incongruous redevelopment that ruined them beyond hope of restoration.
  2. Birmingham

    Birmingham

    Radical reformers fanatically hated the architectural symbols of the past, merely because they were symbols of the past, whose despised élitist culture supposedly rested solely on exploitation, racism, slavery, and so forth. The official architect and town planner of the city in which I live wanted to pull down every single local building that dated from before the second half of the twentieth century, including entire Georgian streets and many masterpieces of the Victorian gothic revival. Fortunately, he retired when perhaps a tenth of the old buildings remained, the rest having been replaced by Le Corbusian leviathans so horrible and inhuman that many are scheduled for demolition less than 30 years after their erection. The Georgian spa city of Bath offers an even more startling example: in the 1950s, the city council wanted to raze it.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 09.23.10The utter destruction of the aesthetic quality of British life

The British are

barbarians camped out in the relics of an older and superior civilisation to whose beauties they are oblivious.

Irredeemable ugliness

Britain’s city centres are the site of

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Civic Centre, Plymouth

depressingly uniform chain stores without character or individuality, plate-glassed emporia hacked into the ground floors of historic buildings without regard to the original architecture.

This has deep social and economic consequences.

Where all is ugliness and indifference to aesthetic considerations, it is easy for behaviour to become ugly and crude and for collective municipal pride to evaporate. It seems not to matter how people conduct themselves: there is nothing to spoil. Attention to detail attenuates in an environment of generalised ugliness. What is the point of wiping a table, if the world around it is hideous?