Horizon, Winter 1967

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This issue’s cover shows a detail from The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whose life and work are the subject of an article by John Canaday:

Breugel lived through a time of social, political, and religious upheaval that affected him directly, but his convictions are known only through deduction from his art. In the case of Dürer a little earlier, we can follow in his letters, in his writings and in the recorded comments of his friends the moral agonies and aesthetic arguments that determined the nature of his art. But we have not one single helpful word from or about Bruegel in this respect; it is impossible to think of him as orthodox in politics or religion at a time when orthodoxy was so often tainted by bigotry or tyranny, but what deviations he admitted, what loyalties he held, we cannot know.

Horizon caption: ‘Bruegel’s scenes of peasant life are so rich in human detail that they repay the closest scrutiny. Above is the full painting from which a section has been reproduced on the preceding two pages. Opposite is a small detail of that detail.’

Even in rudimentary summary, Bruegel’s premises are quite obviously his answers to questions that men have always asked themselves. The concept of man as heroic but men as faulty has cousins everywhere. In ancient Greece it was the noble being with the tragic flaw, but to Bruegel the flaw is no longer tragic but contemptible, because remediable; no implacable fate declares that there is no way out. In the Book of Genesis innocence in Paradise is lost through original sin, but in Bruegel man need not suffer forever for having yielded to an appetite in a moment of weakness; he is free to enjoy his appetites so long as he has the strength not to abuse them, and he needs no Redeemer to restore him to bliss because he finds his own bliss in identification with the cosmos.

 

Horizon caption: ‘Dulle Griet or “Mad Meg” (above), probably painted in 1562, displays the kind of fantastic invention that often appears in Bruegel’s work alongside his sharp observation of peasant life. The detail opposite shows Meg herself striding through Hell.’

 

Bruegel’s cosmos and its rhythm have an even more thickly branched family tree, spreading in one direction as far as India. Some of his own landscapes (as we shall see) were immediate continuations of a section of the theologically organized universe of the Middle Ages, in which every single activity had its defined place. But the medieval universe was almost too neat, like a tremendous globular filing cabinet surrounded by a void; its minor virtue of tidiness imposed the major flaw of static definition. In Bruegel’s universe nothing is static: everything moves, grows, and responds in endless harmonies of action and interaction. Finally, in his more vigorous way, Bruegel anticipated intellectually the nineteenth-century romantics’ emotional identification of man with nature, but without falling into the romantic fallacy of endowing nature with emotions corresponding to man’s.

 

…[When] he painted Biblical subjects he painted them in his own terms, neither manufacturing them according to the formulas that enabled even the most unreligious painters to turn out satisfactory holy pictures nor giving them any Christian-mystical turn of his own.

The Massacre of the Innocents…beneath its nominal subject, is a sub rosa indictment of the devastation of the Netherlandish populace by Spanish military force. The Procession to Calvary becomes an execution scene concerned less with the victim than with exposing the baseness of human beings who can watch his sufferings with callous indifference. Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, ostensibly a parable pleading for charitable compassion between human beings, is extended to a social allegory of religious intolerance…

This ‘religion’ of the cosmos was surely not something that Bruegel thought of as religion. But a man’s true religion is whatever he believes most deeply, and by this definition Bruegel was a pantheist.

 

Horizon caption: ‘Though Biblical in subject, The Massacre of the Innocents, 1565-67, is set in a wintry Netherlandish locale. In the slaughter of Jewish infants by Herod’s soldiers, Bruegel may have seen a parallel to the cruel occupation of the Netherlands by Spanish armies. The detail opposite shows a horseman of King Herod (or Phillip II) riding down a Jewish (or Flemish) woman.

Also in this issue:

In ‘Breslau Revisited’, Francis Russell writes about his time as a 20-year-old American student in the then-German city in 1931-32, and his return to the now-Polish Wrocław  in the 1960s:

It is a name expunged from the maps. Five hundred thousand inhabitants of Breslau, the old Silesian capital, have long since been driven out, replaced by strangers of another culture and another tongue. German Breslau has become Slavic Wroclaw. The baroque university buildings by the Oder now house a Polish state university. It is not given to many of us to have lived in a city that no longer exists. But it was given to me in my student time in Germany.

Illustrations by James McMullan:

So a thousand years of German history vanished, unique as the pattern of Breslau itself was unique. For the pattern was woven of curiously contrasting threads. Breslau was a German city founded by a Bohemian count with the Polish name of Wratislaw, who cared nothing about nationality. It was a gothic city and a baroque city, a city of the Reformation and the Counter Reformation, a free city of the Holy Roman Empire without the title of Free City, that gave its varied allegiance to Polish, Bohemian, and Hungarian kings. Under the Habsburgs it was the equal of Prague, and in modern times under the Hohenzollerns the second city of Prussia, a European as much as a German city, and the German gateway to the Slavic east…And even now, the ghostly outline of the German Breslau has become the fourth city of Poland.

After an unpleasant time at his first accommodation, he found a happier place to stay with Herr and Frau Lieb, and their 16-year-old daughter Juta:

Before the First World War [Herr Lieb] had been a factory owner in Kattowitz, a man of wealth and position. Frau Lieb still had letters of thanks that they had received from Admiral von Tirpitz after he had been their house guest. But the Liebs had lost their money in the aftermath of the war, and he had lost his factory when the Poles had seized Kattowitz with the rest of industrial Upper Silesia in 1919. Without possessions, he had taken his family to Breslau, where he had prospered modestly as a manufacturer’s wholesale representative until the depression stuck him down…But for the rent money from their student rooms, they would have had to leave the Monhauptstrasse.

Election day, March 13, 1932, fell on a Sunday, as was customary in Germany to give more people the chance to vote. It was also the end of the university semester and the day before I was to leave Breslau for good. Frau Lieb had a loin of pork and red cabbage for my last Sunday dinner – the two dishes I liked best. ‘Well,’ she said, as they four of us sat at table, ‘I went down bright and early and voted for our President von Hindenburg.’ Herr Lieb’s jaw set and his monocle quivered slightly in his teutonic face. ‘I voted for Hitler,’ he muttered challengingly. I said nothing. Nobody said anything. At the end of my meal I went to my room and closed the door, still without speaking. A few minutes later there was a knock. Herr Lieb stood on the threshold without his monocle, his face apologetic, his eyes sad, ‘Herr Russell,’ he said, ‘I don’t like the brown shirts either, even if I did vote for Hitler. But what else can a man do? Something has to change. Nothing can be worse than the way it is now, nothing.’

In the ‘News of Art’ section, there is a report on Loft on 26th Street, a scale model by pop artist Red Grooms:

 

In ‘A Return to Manliness’, J.H. Plumb of Christ’s College, Cambridge considers the 1960s young man’s adoption of long hair and flamboyant clothes in the light of the past:

To the middle-aged, long hair and effeminacy seem synonymous: the well-balanced, virile man was crew-cut in youth and close-cropped in age. Artists, weirdies, homosexuals, composed the long-haired brigade. Hence the sense of outrage in American and British homes when adolescent hair began to lengthen. Beatle mops might be cute on a five-year-old; at fourteen they were irritating; at eighteen an outrage. Yet worse is probably to come. Every Oxford and Cambridge college now has a dozen or so undergraduates with shoulder-length, Cavalier-style hair…Even at Eton, hair is beginning to curl along the famous collar.

 

Horizon caption: ‘James Stuart (1612-1655)  and John Emelin (1945-    ) consider their cultural ties.’

…If mothers and fathers knew their history, perhaps they would be less excited about the hair and more preoccupied with the deeper problems of the young male, particularly the affluent adolescent in a permissive society. Give young men money, and sooner or later they will dress like peacocks and behave like goats.

Plumb traces the combination of flashy dress, violent behaviour and sexual experimentation among young men in Renaissance Italy, and in Elizabethan, Restoration and Georgian England, such as William Hickey, and concludes:

This is not a problem of our society; it is a problem of humanity, made worse, it may appear, because we are richer and more numerous today…The problem, if it is a problem, might be eased if parents, headmasters, and the like took changes in young male exhibitionism more lightheartedly. It might help, too, if aging men grew less choleric when faced with the all-too-obvious evidence of youthful virility…Since before Samson’s day, long hair and virility have been, shall we say, bedfellows.

In ‘Christmas at Chatsworth’, an excerpt from the first volume of his autobiography, former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan describes Christmas in the 1920s and 30s at one of England’s grandest stately homes, seat of the Dukes of Devonshire:

Macmillan had joined the Cavendish family by marrying one of the Duke of Devonshire’s daughters.

At least two people in this picture (probably taken at Christmas 1928) died in World War II: Ivan Cobbold in the June 1944 V-1 attack on the Guards Chapel in London, and William Cavendish, Lord Hartington, killed in Belgium in September 1944, leaving Kathleen Kennedy (sister of the future US President) a widow. Lord Hartington’s brother Andrew eventually inherited the Dukedom, after having married Deborah Mitford; her brother Tom was killed in Burma in 1945. Lord Charles Cavendish married Adele Astaire and died of acute alcoholism in 1943. The suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams was present when the Tenth Duke died in 1950 at the age of 55. Lady Elizabeth Cavendish never married but had a long term relationship with Poet Laureate John Betjeman; as lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret it is believed she introduced her to Lord Snowdon.

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Horizon, Summer 1974 – 2

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In ‘China’s Imperial Tradition’, Dick Wilson writes about how in many respects little had changed since the revolutions of 1911 and 1949:

As Chairman Mao Tse-tung once observed to his American admirer Edgar Snow, it is difficult for the eight hundred million citizens of China ‘to overcome the habits of 3,000 years emperor-worshipping tradition.’ It is equally hard, he could have added, for the political leaders of the People’s Republic of China to disregard the patterns and practices of imperial rule.

 

The ‘Emperor Wu Ti’ depicted above is Emperor Wu of Northern Zhou (ruled 561 – 578).

The Chinese ship of state has always been powered by a bureaucracy, the emperor sometimes its helmsman, sometimes a mere figurehead. But the greatest Chinese leaders have united both functions in their person. Such a unity is essential to the basic concept of the Chinese imperial tradition: that of the Mandate of Heaven, an idea predating even Confucius. The emperor is both king and high priest, and so bad government, or bad conduct on his part, is doubly damaging and leads to withdrawal of the mandate. A rebellion against an unjust or oppressive emperor has only to be successful to be justified in the eyes of heaven. In this sense, Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, and Mao Tse-tung each adhered to the tradition of legitimizing their usurpation of authority; and moreover, each of them has acted, at various times, within the imperial terms of reference.

Mao, especially, has adopted the ways of the old imperial tradition to the needs of the new Communist state. Shunning extravagance in his personal life, he has nonetheless allowed the pageantry of spectacular parades and celebrations, taken it upon himself to guarantee the growth and prosperity of the nation, encouraged something akin to the old emperor-worship, and promoted the formation of a new religion with himself as its high priest.

After describing the ‘Hundred Flowers Movement‘, and how it was suppressed, he gives an imperial precedent:

Chin Shih Huang Ti  dealt with opposition from the intellectuals of his day by allowing only seventy ‘scholars of great learning’ to possess books of ideas (as distinct from technical manuals, which were freely available to all). These seventy were kept in powerless luxury at the court while others were forced to give up their precious books to the bonfire. Hundreds who resisted were sentenced to hard labor or buried alive. No wonder Mao dismissed Chin Shih Huang Ti as ‘lacking cultural refinement.’

But along with power and glory went heavy responsibility, for the rights held by the emperor under the Mandate of Heaven were conditional, and in ancient times he was held accountable for the prosperity of the land and good harvests. In 1958, Mao and his party lieutenants spent a day or two shoveling earth alongside the citizens of Peking when the Ming Tombs dam was built on the outskirts of the city. Dr. Joseph Needham, a British science historian who witnessed this, wrote: ‘I should not hesitate to regard these manifestations as the extended modern equivalents and lineal descendants of the ancient rite in which it was customary for the emperor and his ministers to plough the ceremonial furrows every year.’

The event Needham refers to, one of the most colourful in the old Peking calendar, took place in the Temple of Agriculture, with the emperor symbolizing the unity of the Son of Heaven and his people before the forces of nature.

 

The republican regimes are not, of course, dynastic. But family ties are still so impelling that they can be used for political advantage. Chiang Kai-shek derived some of his legitimacy from the fact that he was a brother-in-law of Sun Yat-sen, and he is about to hand over his attenuated titles and estate to his son and prime minister, Chiang Ching-kuo.

Mao is far more discreet, and yet there is occasional speculation that the rising star in the Politburo, Yao Wen-yuan, is related to him. One rumor is that he is the chairman’s son-in-law, having married Mao’s daughter by Chiang Ching. Another story is that Yao’s wife is Mao’s niece, Wang Hai-jung, who is advancing in her own right to a senior position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Yet a third version has it that Yao is none other than Mao’s long-lost son An-lung, entrusted to a secret foster father during the dangerous years in the early 1930’s when the Nationalists had a price on Mao’s head.

No-one in Peking will confirm any of these theories. It is no secret, however, that Mao’s third wife, once a Shanghai actress known as Lan Ping (‘Blue Duckweed’) but now famous as Chiang Ching, has within the last five or six years built a political power base with which all Communist leaders must reckon. Again, there is a parallel: when the empress Tzu Hsi first arrived at the Forbidden City – wearing a black headdress, lavender gown, and high heels – she was Lan Kuei (‘Little Orchid’), a concubine for the emperor Hsien Feng, and lucky enough to conceive his first male child, the successor-emperor through whom, as regent, she became the real ruler of the country.

In ‘Inheritors of the Earth?’, Arnold J. Toynbee (then aged 84), asks whether the West has had its turn at world leadership, and may have to step aside for China:

Who is going to inherit the West’s ascendancy in the world? Before 1914 this question would have seemed senseless. Before that apocalyptic date Westerners assumed that the West’s ascendancy was well deserved, that it was beneficial to everybody, and that it had come to stay. In 1974 the West is manifestly sick, and its dominance appears as ephemeral as that of, say, the Mongols or the Moslems

The victims of the Industrial Revolution have been the industrial workers. Their alienation from the society that has exploited them is the West’s congenital weakness. Moreover, Western society’s continual effort to increase its GNP is bringing it into collision with the non-Western majority of the human race and with the biosphere. It looks, then, as if the world were moving into a post-Western age, which for good or for evil will inherit some Western legacies…

Who will assume these Western legacies? The successor will not be the Soviet Union or Japan. These two mighty powers have Westernized themselves so successfully they have caught the West’s congenital sickness. They are out of the running, and so are Black Africa and India. The Africans are preoccupied with local problems, and the Indian subcontinent is divided by religious and linguistic conflicts.

We must look for the West’s heir in Eastern Asia, in some community capable of coping both with the legacies of the West and with the perennial problems of an agricultural society – in short, a community capable of starting a new chapter in the history of mankind.

…China’s past achievement and historical experience have endowed it with the qualifications that the West so conspicuously lacks. On the strength of that achievement, China has a more promising chance of shepherding mankind into political unity than any other country.

In ‘A Postcard from London’, Horizon Editor Charles L. Mee, Jr writes about Canaletto’s A View of the Thames from Lambeth Palace:

To treat one of the best works of one of Italy’s finest eighteenth-century painters as a mere tourist’s memento of a London holiday – as no more than a picture postcard – must seem callous indeed. However, Canaletto’s art was exactly that of the postcard maker. Before the days of Polaroid and Kodak Instamatic, Canaletto used the camera obscura to outline the details of his panoramic souvenirs before he colored them in. He was the leading painter of veduta, or views, and he made quite a handsome living whacking them out for eighteenth-century tourists. His View of the Thames from Lambeth Palace, in fact, was sold in 1742 to a tourist, Ferdinand Filip, Price of Lobkowicz and Duke of Sagan, and taken to Prague where it now hangs in the National Gallery.

…In Canaletto’s day, properly raised Englishmen flocked to Italy for a refreshing taste of loud arguments, sudden passions, and art collecting…Nearly all the work Canaletto did at this time was bought up by one man, Joseph Smith, a merchant and art collector who became the British consul in Venice in 1744. But, with the little free time Smith left him, Canaletto did occasional veduta for Frederick [sic – actually Henry], fourth Earl of Carlisle, and John, fourth Duke of Bedford.

By the mid-forties, however, the tourist trade had been seriously upset by the War of the Austrian Succession. The English stayed home, and so Canaletto did the only thing he could: armed with letters of introduction from Joseph Smith, he went to London to seek his patrons there. He arrived toward the end of May, 1746, the ‘Famous Painter of Views’, nearly fifty years old and prosperous enough to bring with him some money to invest in English funds. He took up residence at what is now 41 Beak Street, in a comfortable five-story brick town house that still sells souvenirs and postcard views of London. The ground floor of the house is taken up today by the Lord Byron Greek Taverna, where Simon plays Exciting Bouzouki Music until 3:30 A.M.

 

Directly across the river, at the extreme left of Canaletto’s picture, is the coal wharf, where the red-coated man is standing idly in a boat. He can afford to stand there idly. He and his fellow coal heavers work irregularly; but when they do work they make good money, as much as ten shillings a day. If this man works two days a week, he can meet his budget for his wife and three children, living in one of the shacks nearby. His lodgings, coal, candles, and soap only cost five shillings a week; the rest goes for food and clothing. He will not be able to afford beer, it is true, but he will drink it anyway, several pints a day at least, and hope to make up on the budget later. The pubs nearby boast that a man can get drunk for only a penny, so that is a mere seven pence a week.

If we draw back from Canaletto’s painting now, and look at it as a whole, surely its most surprising feature is that there are very few surprises in it…He gives us a sunny day, an utter absence of conflict, a pervading warmth and tranquillity, a sense of solid, middle-class prosperity, an overpowering sense of peace and well-being…We have always regarded Canaletto, working with his camera obscura and meticulously recording every detail with the utmost accuracy, as a very realistic painter. But the tricks of light and shade that he had learned along the shimmering canals of Venice transformed London into a sunny creation entirely his own.

In ‘Scotland’s Greatest Son’, economist John Kenneth Galbraith writes about Adam Smith and his most famous work The Wealth of Nations:

With Das Kapital and the Bible, Wealth of Nations enjoys the distinction of being one of the three books that people may refer to at will without feeling they should have read it. Scholarly dispute over what is Smith’s principal contribution has gone on endlessly. This is partly because there is so much in the book that every reader has full opportunity to exercise his own preference.

Exercising that preference, I have always thought that two of Smith’s achievements have been neglected. One, mentioned by Gibbon, is the gift for language. Few writers ever, and certainly no economist since, have been as amusing, lucid, or resourceful – or on occasion as devastating…Also neglected now are the ‘curious facts’ that enchanted Hume and of which Wealth of Nations is a treasure house…The facts appear in lengthy digressions and have been criticized as such. But for any discriminating reader it is worth the interruption to learn that the expenses of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ‘before the commencement of the present disturbances,’ meaning the Revolution, were only £18,000 a year and that this was a rather sizable sum compared with New York and Pennsylvania at £4,500 each and New Jersey at £1,200. (These and numerous other details on the Colonies reflect an interest John Rae believes was stimulated by Benjamin Franklin, with whom Smith was closely acquainted.)

 

Smith’s error was his underestimate of man’s capacity, perhaps with some social conditioning, for co-operation. He thought it negligible. Men would work assiduously for their own pecuniary advantage; on shared tasks, even for shared reward, they would continue to do as little as authority allowed…There is no more persistent theme in Wealth of Nations

In fact, experience since Smith has shown that man’s capacity for co-operative effort is very great…Most likely he failed to see the pride people could have in their organization, their desire for the good opinion or esteem of their co-workers, maybe what Veblen called their instinct to workmanship.

 

…The most spectacular example of co-operative effort – or perhaps, to speak more precisely, of a successful marriage of co-operative and self-serving endeavor – has, of course, been the corporation. This, for reasons just noted, Smith did not think possible. And the development of the corporation, in turn, was destructive of the minimal state that Smith prescribed…A state that served its corporations satisfactorily quickly ceased, except in the hopes of truly romantic conservatives, to be minimal…There is no ITT in the system.

…Given his avid empiricism, his deep commitment to reality, his profound concern for practical reform, he would have made the corporation and its power, and the related power of the unions and the state, an integral part of his theoretical system.

 

 

Horizon, Summer 1974 – 1

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This issue’s cover shows an unfinished portrait bust believed to be of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten’s queen Nefertiti. It illustrates ‘The Maverick Pharaoh’ by Lionel Casson, which chronicles how Akhenaten created a religious revolution by introducing monotheistic worship of the sun god Aten.

Imagine a museum wall lined with royal portraits in the formal, traditional manner of Vandyke or Velázquez – and right in the center, a portrait that looks as if it had been done by Picasso or Rouault. Imagine a wall lined with old-fashioned, ceremonious court scenes, a king in full regalia seated in majesty on his throne, graciously receiving courtiers, or solemnly leading a procession – and right in the center, a picture of them munching on a chop or cooing over a baby. This is the effect of the portraits and court scenes of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, or Akhenaten, to use the name he preferred, who ruled Egypt from about 1378 to 1362 B.C. None of his predecessors had ever commissioned their like, no successor ever would.

 

Horizon caption: ‘Opposite: the pharaoh Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti (behind hime) raise offerings to the god Aten, symbolised in the disk that sends down rays of sunlight curiously tipped with hands. At far left their daughter Meryaten jingles a sistrum. Only the royal family worshiped Aten directly; the rest had to be content with revering royal statues and reliefs like this one. The spindly shanks, heavy haunch, and jutting chin are characteristic mannerisms of the Amarna style, named after Akhenaten’s new capital city.’

The problem has intrigued and baffled historians. For over a century they have juggled the bits and pieces of Egyptian history in an effort to arrive at an answer. The discoverers of the first examples of these outré portrayals were convinced they were dealing with representations of a woman. When the deciphering of the inscriptions revealed beyond any doubt that the subject was a pharaoh, Auguste Mariette, the great French Egyptologist, suggested that perhaps the poor fellow had been captured while campaigning in the Sudan and castrated, with the effects visible in his portraits – a suggestion that, as a recent historian put it, shows all ‘the vivid imagination one would expect of one of the librettists of Aida.’ As more scraps of information were collected, they began to add up to something far more significant, a bizarre chapter in Egyptian history. Akhenaten, it seems, alone among twenty-six dynasties of pharaohs whose rule spanned two and a half millenniums, was an iconoclastic religious reformer.

 

Early in his reign…he began to evince a marked disinterest in the dynasty’s favorite, Amon, and marked interest in the sun god, Re, particularly in the deity’s visible manifestation, the radiant disk, or Aten, to give its Egyptian name. In doing so he was on well-trodden ground, venturing into nothing unorthodox: the cult of Re had started a thousand years before the young king was born, and his father and grandfather had even transformed the Aten itself into a divinity and offered worship to it. But his attachment obviously went a good deal further. After some six years on the throne, he took the dramatic step of changing his name from Amenhotep, ‘Amon is Satisfied’, to Akhenaten, ‘The Effective Spirit of Aten,’ and took an even more dramatic step by moving away from Thebes and out of the shadow of the awesome temples of Amon. About 250 miles farther down the Nile, at a place now called Tell el Amarna, he built a whole new city for his particular divine favorite, dubbing it Akhetaten , ‘The Horizon of Aten.’

Casson sums up the differing views of Akhenaten presented by Egyptologists James Henry Breasted, John A. Wilson, Cyril Aldred, and F.J. Giles, and concludes:

…[B]arring a phenomenal piece of luck and any stray bits of information that archaeology may produce, we very likely will never know much more about Akhenaten than we do now. The answer to the seductive question of what made him a maverick will remain forever unknown. Was he an inspired visionary? convinced but misguided reformer? megalomaniac? madman? Take your pick – or, if you prefer, wait for further choices. That these will be forthcoming is the one sure thing.

Horizon caption: ‘Akhenaten’s successor, his younger brother Tutankhamon, died at nineteen, leaving evidence in his richly furnished tomb of the return to the orthodoxy of Amon worship. At right, in a detail from the back of Tutankamon’s gilded throne, his queen, Akhenaten’s daughter, touches him with perfumed salve from the bowl in her hand as the Aten disk sheds its rays. The pharaoh’s name is inscribed as Tutanaten – “the life of Aten is pleasing” – on the side of the throne. On the back, however, his name appears as Tutankhamon (dedicated to Amon), signalling the extinction of a moment of monotheism in antiquity.’

Also in this issue:

In a special section, ‘The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be’, seven writers examine ‘the future’ as a concept: ‘Where did the idea come from anyway? What did an ancient Sumerian think about the future? When did it become something to do something about? How silly can it get? What do historians think about it?’ The letter from Managing Editor Shirley Tomkievicz quotes Alvin Toffler ‘a founder and nurturer of the modern futurist movement, and – readers will recall – twice a contributor to HORIZON’:

If we do not learn from history, we shall be compelled to relive it. True. But if we do not change the future, we shall be condemned to endure it. And that could be worse.

The section features illustrations by Saul Steinberg:

In ‘The Hindsight Saga: A Sampling of Historic Surprises’, J.H. Plumb writes:

It was one of Lenin’s more inspired insights that history always has the capacity to surprise…

For the historian, who never, or very rarely, experiences the events about which he writes, there is no initial shock, no immediate sense of surprise. By his very training a hunter of causes, he prefers not only to reduce chance to a minimum, but to plot the tides that sweep men and societies to their destined ends, forgetting that tides can suddenly break old barriers in a matter of hours and sweep through to new channels. And yet, unless we grasp that the historical processes can always take men and their societies by surprise, we shall fail to understand our own immediate dangers, or – indeed – our opportunities.

He gives examples of historical surprises: the French Revolution, the rise of Christianity and Islam, the rise of science, and the abolition of slavery, and concludes:

Indeed, for a historian who can establish himself in the past and not the future, the world’s development is full of surprises: in religion, in politics, in social attitudes, there are sudden, almost electrifying, shifts and changes that would, were they grasped, make historically-minded commentators more wary of their confident prognostications. One particular instance is the doom-laden voice of the modern demographer forecasting standing room only on this planet in another hundred years or so – a fashion, too, among scientists ignorant of history. They thoughtlessly expected population to grow in a straight line, as it were, ever upward. The slightest knowledge of the history of population would have taught them that population growth and population decline occur very oddly.

…To a perceptive historian, there would be nothing remarkable in the idea of Detroit  buried under a mountain of rubble, not through natural disaster, but because it ceased to be. Nor should the automobile going the way of the coach-and-six raise a historical eyebrow.

In ‘On Mythic Shapes of Things to Come – Circular and Linear’ Joseph Campbell   contrasts two ways of seeing the future:

…[The] first, the older, sees an unending series of irreversibly declining cycles ever and again renewed; and the second, a singular world-creation, once perfect but corrupted and to be restored – both views prophesying final disaster.

He conjectures that

…perhaps the search of our own scientists into a world more wondrous than the merely visible one will awaken within us latent dreams of a new destiny-image – a myth equivalent to the hundreds of thousands, even hundreds of millions, of years that may lie ahead of this ‘Spaceship Earth’ before the miracle of its star expires and the rapture of its cycling ends.

If so, those two mythic models of destiny that in the bounded past controlled our thoughts and lives have already been left behind.

In ‘Empress Victoria’, Theo Aronson writes about Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, her marriage to the Prussian Prince Friedrich (briefly Kaiser) and struggles with Bismarck:

The blame for the crown prince and princess’s unhappy position, however, was not all Bismarck’s. At least some of the fault was theirs. Prince Friedrich, despite the soldierly magnificence of his appearance, was a weak man – fretful, irresolute, easily depressed. Nor was he quite the dedicated liberal Albert had assumed. ‘He is not born a free Englishman,’ explained Vicky to her mother, ‘and all Prussians have not the feeling of independence and love of justice and constitutional liberty they ought to have…’ A dutiful son, he hated opposing his father. A patriot, he could not help delighting in Bismarck’s aggrandizement of Prussia. A proud Hohenzollern, he looked forward to becoming Kaiser of the triumphant new Reich.

Vicky was very different. No-one could doubt the strength of her character or beliefs. Short, plump, and high-colored now, her hair neatly braided into a coronet, her clothes simple, she could have been mistaken for a sensible, middle-class Prussian Hausfrau. But Vicky read widely and had a keen mind. And, in the Berlin of her day, when women were expected to confine themselves to Küche, Kinderstube, Krankenstube und Kirche – kitchen, nursery, sickroom, and church – she was remarkably emancipated. Her diverse passions – not only for painting, poetry and architecture, but also for politics, economics, and social reform – and her unorthodox tastes – for open windows, modern plumbing, and long walks – repeatedly astonished her hidebound contemporaries.

More annoying to the Prussians, however, was her persistent Englishness…To her, England was always ‘home’, superior in every way to Prussia… ‘To be friends with the present regime is impossible,’ Vicky complained to Queen Victoria, ‘and yet to be in opposition is a thing as impossible. I always feel like a fly struggling in a very tangled web, and a feeling of weariness and depression, often of disgust and hopelessness, takes possession of me…’

Eric Newby writes about his non-encounters with Evelyn Waugh:

Horizon, Summer 1973 – 2

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‘In Search of Prester John’ is an excerpt from Tim Severin’s 1973 book The African Adventure about the legendary figure believed in Europe from the 12th to 17th centuries to rule a lost Christian kingdom somewhere in the Orient or Africa, among Muslims and pagans. He follows the journey of the 1515 Portuguese mission to Ethiopia, led by Dom Rodrigo da Lima and including the missionary Francisco Álvares, which hoped to find Prester John and his kingdom:

Horizon caption: ‘The swordsman opposite, a detail from a sixteenth-century ivory, is an African’s portrait of a Portuguese.’

Exactly where his fabulous realm was to be found, no one was sure. Variously, Prester John had been placed in Mongolia, China, and India, until at last he was settled in that part of Africa that lay east of the Nile. From there, out of Ethiopia, came tantalizing snippets of information to clothe the image: reports of a Christian king who was a sworn enemy of Islam and whose court swarmed with priests. It was a disappointment that his realm seemed so small, for even on crude maps of the day Ethiopia looked mortal-sized. But Europe’s theorists were quick to find an explanation: they claimed that the Prester had been driven there by the same all-conquering Mongols who had so nearly swamped Europe.

 

 

The Portuguese who first went to look for Prester John were scarcely suitable emissaries for so Christian a king. Many of them were degredados, convicted criminals who sailed to Africa to search for the Prester’s kingdom. If they had found it, they would have won full pardon. But the question never arose, for they never came back…At least two Arabic-speaking Portuguese travellers eventually got into Ethiopia, but unfortunately for both of them, the Ethiopian ruler was so delighted that he refused to let them return home and the wretched men spent the rest of their lives at his court in gilded captivity.

 

A Portuguese embassy landed on the coast of Ethiopia in 1520:

The fourteen members of the Portuguese embassy were an ill-assorted group to be representing their country. In command was Dom Rodrigo da Lima. Young and tactless, he was already quarrelling with his second-in-command, Jorge D’Abreu, who fancied himself better fitted to lead the embassy. Trying to hold the balance between the two bantams was Father Francisco Alvarez, once a chaplain to King Emmanuel and now the priest with the task of investigating the religion of Prester John. His diary was to be the first account of Ethiopia published in Europe.

Horizon caption: ‘The trio of patriarchs opposite, magnificent in their striped turbans, are part of a fresco in the church of Guh, which was probably decorated in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.’

…the similarity between the two cultures, Portuguese and Ethiopian, was one of the more surprising aspects of the quest for Prester John. Both countries were devoutly Christian to the point of fanaticism; both were ruled by absolute monarchs striving to bring a proud and fickle nobility to heel; and each looked to the other as a possible ally against Islam. It was remarkable, therefore, that Da Lima’s embassy failed so utterly to understand Ethiopia and her people.

Horizon caption: ‘Two Ethiopian choirboys mark Palm Sunday by wearing crosses of grass. To Ethiopians the cross is not only a symbol of faith but of their national resistance to the once mighty tides of Islam.’

In ‘Of Mars, Martians and Mariner 9’, Carl Sagan writes about the findings of the recent mission which sent the first spacecraft to orbit another planet, the history of our observations of Mars, and the often fanciful speculations we have had about life there:

I first became aware that Mars was a place of some interest by reading stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who is also known for his invention of Tarzan. Burroughs created a gentleman adventurer from Virginia named John Carter, who was able to transport himself to the planet Mars by standing in an open field and spreading his arms out and wishing. At an early age I tried very hard to test the Carter method. But no matter how hard I tried, I failed, although I always thought there might be a chance…

 

Horizon Caption: ‘The weathered face of Mars: in the Mariner 9 photograph at left, covering an area about 300 miles wide and the same distance high, narrow trenches – which may have been produced by wind erosion – look like blisters in the low-angle sunlight streaming in from upper right. The pockmarks are impact craters.’

The observational basis for the idea of Mars as a dying world was provided first by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli, but was publicized consummately by an American Brahmin from Boston named Percival Lowell, a diplomat to Korea turned astronomer…Fundamentally, Lowell’s argument was that no natural process could produce such a network of long straight lines; hence, they were artificial; hence, there were artisans on Mars.

 

The basic idea was that there were canals constructed by a race of vast intelligence on the planet to channel the waters from the melting polar caps to the thirsty inhabitants of the equatorial cities. This brings up two questions: Are there such features on Mars? And, if they are present on Mars, need it be for the reasons that Lowell imagined?

 

…The canals of Mars are probably due to the eye’s penchant for order. It is much simpler to draw disconnected fine details as a few lines, joining them up, than to put down all the irregular mottlings observed in an instant of good seeing. There is no question that the straightness of the lines is due to intelligence. The only question concerns which side of the telescope the intelligence is on…

 

…on the eve of the injection of Mariner 9 into Mars orbit in November, 1971, our knowledge of Mars was still characterized by poor data, wishful thinking, overcautious conservatism, and too sweeping generalizations from a few good facts. After the end of the Mariner 9 mission, all this changed, and the study of Mars altered from a data-poor, theory-rich situation to a data-rich, theory-poor one. We are now inundated with hard facts…The planet-wide feudal-technological civilization envisioned by Edgar Rice Burroughs does not exist.

 

But neither is Mars like the moon. There are cratered terrains, it is true; but there are also large regions on Mars breathtakingly different from our natural satellite.

In ‘Chaplin’s The Gold Rush’, part of Horizon’s ‘Landmarks of Film History’ series, Stanley Kauffmann writes about the 1925 film:

Up to 1920 he made about seventy films, most of them short and most directed by himself. Only one of them, Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), was feature-length, and it was directed by Mack SennettThe Gold Rush was only the second long film of his own about the Tramp; yet he knew he was dealing with a character who was familiar to everyone, Eskimos and Malayans included. It’s rather as if an author had created a world-renowned character through short stories, had written one successful novel about him, and now wanted to explore that character more deeply in a long second work.

 

Horizon caption: ‘Out to brave and conquer the elements in his city suit, the Lone Prospector clutches a map and surveys the chilly Alaskan snowscape in his 1925 film, The Gold Rush.’

Chaplin wrote in his autobiography about spending the weekend at Douglas Fairbanks’ house and looking at stereoscopic views of Alaska and the Klondike. He wanted to make an ‘epic’, and pictures of prospectors climbing the Chilkoot Pass gave him ideas:

The role of the unconscious in the creative process is still unfathomed; we can only hypothesize from results. In Chaplin’s reaction to these photos, the striking element is unpredictability. With the exception of His Prehistoric Past (1914), a two-reeler, he had never made a film that took the Tramp out of contemporary city or country life. Tramps are, after all, a by-product of modern industry. Evidently, Chaplin’s unconscious saw at once the advantages of putting the Tramp into a context that, so to speak, had no direct relation to Trampdom, yet had the possibilities for the ‘epic’ he was seeking. And, presumably, he saw the power of putting the Tramp, whose black mustache is the center of the figure’s color gradations, against predominantly white backgrounds. All in all, it was a chance to simultaneously vary and heighten what he had done up to now.

 

In his first sequence, he shows the touch that made him great. As he skips and skids along the narrow path, a gigantic bear appears behind him and follows him. A lesser comic would have turned, seen the bear, and possibly got a lot of laughs out of panicking on the slippery path. But the bear disappears into a cave just before Charlie turns around. We know the danger he has escaped; he doesn’t. This is not only funnier, it is also serious: it exemplifies one of the Tramp’s qualities–innocence, and an unwitting faith in the power of that innocence.

 

Horizon caption: ‘In an uproarious Klondike saloon, the Lone Prospector watches Georgia Hale, the dance-hall girl atop the bar. In this famous shot, Chaplin puts the camera below eye-level, silhouetting his own figure so that both he and Georgia stand apart – she on her pedestal, he alone on the periphery of the mob.’

…Who is the Tramp? What is the secret of his unique effect on us?

…When Georgia invites him to dance, he is wearing silly clothes and has wrapped one foot in rags to replace the eaten shoe. But he dances with exquisite style. Who is he? When he invites the girls to dinner, he not only knows how to cook, he knows all about table settings, party favors, dainty gift wrappings, and etiquette. Who is he? When he performs the Oceana Roll, he knows a chorus-girl routine. Who is he? When Georgia’s bullyboy tries to force his way into her room, Charlie chivalrously bars the door, contemptuous of danger. Again – who is he?

I propose no supernatural answer, that he is a divine messenger in ragged clothes, a fool of God. I do suggest that part of the genius of Chaplin, part of his superiority to all other film comics except Buster Keaton, is his ability to make us believe in a comic character whose standards are better than our own, just as his body in motion is more beautiful than our bodies. I suggest that one of the reasons we have loved him all these decades–and young people seem to feel that they have loved him for decades, too–is that he has not concentrated on merely making us laugh, but has shown us the funniness in a hero-clown, an unsententious agent of exemplary values. He is not dully angelic; he sometimes pulls off con games, though usually to a good end or to flout oppressive authority. But in the main he compensates for the shortcomings, social and physical, of our lives and beings. In his movement and in his code, even in his cunning, he is what we feel we ought to be.

Horizon, Summer 1973 – 1

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This issue’s cover shows a c. 1540 portrait of Lucretia Panciatichi by Bronzino,  illustrating the article ‘Mannerism’  by J. H. Elliott:

Something very strange happened in the world of the visual arts during the sixteenth century. In its opening years, the golden age of the Italian High Renaissance, the arts seemed to attain perfection. Leonardo, Raphael, the young Michelangelo, had shown that there was nothing that the artist could not do. Surpassing even the artists and craftsmen of classical antiquity, they had captured for their generation the lineaments of the ideal world that existed beyond the world of appearances. Beauty, harmony, proportion – these were the supreme characteristics of the ideal world of the Renaissance, an orderly, rational world in which man himself, divinely endowed with power and wisdom, walked godlike and majestic.

 

But moving on a generation or so, what do we find? The repose and serenity of the High Renaissance are gone, to be replaced by restlessness and confusion. The calm, statuesque figures have become strangely elongated, their gestures extravagant, their limbs so contorted as to remind us less of men than of corkscrews. Where is the proportion? Where the order? Where, above all, as we look at those incredible vegetable portraits by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, is the dignity of man?…

If we are to get any closer to this most stylish of styles, we must attempt to abandon our twentieth-century preconceptions and approach the sixteenth century on its own terms. In particular we must look at the changing relationship between patron and artist as the status of the artist was itself transformed. For the medieval artist had been, above all, a craftsman – a manual worker whose identity tended to be merged into that of his guild. But the artistic theories of the Renaissance depicted the painter, the sculptor, the architect, in a new and distinctly more flattering light. The artist became a man who possessed a special insight into the ideal world, together with the capacity to bring that world alive for less privileged mortals. He was no longer a mere craftsman, but a figure more akin to the gentleman scholar – a man of culture, insight, and intellect, with a nobility of soul that was inevitably mirrored in his work.

…The patron, for his part, was now at something of a disadvantage. He might have to move heaven and earth to acquire for his collection a work bearing the distinctive stamp of a Raphael or a Michelangelo.

To acquire for his collection. . .For the sixteenth century was pre-eminently the age of the collector. The discovery of new worlds overseas, and the increasingly close observation of nature, had brought home to European man the incredible variety and multiplicity of objects in the world he inhabited. Rich men who prided themselves on their taste and learning began to collect everything they could lay their hands on – gems, antique marbles and cameos, books and manuscripts, medals and bronzes, plants and animals, and every kind of outlandish artifact…

Artists naturally responded with delight to an environment of patronage in which they were expected to produce works that would display to the best advantage their own special vision and technical skills. They were expected to do their own thing – but to do it in ways that conformed to the mood and requirements of both their patrons and the times…

…The artist was more likely to find himself working for the court than for the city. The new patrons, whether princes, nobles, churchmen, or bankers, had their own special tastes or requirements, which were different from those of town councils or guilds. They wanted their artists to be courtiers, and they wanted them to express in their paintings the ideals and the aspirations of a courtly society. The handbook of this society was a best seller of the sixteenth century: The Book of the Courtier by Baldessare Castiglione, himself a connoisseur of the arts.

Also in this issue:

A letter from Editor Charles L. Mee, Jr reflects on Horizon’s 15th anniversary: ‘At fifteen, the youngster is still curious, still learning, and still very much alive and looking forward to the years ahead…Like most teenagers today, on some subjects it is very stubborn.’

In ‘The Genesis of Pollution’, Arnold J. Toynbee, who was then aged eighty-four, looks at an issue that had first come to prominence in the 1960s and was becoming ever more urgent. He looks back to the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment, as seen in the foundation of the Royal Society. He notes that the founders of the Royal Society were religious men:

…the pioneers of the Enlightenment were not challenging the Christian doctrine about the relations between God, man, and nature.

The doctrine is enunciated in on sentence in the Bible: ‘And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis I, 28)…In 1663, this read like a blessing on the wealth of Abraham in children and livestock; in 1973, it reads like a license for population explosion, and like both a license and an incentive for mechanization and pollution.

The thesis of this essay, then, is that some of the major maladies of the present-day world…can be traced back to a religious cause, and that this cause is the rise of monotheism.

…I was brought up in the same sect of Christianity as Bishop Sprat. But I was also educated in pre-Christian Greek and Latin literature. This pre-Christian education, which has had a more enduring effect on my Weltanschauung than my Christian upbringing, made me aware long ago that the religion of my pre-Christian predecessors at the western end of the Old World had been a different kind of religion from monotheism.

For premonotheistic man, nature was not just a treasure-trove of ‘natural resources.’ Nature was, for him, a goddess, ‘Mother Earth’…The whole of his environment was divine, and his sense of nature’s divinity outlasted his technological feats of cultivating plants and domesticating animals: wheat and rice were not just ‘cereals,’ they were Ceres herself, the goddess who had allowed man to cultivate these life-giving plants and had taught him the art.

…[M]onotheism, as enunciated in the Book of Genesis, has removed the age-old restraint that was once placed on man’s greed by his awe.

…Man needs to reintegrate himself into the nature of which he is, in truth, an integral part, and he can do this only through ecstasy or contemplation – through religion or philosophy.

He concludes:

In ‘The Vanishing Servant’, part of his ‘In the Light of the Past’ series, J.H. Plumb looks at household servants, so common in the Victorian era, but now dying out:

The English nanny was, in a sense, the animal mother of the young child: she fed it, cleaned it, spent days and nights with it, and gave it the warmth, the physical affection, that all young animals need; whereas the true mother was, more often than not, an idealized and glamorous creature living in a different world. Indeed, many would argue that nineteenth-century upper-class Englishmen were addicted to working-class girls because all the physical warmth they knew had come from their lower-class nannies. For the boys, again, there could be another odd servant-master relationship: it was from grooms, gamekeepers, and young footmen that the sons of the house learned about sex, and their first attempts were often made on the servant girls of the household.

…the less patriarchal a society is, the less easy its members find it to accept the master-servant bond. The best servants in Europe today still come from regions where the authority of the family and the father is strong – Portugal, Spain, southern Italy, France. And this may help explain why black men spurn such work, no matter how lucrative. Whatever the reasons – profoundly sociological or superficially economic – the servant class is following the dodo into oblivion.

In ‘A Visit with the Mole and the Eagle’, Malcolm Muggeridge recalls his visits from the 1920s to the 1940s to his wife Kitty’s Fabian aunt Beatrice Webb and Beatrice’s husband Sidney, in an extract from his 1972 autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time. On his last visit before her death in 1943:

…she said she had something to show me. It turned out to be a portrait of Lenin presented to her by the Soviet government, as stylized and cheap, artistically speaking, as any print of a saint of the Church or blessed martyr offered for sale at Lourdes…It was extraordinary and rather horrifying. Afterward, I reflected that the two scenes I had witnessed – the Webbs at work and Mrs. Webb at prayer before her Lenin picture – embodied the whole spirit of the age, showing her to be a true priest and prophetess, pursuing truth through facts and arriving at fantasy, seeking deliverance through power and arriving at servitude.

 

Horizon, Autumn 1968 – 2

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Writing during that tumultuous year of civil unrest, 1968, Horizon mainstay J.H. Plumb asks ‘When Does a Riot Become a Revolution?’ He looks at Europe and America in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and their 1968 parallels:

Last spring Europe again burst into flames, with student riots from Colchester to Cracow. Although these riots were usually provoked by academic situations, they are being exploited by acute political leaders. The students have become a type of false proletariat (a California professor has written “a student is a nigger”), and they are exploited as such. Attempts have been made – and with some success this past spring in France – to harness student idealism to the political programs of the working class. These recent riots in Europe belong to the tradition of both radical socialism and anarchism, but they are different in dimension from most American student riots and totally different in kind from the Negro rioting that America is experiencing.

The American riot is, as it were, the grandchild of the classical riot, which was bigger, more incoherent, more desperate – a deeper convulsion in the bowels of society – than the recent disturbances in Europe. The present American experience is, more precisely, akin to the riots of prerevolutionary Europe, before the mobs became infiltrated with political agents and exploiters who turned the riot to social revolutionary ends. This stage may be beginning in America, however, and it could develop rapidly…

 

America is, in a sense, entering a political phase curiously akin to that of Europe in the nineteenth century, a world of savage social conflict and possible revolutionary turmoil. Which way will riot develop? Will it be molded by revolutionary leaders into a revolutionary movement, dedicated to social change, and if need be to civil war? Or will the riots fade away, as they did in Britain, by the creation of true, not false, social hope and by full, not spurious, political participation? I am not suggesting that the British governing classes made that social hope easily realizable, or that political participation quickly prized their hands from the wheels of government. Of course not. But classes, like individuals, leap at a glimmer of real hope.

The hope must be real. If time and time again it proves illusory, then the looting will stop, the rioters will become disciplined, ferocious, dedicated, willing to die by the tens of thousands so that they can kindle an unquestionable spark of hope in the hearts of their own people. They will start fighting not for the present but for the future.

In ‘The Galsworthy Saga’, J.W. Lambert, Literary Editor of the Sunday Times, profiles the author whose series of novels had been televised the previous year:

…the family, the Galsworthys, were in fact the Forsytes – so much so that one of his sisters begged him, in his own interests, not to publish the novel that was later to become the first volume of The Forsyte Saga The Man of Property – or at any rate to publish it anonymously. But, he inquired ironically, which of the family did she suppose was likely to read it?

He visited flophouses, prowled the streets at night. He told his friends how appalling things were. They agreed – and asked, ‘Why don’t you do something?’

But Galsworthy’s concern with the suffering of others was occasioned more by the pain knowledge of it gave him than by the pain experience of it gave them: the sensitive liberal’s situation in a nutshell – and at least an improvement on total insensibility. But once awakened in Galsworthy, this concern became altogether too powerful. It made, as it always does, for sentimentality. It accounts for the perceptive comment Ford Madox Ford made when he saw tears in Galsworthy’s eyes on account of an anecdote about Turgenev and his peasant mistress: ‘suddenly I had of him a conception of a sort of frailty, as if he needed protection from the hard truths of the world…The disease from which he suffered was pity…’

And pity, a form of self-indulgence, is an artist’s worst enemy. Even at the turn of the century not all of the poor were utterly miserable all the time, but one would never suppose otherwise on the strength of Galsworthy’s works. Conrad, later, advised him to get more skepticism into his writing and even went so far as to suggest that Galsworthy got a sadistic pleasure from describing the sufferings of the weak and unfortunate. Galsworthy himself knew all this perfectly well. He warned others against it. ‘Pity is tripe,’ he made one of his characters keep repeating to himself. But it was no good; in art as in life he remained a helpless victim of the soft touch.

In ‘The Wonder of the World’, Edmund Stillman writes about Frederick II (1194 – 1250), King of Sicily from 1198, King of Germany from 1212, King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor from 1220 and King of Jerusalem from 1225: ‘Frederick II of Hohenstaufen was perhaps the most gifted ruler in all the centuries between Charlemagne and Napoleon. As an emperor he failed, but as a one-man Renaissance he brought light and learning to a dark world.’

Italy south of Naples is the Mezzogiorno – the land of the noonday sun. In the Mezzogiorno ignorance and poverty seem endemic…But it was not always a wasteland. Nine hundred years ago in this forgotten region of Europe the Moslem East, Byzantium, and the barbarian North all fused together in a civilization of wealth, glitter, and intellectual brilliance under the Norman kings of Sicily. And here in the thirteenth century a grand ideological drama was played out: the dream of a united, powerful and ultimately secular Europe (a dream of our own time) clashed with an older dream of God’s universal order on earth. In the events of this drama we can discern the collision of the skeptical spirit of the yet-distant Renaissance with the static, believing spirit of the Middle Ages.

 

Horizon caption – ‘This portrait of Frederick II, “stupor mundi” [wonder of the world], is the frontispiece from his book on falconry. The lily he holds in his hand may be a symbol of imperial power.’

Yet it is not quite so. The roles and characters of the actors are oddly mixed, so that the worldliness of popes is matched by the brutal despotism of the champions of a secular empire. In the end neither side won. The dream of secular society went down in a welter of futility and blood. The religious vision was painfully corrupted by the desperate struggle for survival, dooming itself in the aftermath of ostensible victory to the contempt of believing and thinking men.

 

 

The court that Frederick maintained in the south was one of the most brilliant in history. Nothing like it had been seen in the Christian West before, not even in the great days of Charlemagne. The rude court of that Frankish emperor could not boast steam baths and plumbing to rival those of ancient Rome, a menagerie of wild beasts from distant Africa and India, a wholly secular university that challenged the intellectual monopoly of the medieval church, and a secular bureaucracy that was the product of this education and that regulated the foreign commerce into the port of Palermo down to the finest detail. It was a court where for the first time poets, as Dante noted approvingly a century later, sang a sophisticated early verse in the Italian vernacular. There eunuchs guarded harems of Moorish women, and the pious were daily offended by the brazen comings and goings of infidel Moslem and Jewish alchemists, philosophers, astrologers, and mathematicians.

 

What Frederick built did not endure. Viewed in retrospect, his dream of a powerful secular empire could never have succeeded, though Frederick would have done anything in the wild pursuit of his vision. For him no brutality, no breach of faith, was too much. But his vision was out of its time. It is almost as if history had made a bizarre experiment and had then dropped it for another. The future lay with the middle-class, urban, capitalistic society that was struggling into being in Italy.

In ‘Ancient Aches and Pains’, Dr Calvin Wells writes about paleopathology (the study of ancient disease):

 

 

 

 

 

Horizon, Autumn 1968 – 1

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This issue’s cover features the finial on one of the four spires of the Sagrada Família church in Barcelona, subject of ‘Gaudi’ by Roy McMullen:

Also in this issue:

In ‘Before the Fall’ Edmund Stillman deals with the questions ‘How decadent are we? What, really, is a “sick” society? Are we Rome in decline? How worried should we be?’ The upheavals of the 1960s, and especially of 1968, lent these questions urgency:

The problem with the popular notion of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is that, at bottom, it has no basis in fact. In our distorted view centuries are compressed into decades; the eras are transposed – profligacy being assumed to flourish at the end, while stoic virtues are believed to characterize the years of power. The reverse is true. As the celebrated Roman gravitas – weightiness, seriousness – of the republican character deteriorated, the empire increased in size. Macedon was crushed in 197 B.C., the Seleucid Empire in 192, and Carthage in 146. Macedonia was annexed as a province in 148, and Greece itself was annexed in 146. Thus the enervating effects of fun and games! Perhaps too many weepy gospel movies in the style of D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. de Mille have warped our imaginations. For profligate Rome endured and endured, and the easy moralizer will find none of the stuff of sermons in its story. Why Rome fell in the end is something else again…

 

[A] century of turmoil could only be brought to an end when Diocletian, who ruled from A.D. 284-305, transferred to the office of emperor all the trappings of Oriental divine monarchy and destroyed most of the individual liberties of the Roman people under the crushing conformity of a protototalitarian state – a state that fixed prices, wages, occupations, and the poor man’s place of residence, in a new Pharaonic stasis destined to endure, in the east at least, for close to ten centuries.

But most of all, the economy decayed. Taxes grew burdensome; the civil service grew, but the gross national product shrank…

As the late Gordon Childe, one of the most distinguished archaeologists of our day, put it: ‘The bankruptcy of the Roman economy was nakedly exposed. It was proclaimed to the biologist by the decline in fertility that is notorious in all classes of the population of the later Empire. Economically, as well as scientifically, classical civilization was dead a hundred and fifty years before barbarian invaders from Germany finally disrupted the political unity of the Empire and formally initiated the Dark Ages in Europe.’

Looking at the then-present (1968) he concludes:

Is Saul Bellow a Proust – or even a Fitzgerald? Is Marshal McLuhan really an I.A. Richards or a Wittgenstein? Is not our vaunted technology for the most part a working out in practical detail of basic theories and perceptions that are by now nearly a half-century old? In what sense is the Apollo program a fundamental breakthrough comparable to Max Planck’s quantum theory? And even if we reply that the biological sciences – witness DNA – are on the eve of great things, the test-tube creation of life itself, is technological expertise a true index of a society’s growth or inner health?…The technology of Europe after Rome was more advanced than it was in Rome’s great days.

In ‘Sir Isaac Newton’,  Walter Karp writes:

Newton is, beyond dispute, the greatest scientist who ever lived, the only one of whom it can be said: had he not lived, the course of science might have been radically altered.

Horizon caption: “An apple tree shades a worktable at Woolsthorpe Manor, where Newton was born in 1642. His gravitational theory came to him when an apple fell at his feet one autumn day in the garden.”

He describes Newton’s discovery of the properties of light:

With increasing vexation Newton tried to explain to his critics that they had turned his discovery upside down. He had not invented a hypothesis about color and then fitted it to the facts. The very reverse was true. He had found directly from experiment ‘certain properties of light…which if I did not know to be true, I should prefer to reject as vain and empty speculation, than acknowledge even as hypothesis.’ He had not supposed that white light was a confused bundle of rays differently refrangible; he was driven to that conclusion by his experimental findings. These findings could not be explained by the prevailing theory, as he pointed out to Hooke with biting scorn. His critics remained unconvinced.

Horizon caption: “Simple scientific instruments of Newton’s…include a prism, a mathematical dial, upper right, and a box of ‘Napier’s bones’ for calculating logarithms.”

For Newton it was a bitter experience. He felt cheated and victimized. He had offered the world a great new discovery, but the grandees of science had robbed him of his credit because his discovery did not square with their own mechanical preconceptions. To Newton, who had not the smallest doubt about his own immense superiority, there was only one recourse:  the grandees must be taught like children what the true method of philosophy is. He told them: ‘First, to inquire directly into the properties of things, and establish them by experiment; and then proceed more slowly to hypotheses for explaining them. For hypotheses should be subservient only in explaining the properties of things, but not assumed in determining them.’ To call an experimentally discovered property false because it contradicts a plausible hypothesis is to reverse the order of inquiry. Such was Newton’s advice to his elders, and its implications are profound. Natural philosophy, he was arguing, must rid itself of the shackles of mere rationality. The properties of things, experimentally established, may seem unintelligible and inexplicable according to prevailing principles of reason and philosophy. Yet properties they are, and they must not be rejected a priori according to the principles of any philosophical scheme, including the one of mechanical philosophy. But Newton was only a young and obscure mathematics professor, and it would take more than a few irate letters to imprint his conception of science on the minds of men.

In ‘Gaudí’, Roy McMullen considers the Catalan architect famed for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia church:

Do you like Gaudí? Not so long ago you could smile indulgently when you answered. Liking or disliking the bizarre buildings of Antoni Gaudí I Cornet was in about the same cocktail category as liking or disliking Tiffany glass, cast-iron lilies, and other turn-of-the-century fantasies…Whatever you thought did not commit you to much, for Gaudí was presumably the great outsider of twentieth-century architecture, a provincial freak generated by the chance encounter of genius with the Gothic revival, Moorish influences, Catalan craft traditions, Art Nouveau, Spanish religiosity, and a Barcelona building boom.

Horizon Caption: “Shark Fins on a Roof: These weird shapes, covered with a crazy quilt of broken tiles, adorn the roof of a gatehouse that Gaudí built as a part of the Park Güell, outside the city of Barcelona, between 1900 and 1914.”

Today the context for the question has changed. In recent years many visual-art consumers, aided by such taste makers as shelter magazines, paperback professors, modern museums, abstract-expressionist painters, and antique dealers, have shifted their allegiance from geometric forms to organic, from the rational to the emotional, from progressivism to historicism – in general, from classicism to romanticism. Many architects anticipated or have joined the shift: Alvar Aalto even before World War II; Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Eero Saarinen, in such familiar monuments as the Ronchamp chapel, the Guggenheim Museum, and the TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport; Philip Johnson, Edward Durrell Stone, Louis I. Kahn, Paul Rudolph, and a score of lesser creators in dozens of trend-confirming works.

Horizon caption: “Window for a Crypt: This teardrop window, set in a wall of irregular bricks and debris, admits a dim, stained light to the inside of the crypt of the chapel at Colonia Güell.”

He concludes:

… Gaudí was not, after all, a really great architect. He lacked the ultimate humility of the really great ones, and their sense of architecture as a practical delight, a beautiful necessity. Somewhere inside the rough realist who enjoyed inclined piers and random rubble was an arrogant 1890s dandy…

However, having made these unavoidable judgments, I feel obliged to qualify them immediately. Granted, Gaudí was not a great architect. Granted also, one is enough. Can we not still say that he was an extraordinary man and a great artist? Evidently we can, and so the critical problem is to find an artistic category for him. Perhaps he ought simply to be called a great maker of habitable sculpture.

But a letter from the editor Joseph J. Thorndike, as well as challenging Stillman’s view that the West is in decline, also differs with McMullen:

The high priest of the functional modern school is Mies van der Rohe, and his temple is the Seagram Building on Park Avenue. It is indeed an architectural landmark – perhaps as great in its way as Gaudí’s cathedral of the Sagrada Familia. And whereas Gaudí has no direct followers, Mies is the most widely imitated of architects. One has only to look up and down Park Avenue from the Seagram Building to see the dreary results. Block after block, the steel-and-glass boxes seem to proclaim: ‘One Mies would have been enough.’

As for functionalism, what is the function of a park or cathedral? Not, surely, the same as that of a kitchen or an office. A park is to delight; a cathedral is to inspire. In these, his major works, Gaudí was triumphantly successful.

Horizon caption, quoting Salvador Dalí: “A ‘Terrifying, Edible Beauty’: This phantasmagoric neo-Gothic Art-Nouveau jungle clusters around one of the

Horizon, Summer 1966 – 2

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Jean-Antoine Watteau is the subject of ‘Watteau’s Forbidden World’ by John Canaday.

All Watteau’s surviving paintings were done during the last twelve years of his life, which means the six years before the death of Louis XIV and the six after. The chronological sequence of these paintings cannot be worked out with much certainty, but Watteau’s mature style, the apotheosis of the century’s ideal, was born during the middle years of the twelve from the conjunction of these circumstances: the death of the old king and the consequent release of the new century; Watteau’s adoption as a protégé by the immensely rich Pierre Crozat, which placed him in a position to observe the new society intimately; and the appearance of the first strong symptoms of tuberculosis, which intensified the poignantly withdrawn nature of his spirit (and which eventually killed him at the age of thirty-six).

 

Surely we may assume that the dreamlike quality of Watteau’s art – its quiet, half-melancholy languor, the impression it gives of having been created by a nonparticipant from an observation point just outside the borders of life – is connected with his frailty. He seems to understand what the passions of men and women are, yet he must reduce the tempests of physical love to a sweet, regretful tenderness…

 

It is odd to discover from comments made by his contemporaries that this most poetic artist of the eighteenth century was thought of as a realist…In one context of his time, Watteau was not only a realist but innovational in his realism. He anticipated the impressionists’ use of the visual world as one vast snapshot, whose bits and pieces could be painted (with no matter how much calculation) to reveal the essential character of a scene, a person, or an object, through its casual surface.

His physical frailty aside, Watteau was always temperamentally an outsider. He had many acquaintances, but they were persons who had to seek him out. He had no intimate friends, and he never married; if he had any serious love affair, there is no record of it in the accounts of people who knew him and would have had no hesitation in mentioning an attachment that could hardly have escaped their attention. Solitary by nature, during his successful years Watteau moved in a company that included some of the most conspicuous men in France, men who were powerful, ambitious, and close to the court – hardheaded and sometimes unscrupulous. In a fashionable world of exquisite niceties and sexual intrigue his paintings set fashions in dress if not in comportment. He certainly was aware of the ferocity and cynicism that coexisted with the ideal of polished sensitivities and delicate refinements, and he knew also the world of the streets, the fairs, and the hand-to mouth existence that during his earliest youth he shared with other starveling artists.

 

With this top-to-bottom material at hand, an artist of different temperament could have been a French Hogarth, but the contrast between Hogarth and Watteau is so extreme as to be almost pointless. Hogarth’s power was his ability as a social commentator to expose the worms beneath the veneer. Watteau’s greatness was that he legitimized the surface by treating it not as an ideal that had anything to do with real society but as a poeticized state of being.

In ‘Must Landmarks Go?’, Roger Starr, writes about the growing tension between development and preservation in mid-1960s America. (He is not always impressed by the arguments for preservation, finding New York’s Jefferson Market Courthouse ‘hideous’.) The piece was based on material from his 1966 book The Living End:

Historic preservation is news. It became front-page news across the country recently, when the President received a report on the subject prepared by the special sub-committee on preservation established by the U.S Conference of Mayors. The President was probably not in the least astonished to see that the preface to the report had been contributed by his wife

Because the needs and uses of profit-making institutions change rapidly, it is difficult for their buildings to be maintained as part of the permanent urban landscape. Pennsylvania Station in New York City is a case in point. Whether or not one admired its style, it was one of the city’s most impressive structures. But what does one do with an impressive railroad station which has ceased to be of use as a railroad station? In a dying city one boards it up and watches it become ruins; ultimately shepherds sit on its eroded columns and goats graze between the tracks. In a living city one first prostitutes it by making it into a more efficient machine for selling commuter and race-track tickets, and then into an architectural billboard by hanging signs, kiosks, and booths beneath its Roman vaults. Finally the day is reached when someone decides it is worth more as land than as structure and down it comes, to be replaced by an office building or a sports arena or both. I never heard one of the many objectors to the demolition of Penn Station suggest any profitable use for it…

I am not privy to the operating figures of the Savoy Plaza Hotel in recent years. Those who argue that the owners of such a property should be willing to accept less than the maximum theoretical profits from its land fail to understand the results of the current practice of fractionalizing the interests in such a parcel of land and property. If the same corporation owns both land and buildings, the argument that the owner should be should be content with less than the maximum profit makes sense. Frequently, however, the owners of the building have sold the land, perhaps to raise money for another building venture. The insurance company, bank, or investment trust that has purchased the land rents it to the owners of the building on it. The owners of the structure are faced, not merely with a theoretical loss of what they might make if something else were built on the land, but on an actual cash loss after paying the annual ground rent. Once the land value has risen to the point where such a sale is possible, no privately owned landmark is ever completely safe.

A precise example of zoning’s ability to aid preservation can be found right down the street from my office. New York’s recent new zoning resolution imposed a limit on the total floor area of any building that might be constructed in the city. This limit, as applied by law to the street intersection near my office, restrained the reconstruction of the easterly corner to a maximum floor area one-third smaller than had previously been permitted. The new limit made demolition and reconstruction economically unattractive, and this encouraged the owners of one of my favorite buildings to find a new use for it as it stands, rather than to demolish and replace it as had been done by owners of the buildings on the opposite corners before the new law was passed.

 

Looking across the small park behind the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, one can enjoy the rare pleasure that this combination of new and old provides…this, rather than attachment to the past, is what has stimulated the wide popular interest in historic preservation – the fear that the new buildings we will get from the modern economic system will be worse than those we are losing…Under the twin pressures of high development costs and growing population, the heterogeneous urban landscape of the past is being chopped down; in its place grow large, simple-minded cubes of glass and metal, aesthetically inspired by cereal boxes, and, according to the critics, foreshadowing the time when each city will resemble a vast temporary army camp, built in a morning, and keeping within its boundaries only those who have been unable to get leave to go elsewhere.

 

In ‘Reflections on the Curtain Wall’, photographer Robert Stoller shows the old New York reflected in the new:

‘Classical Comics’ is a look at the Greek edition of ‘Classics Illustrated’ comics, and its take on Greek myths:

 

 

Horizon, Summer 1966 – 1

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This issue’s cover features Le Mezzetin by Jean-Antoine Watteau subject of ‘Watteau’s Forbidden World’ by John Canaday.

 

Also in this issue:

In ‘Whatever Has Become of Mommy?’, the dancer, choreographer and writer Agnes de Mille looks at how clothes for women – and men – have changed and what they say about us:

Dolls used to serve little girls for the training of maternal disciplines and habits, and for the learning of real household skills such as plain sewing. It was on her doll clothes that a girl learned to seam, French-seam, hem, gather, placket, buttonhole, hemstitch, featherstitch, bind, and French-roll. No more. Barbie and G.I. Joe come with machine-made wardrobes and need no mothering. They are substitute dream figures whom the child identifies only with the play (or fighting) aspects of adulthood, never with the basic parent-child functions. Here the infant is creating, not its own offspring, but its own parent. This is not surprising, since the parent has in many aspects become a child and joins gladly in the game of cross substitution.

 

The savage child wears the feathers and paints of a warrior because war is his father’s business; he acquires his weapons, his cicatrices, and his plumes formally under Daddy’s instruction. Does the son of a Madison Avenue executive sob and pine for a gray flannel suit and a brief case? No. He is given a suit young and he wears it for all family ceremonies, but for choice he dresses more frequently as an astronaut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The truth is that boys previously wished to look like their fathers. Now they wish not to.

 

Horizon caption: ‘Boys and girls today, and even Mama, too, appear to have similar dreams…But what about Papa?’

In ‘That blue-eyed darling Nathaniel’, R.V. Cassill writes about Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter

What gives The Scarlet Letter its bite and terror is not the sexuality from which the action proceeds but the unremitting series of consequences that follow on adultery. Already, as the story opens and Hester Prynne steps from the prison with her bastard child in her arms and a fantastically embroidered gold-and-scarlet A on her breast, the circumstances of lust are in the shadows behind her. Nor will they be shown to the reader by flashback and recollection: ‘…the infant and the shame were real…all else had vanished.’

 

 

No American novel concludes more sternly or more strictly. This is lamentation, not tragedy, a wail of grief, not a prophecy of renewal. From the ‘dusty midst’ of his life Hawthorne saw a universal field of blackness ‘relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier then the shadow.’

 

Hawthorne was born to venerate and mistrust women above all other beings. A perfunctory glance at his biography will show how much of his life was lived within what he might call the ‘female sphere.’ Was it not from his own deepest experience with marriage – sweet-tempered monogamist though he was – that he glimpsed the echoing doubleness of woman, that he saw the shame inextricably involved in Hester Prynne’s nobility?`

 

Horizon caption: ‘Handsome and dynamic looking to the end, the Hawthorne of his last years is recorded in this portrait by Matthew Brady.’

In ‘Where They Think About the Unthinkable’, Byron Riggan (then a CBC reporter)  visits the Hudson Institute:

…an organization dedicated, according to its motto, to national security and international order. The Institute is located – some say aptly – on an estate that had originally been built as a mental home just outside the Westchester County town of Croton-on-Hudson. Despite the reassuring sound of its purpose – for who, after all, doesn’t approve of national security and international order? – the Institute’s arrival has provoked apprehension, even dismay, in the area and indeed throughout the United States…

The reports they publish, which analyse all actual problems and even all possible ones, must take account of a world where all things are possible, and most of them are probably horrible…

Many people cannot quite believe that the way to avoid Armageddon is to plan for it, and the mere thought that someone is doing so makes them testy. The Hudson Institute’s director, Herman Kahn, a mathematician, physicist, and master strategist for the Defense Department, has come under particular fire because of his cool and terrifying pronouncements about the future. ‘Many people just don’t believe a nuclear war can take place,’ Kahn dispassionately remarks. ‘I do. I would judge it to be as likely as not that a thermonuclear device will be fired in anger before the year 2000.’

Kahn is said to have been the inspiration for the character of Groteschele in the novel Fail-safe – a bloodless defense analyst who calculates in megadeaths; and movie producer Stanley Kubrick, although a friend of Kahn’s, used him in part as a model for Dr. Strangelove in the film of that name. In spite of this – or perhaps because of it – Kahn is much in demand on the lecture circuits where people listen in fascination to his blunt thinking about the unthinkable.

I made my way over to the front door. At the reception desk a girl – Natalie Wood, it could have been – looked up from her copy of The Politics of Hysteria by Edmund Stillman and William Pfaff . She smiled as I introduced myself, and carefully scrutinized my credentials. ‘Oh, yes,’ she said, ‘Mr Kahn is expecting you. He’s out on the lawn’…

Our conversation came quickly to the point because Kahn seemed restive, almost poised for flight. This impression was heightened by his speech: a series of unexpected halts and spurts as if his brain outpaced his tongue. I asked him to explain the public criticism against him and he started speaking a mile a minute. ‘First let me say that few of my more virulent critics have read very much that I’ve written. They not only refuse to read me, but I’m told that some have refused to speak to me at cocktail parties. In part that is because they don’t like to think about thermonuclear war. They think it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You know about sympathetic magic? That’s the belief that by discussing a problem you create it. If I sign an insurance policy, I spark my own death. If I go to be examined for cancer, I create cancer.  That’s sympathetic magic. But we think the most rudimentary intelligence says if you feel cold, put on a coat. When it rains, come out of the wet. Well, nuclear bombs exist. War is possible. We must think about how to prevent it or plan what to do when the bombs start to fall.’

In ‘The World of Youssouf Bey’, Wendy Buehr (based on information provided by J.C. Hurewitz) describes a recently discovered album of caricatures by the 19th century Ottoman diplomat Yusuf Franko Kusa, or Youssouf Bey.

 

The album finally returned to Turkey and was the subject of an exhibition in 2017.

 

Horizon, May 1977

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This issue’s cover features a detail of The Virgin by Andrew Wyeth, ‘the star’ of a Wyeth retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, one of ‘A Quartet of Spectaculars’, along with the travelling ‘Treasures of Tutankhamun’ then at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and retrospectives of Robert Rauschenberg at the Museum of Modern Art and Alexander Calder at the Whitney Museum in New York.

It contains a letter from the Publisher Rhett Austell, announcing that with the September issue, Horizon would now be published monthly and would no longer be in hardcover.

In ‘Those Mean and Dirty Streets’, Richard Eder writes about how the city in film in the 70s has become ‘a place of violence, squalor, degradation, and boredom, leaving many an urban moviegoer bewildered about where he lives’:

The pavement vents clouds of steam, which turn the city scene into a hellish murk. A taxicab moves slowly through, like a yellow fish in a heavy sea. Times Square’s cheerful, tacky neon is blurred and drained of life. And the sallow face of Robert De Niro takes in everything and gets it wrong. The walls of his rented room are shiny, the windows are padlocked, there are candy wrappers on the floor, vitamin bottles and Wonder Bread on the shelf.

This is how the movie Taxi Driver sees the city of New York. In a movie of fifteen years ago the cabs would have been clean, shined up, and slightly out of focus: part of the background against which some quirky romance – Breakfast at Tiffany’s, for instance – was played out. Ten years before that Gene Kelly would have climbed out dancing, as the cabbie and passers-by beamed.

…Today, when cameras focus on the nerve-racked faces in Taxi Driver, on the victims and perpetrators of the bank holdup in Dog Day Afternoon, or on the drifters in Midnight Cowboy, they make city life seem more terrible than it is…

The photography and music of Taxi Driver deliberately make the city ugly, sticky, sinister. Each person is isolated, shut in by fear of others, and the only communication is the temporary exchange of delusions. The isolation is most extreme in the case of Robert De Niro. When he and Cybill Shepherd are together, it is not two people touching but fragile and mismatched fantasies.

Also in this issue:

In ‘Dancing in the Seventies’, Jamake Highwater looks at the burgeoning disco scene:

When the rock era ended in the early seventies, it was a fortunate return to normalcy for some. For others it was the triumph of mediocrity. Critics saw the rise of the discos as the decline of political involvement and alternative lifestyles. And the new music – the music of the discos – records played loudly by jockeys with a mania for manipulating their audience – satisfied nothing but the feet. The beat is a straight, soulless 4/4 without any of the subtle inner rhythms that made rock so sensual and complex. The lyrics are pointless at best, tasteless at worst. In “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots, the words disco duck are repeated endlessly by Donald Duck voices.   Dancers cavort to such songs with blank faces, untouched by the mindless lyrics.

Disco sound has not always been like that. Labelle, a three-woman group, now defunct, graced the early dance era with “Lady Marmalade,” and singer Gloria Gaynor has had a few appealing tunes. But on the whole the highly overproduced disco sound has lost all energy as well as every trace of freshness and invention…

 

 

Whereas rock essentially came from England and California, the disco sound was born in New York out of a combination of black and Latin music. Like rock, it has its admirers and critics. David Todd, the baron disc jockey who reigns at Manhattan’s Jouissance Disco, likes it because ‘it really makes you want to dance’. Pop critic Peter Occhiogrosso disagrees: ‘The disco sound reduces music to an automated beat, packaged string arrangements, cooing girl-choruses, and everything else that the classic FM-radio format of the sixties most loathed about AM-radio music. It’s the pits! It’s the triumph of plastic!’

 

 

‘Bringing Bold Splendor to the City’ is a selection of photographs from Henry Moore: Sculpture and Environment by David Finn, which was published that month. Finn tracked down Moore’s pieces around the world in some 495 pictures:

If Moore’s own artistry is taken as evidence, the right sculpture in the right place can be a dramatic focal point for urban space that might otherwise seem stark or bare. And in their vigor Moore’s sculptures in the city testify to the vitality of urban life itself.

 

In ‘Guernica: An Act of War, a Work of Art’ Charles L. Mee, Jr. describes ‘the most renowned painting by the century’s most protean artist’:

The most astonishing aspect of Picasso’s first day of work on Guernica is surely its savage coolness. He does not show bloody bits and pieces of women and children flying through the air; he does not show smashed buildings; he does not depict massive death by fire; the woman with the lamp who leans out of the window is not horrified but rather curious; and the dead soldier lies at peace.

Whatever violent emotions Picasso may have felt have been thoroughly subdued. He does not try to depict the bombing of Guernica, to illustrate it, or even quite to make it into an allegory. Rather, he brings the event deeply within himself, and he responds to it as a unique witness. His first reaction is transmuted, strangely, into the silent whinnying anguish of the horse – a horse that has been injured by the bombing of Guernica, obviously, but more than that; it is a symbolic horse of some sort, a vexingly obscure, seemingly irrelevant, private symbol of some sort, a peculiar association of the sort that springs unbidden to mind.