“The devil’s greatest trick was to convince everyone that he did not exist.”
“There is no record of civilization that is not also a record of barbarism.”
— Walter Benjamin
It’s not new exactly. The left and its evil twins have long been guilty of the tyranny of reductio ad absurdum. After all if the gentleman in Berlin with the train schedule and record keeping fetish hadn’t set up an exhibit of “deviant art” then surely the gentlemen in Moscow with the ditch fetish would have done the same. And of course given enough rope and trees that sort of thing has and can again find a home in New York or Paris or Rome.
People like to ignore that Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Donatello, Raphael, and Caravaggio were all on the company payroll and the Vatican’s iteration of Murder Incorporated was, through its money laundering operations, the Bardi, Perucci, Medici and Borgia, willing to do business with their sworn enemies, the Muslim Ottomans, and everyone else.
There were after all two sets of books – the one they showed the tax man and the one they did not.
And so to Hannah Gadsby.
She’s a lesbian so you’re not supposed to criticize her.
She’s a woman and post #MeToo you’re not supposed to criticize her.
Donald Trump is squatting in the Oval Office and shitting on the world, so you’re supposed to worship AOC as if she’s Jack Kennedy, MLK, and Joan of Arc all rolled into one social media savvy package and nuance, subtlety and paradox can all go fuck themselves.*
Cults are after all, full of persnickety literalists.
And when Gadsby says something that is not just factually wrong, a-historical and worse, the rhetorical version of being a fellow traveler and useful idiot of the fascist, reactionary right, you’re supposed to say oh well, she’s had it rough and Harvey Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, misogyny, misogyny, misogyny!
And of course, Harvey is a parade float of vile details and a poster boy for a corrupt, decadent and depraved system.
But that doesn’t mean Gadsby isn’t a thug.
We refer to her recent stand up performance in which she declares that Picasso was a misogynist, abusive to women, and sick in the head and we’re not supposed to discuss any of it.
We hasten to add that we fell down this sink hole after reading what to our shock was, for once, a reasonable article in the otherwise dead on arrival The Guardian in which one of their regular opinionistas admitted that moral ambiguity is complex – after all, William Burroughs shot his wife (J. Volmer was his partner but the point stands) and that unlike Gadsby the writer likes Picasso. And that history is full of ugly people making beautiful things.
What they fail to grasp or if grasped fail to mention is that such is the nature of existence itself. As we have mentioned before the sad fact is that if not for the sin of slavery there would not be Jazz or the Blues.
Let that dilemma sink in and try and figure a way out of the logical and moral cul de sac.
And so back to Gadsby.
Here’s a quote:
“As an example, she draws a line between two ostensibly disparate figures and eras: “This guy [Picasso] was sick in the head and he abused women — and nobody ever [mentions it]; it just gets absorbed into his story and this marvellous idea [of Picasso].
And Donald Trump is the logical conclusion — in my head.”
Which, ironically, is Trump-esque in its substitution of, I believe, for I reason. It is idiotic, irresponsible and dangerous.
First people have been calling Picasso sick since about 1910. After the whores from Avignon even Braque thought he had slipped his nut and Pablo stashed those bitches under his bed (sic!) for years until the world caught up with him.
Secondly, calling him sick means you’re in goose step with the fascists. Reducing Picasso to sick+misogyny= Donald Trump is Trump saying, immigration + brown skin = they’re sending us rapists; it is the formulae for Work shall Set You free and Everyone is Equal it’s just that some are more equal than others. It is Trump-esque demagoguery; it is a version of, when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun, or if your Gadsby, your microphone.
After all, history is full of people in white lab coats who declared lesbians were sick in the head, insisted that “sick in the head” was a precise medical term of pharmaceutical art, and proceeded to have people locked up and lobotomized so Gadsby’s in good company.
Third, if he was a misogynist then perhaps someone should mention it to Francoise Gilot and ask her what it says about her and her art?
Or Helen Parmeline.
Or Lee Miller.
Fourth, what then about Gertrude Stein? Let alone Alice?
Are we to believe that generalissimo Stein would have said, well I don’t care if he’s beating Fernande I like the little cubes? And even if she did believe that considering that she had a mouth like a public phone exchange combined with a telegram office, nesting inside the social media of her time, the idea that she wouldn’t have called him out somewhere to someone isn’t just absurd, it isn’t just fake news, it’s the sinew of a-historical fascism.
And let’s consider if even for just a moment that Fernande was hardly a wall flower and Olga was as likely a monster as a ballerina and was Dora Maar anyone’s idea of stable?
And if Picasso was a thug how do we separate the classical works from everything else?
Gadsby we are told has a degree in art history.
Yeah, well there are plenty of plumbers with advanced degrees and plenty of people running museums who would be better employed fixing a leaky sink.
What then about Vanessa Bell who after visiting Picasso in his studio in Paris, wrote to her circle of friends that he was the single most intelligent person in Europe?
Surely had he been a rutting pig and an abusive monster the harridans, assorted mutants, and murder’s row of observational geniuses that formed Bloomsbury would have said something about it?
A Room of One’s own is seminal and yet while perfectly willing to offer up a class based snob episode of verbal projectile vomiting about James Joyce being an undergraduate popping his pimples, and confusing it with art, Virginia had nothing negative to say to her sister about the diminutive Spaniard.
Neither did Djuna Barnes. Or Sylvia Beach. Or Adrienne Monnier. Or Janet Flanner.
Or Natalie Barney.
Who in turn was host to, Jean Cocteau, who had plenty to say about Picasso except for when he was gossiping about his deals with the Nazis, Vichy and Coco Channel.
But Barney was also host to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anatole France, Sherwood Anderson, Colette (a one time lover of Barney), Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, Peggy Guggenheim and Isadora Duncan – who played for both sides.
And Barney entertained all of those shy people devoid of eccentricities at her Sapho palace on the Rue Jacob, where she told them stories about her lady friends, and had her novels and stories published in France, in French and received positive reviews.
And not one of those freaks has left a letter or any mention anywhere that they thought Picasso was insane, a misogynist or any more or less cracked than any of the other mutants and freaks in those circles.
Which brings us to this other a-historical gem by Gadsby:
“for the first time in history, women have control over the writing and dissemination of their own stories — unmediated by men. That’s never happened before — we’ve been cock-blocked the whole way through, since the Bible. This is an exciting moment.”
Well that must be news to Anna Akhmatova, wherever she is. As well as Dorothy Parker and Anais Nin**
And since it was a lesbian who published Ulysses one must assume Gadsby means that Sylvia was cockblocking Jim.
And When T.S. Eliot was able to turn his attention away from be afraid of Jews, and he gave Djuna Barnes’ lesbian romp, Nightwood, a glowing review, it was because Djuna had waved her engorged wang in his face and said, obey!
And surely then Gadsby means that Jane Heap, lesbian extraordinaire, didn’t run a radical, Avant Garde magazine, with her lover, Margaret Anderson, and wasn’t in charge of being one of the first to publish a who’s who of masculine deviants, named, Hemingway, Eliot, Joyce, Hart Crane, W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, Andre Breton, Ford Maddox Ford, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, e.e. cummings, and Mina Loy.
So perhaps what Gadsby means is that if you could get passed the vaginal gatekeepers you could get published?
And keep in mind that Mina Loy’s son-in-law, Julien Levy, owned a gallery in New York that showed work by Duchamp, Bernice Abbot and Picasso.
And another word here about that Sapphic wonderland on the Rue Jacob:
“Annie Winifred Ellerman, another visitor to Barney’s salon, who was better known as Bryher, was born in Margate in 1894, the daughter of John Ellerman a shipowner and financier. (In 1933 he was stated to be the richest Englishman who had ever lived.)
Bryher’s circle of friends in Paris included Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Sylvia Beach who she helped financially when Shakespeare and Co was going through hard times. Bryher decided on a marriage of convenience to the American writer Robert Almon who she married in 1921, although she had already fallen in love with the poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) in 1918. Bryher and Almon divorced in 1927 and Bryher married a writer Kenneth MacPherson who was H.D.’s lover… The ménage a trois lasted until 1947 when MacPherson died and although no longer living with H.D, Bryher’s relationship lasted with her until H.D.’s death in 1946.”
Which means that a wealthy lesbian gave a broke lesbian the cash to publish Ulysses which had been serialized in The Dial, by two other lesbians.
Like a proper left thug Gadsby’s point is either that we should exile artists of whom she does not approve, or ignore that culture qua culture is a byzantine web of interconnected relationships in which the lesbian with the attitude and the trust fund, is responsible for the art hanging on the wall of the museum you claim is a temple to the power of the cock.
And the ersatz left media wants us to pretend the alternative facts are the truth.
The fact is if not for a handful of mostly American and British lesbians, Modern Art would have vanished up a chimney at Auschwitz.
And that brings us to the idea – such as it is – that even if what Gadsby says was true, so the fuck what?
You want Lightning Hopkins, Mingus, Monk, Coltrane and Bitter Fruit?
Than you pays your money and you takes your chances.
When asked by a Nazi, sniffing around his studio during the war, and holding a postcard depicting Guernica, did you do this? Picasso said: No, you did.
The dilemma, the terrible dilemma is not the crime, but the fact that the crime is essential.
See Gadsby here:
See The Guardian briefly sober up, here:
For a useful if cursory guide to Paris back in the day:
*AOC cult fever is now lurching into the part of the spectrum where she thinks her status can be compartmentalized from the machinery of the state. She is being profiled in both The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.
If there are two more moldy corporate hypocritical bastions of liberal decay and collaboration we are unaware of them.
**We are fully aware that Akhmatova was an unhappy recipient of Stalin’s idea of generosity. We are also aware that when told by friends that fellow poet Joseph Brodsky was being shipped off to a Gulag, she said ruefully, well the geniuses at the KGB are giving him the perfect biography.
Akhmatova, unlike Gadsby, was a genius and able to embrace irony as both a personal fact of her identity and as a detail of human existence.