Thursday, March 13, 2008


John Carey reviews Julian Barnes' recent memoir, repeats without demur Barnes' account of Stendhal's response to seeing paintings by Giotto:

For another, aesthetic rapture may be simulated. One of his heroes is Stendhal, who recalled, in 1826, that when he first went to Florence he swooned on seeing the Giottos in Santa Croce. It has made him “the modern art-lover’s progenitor and justification”, and his swoon has been recognised by psychologists as a special kind of arty faint called Stendhal’s Syndrome. But it seems it never happened. Barnes finds no mention of it in Stendhal’s original 1811 diary of the Florence trip.

Right. So let's say I write an essay now on something extraordinary that happened to me in 1993. You dig up my diary for 1993 and find that I have not mentioned it. You adduce this as evidence that the event never took place. I adduce this as evidence that you have confused a diary with a surveillance camera.


Jenny Davidson said...

Yes, total insanity! Fact is, forensic argument not suited to human life.

(If you ever come across Patricia Cornwell's Jack the Ripper book, there is a MOST extraordinary argument move where she asserts that though Sickert was in France for one of the summers in question, he COULD have come back to commit murder in London--yes, of course [opposite of this argument you've got here, more commonsensical as simple matter of observation] and yet hardly, really, adducible as persuasive piece of evidence against the poor fellow!)

Mithridates said...

It seems odd for Carey to be writing something like this--

"All the same, he counts the great artists and writers as his real family. They are his “ancestors” and his “true blood line”. It seems a trifle presumptuous. How, one wonders, would Jane Austen and Evelyn Waugh, two of his chosen relatives, respond to being made honorary Barneses?"

--because Carey wrote an entire book (What Good Are the Arts?) arguing that our aesthetic judgments are relative. So how can you criticize Barnes for thinking that his work is as good as Waugh's or Austen's? Actually, I don't think Barnes is saying anything so "presumptuous"; it seems that if you feel a kinship with certain writers, if they speak to your way of looking at the world or introduce you to a new one that you find particularly attractive, they've simply done their job. And given that Barnes is both popular and award-winning, I think Austen at least - who wasn't given any awards or the honor of being taught at Oxford and Cambridge (as Barnes's books are) in her lifetime - wouldn't have had a problem being an honorary Barnes.

"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

genauuuu, z.B. my journal has a kindof symbiotic relationship with what I have now come to call the "paper blog" - they are two sides of the same coin but rarely share the same content... mh.