January 20, 2010

What's it all about, Horatio?

Several years ago, I had a fun time plowing my way through Jacques Barzun's massive tome From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present. It was sort of a leisurely 800 page amble through the modern era.

I know it may seem strange to people today to think of the 1500s as "modern," but that's not an uncommon historical idea. That was the general period that saw printing, Protestantism, the Renaissance, early capitalism, the "discovery" aka plunder of the New World, and all kinds of other things take off for good or ill in the West.

One characteristic of early modernity that persisted through the centuries, according to Barzun was a heightened self-consciousness. One example of that can be seen in the above classic 1656 painting, Las Meninas by Diego Velasquez.

Velasquez is actually painted into the picture--he's the guy with the paintbrush on the left--something that would be unthinkable for a court painter in earlier times. He also plays around with a mirror that shows a reflection of the king and queen of Spain who aren't seen elsewhere.

It's pretty cool when you think about it: a picture of an artist painting a picture of a bunch of people (including himself) complete with images of people who aren't in the picture.

Velasquez is clearly having fun flouting traditions, but that kind of artistic self consciousness shows up in other works of the early modern period. Shakespeare's Hamlet is a case in point, about which more tomorrow.

INEQUALITY AND HEALTH, a frequent topic here, are inversely connected, according to the latest EPI snapshot.

SPEAKING OF HEALTH, most Americans prefer a tax on the wealthy rather than workers' insurance plans to help pay for the expansion of coverage according to a new poll.

HOWEVER, ALL BETS ARE OFF on the future of reform in the wake of the Massachusetts election.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. Here's Dean Baker on what we could do to save and create them.



1 comment:

hollowdweller said...

How about those MA results??