Friday, February 04, 2011

Inside we are all monsters

I didn't know this, but evidently I'm predisposed towards monstrous luxury and decadent excess, as the main character of Joris-Karl Huysman's Against Nature often seems like he's inside my own head:

Goya's savage verve, his harsh, brutal genius, captivated Des Essientes. On the other hand, the universal admiration his works had won rather put him off, and for years he had refrained from framing them, for fear that if he hung them up, the first idiot who saw them might be obliged to dishonour them with a few inanities and go into stereotyped ecstasies over them.

He felt the same about his Rembrandts, which he examined now and then on the quiet; and it is of course true that, just as the loveliest melody in the world becomes unbearably vulgar once the public start humming it and the barrel-organs playing it, so the work of art that appeals to charlatans, endears itself to fools, and is not content to arouse the enthusiasm of a few connoisseurs, is thereby polluted in the eyes of the initiate and becomes commonplace, almost repulsive.

This sort of promiscuous admiration was in fact one of the most painful thorns in his flesh, for unaccountable vogues had utterly spoilt certain books and pictures for him that he had once held dear; confronted with the approbation of the mob, he always ended up by discovering some hitherto imperceptible blemish, and promptly rejected them, at the same time wondering whether his flair was not deserting him, his his taste getting blunted.
Against Nature is more or less about a man's solipsistic retreat into his own ego. There's no real plot, but Des Essiente's fierce adherence to his own standards is a compelling enough engine for the narrative. There are slow spots -- discourses on endless writers, philosophers, theologians and the like, most of whom I've never even heard of, let alone read -- but it's still a great read, a worthy successor to the likes of Voltaire (despite Huysman's stated dislike of his fellow countryman).

And the bit about the turtle, that's great.

No comments: