Thursday, November 24, 2011

Revisionist Thanksgiving

Privacy Box, 1430, painted wood, Basel, Switzerland
It's 20 minutes to the start of Thanksgiving prep and so just enough to put together three random thoughts about rethinking that have been knocking about more or less amiably in my head. First things first, the menu (inspired by the lady busily grating above her pestle in the image to your left), which involves some kind of rethinking of things (she's grating her lover's heart), as I find myself gravitating towards two classics previously unexplored: pecan pie (so easy! so sticky!), and oysters in the stuffing (so weird!). The full menu reads:
  • Turkey with lemon sage butter
  • Oyster stuffing with fresh herbs
  • Potato and celery root gratin with leeks
  • Spiced, glazed carrots with sherry and citrus
  • Pumpkin gingersnap cheesecake
  • Bourbon pecan pie
We are combining Thanksgivings this year with another family (yes, there will be two turkeys), and so my dear friend is looking after the cranberry element and the green vegetable (and boldly brining her turkey). We picked up said birds Monday night at the farm of an awesome local organic farmer, after having watched them grow from little chicks via repeated visits. That's new, too: going organic and local with the turkey. Ah! And the pumpkin cheesecake as well. So, a somewhat revisionist menu, in the direction of both classicism and innovation.

Pepper Spraying Cop at the Déjeuner Sur l'Herbe
Which somehow inevitably leads me to this, one of dozens now of images of the nasty, nonchalant Lt. John Pike nastily, nonchalantly pepper spraying docile innocents. It's become a meme, a response scattering across the internet to the stupid and thuggish police treatment of UC-Davis students engaged in a peaceful protest. Here he is interrupting a really nice half-naked meal with his damn pepper spray. He's been spraying his way through art history, and the Huffington Post's fascination with the phenomenon has gathered several impressive, and mystifying examples. The Washington Post has the most unusual ones, and I will admit that the utter absurdity of Pike pepper spraying a Jackson Pollock is rapidly becoming my favorite. Can this cop's name really be that of a medieval weapon? Does satire always set itself up this neatly? The smart and elegant thinker of this blog positions the meme as gallows humor, a humor of despair, of the dispossessed. I've been thinking of, I guess you could call them, medieval memes. Painful powers real and imagined taken down in the satire of excess and absurdity.

Frau Minne Breaks Hearts, 1479 woodcut
The power of women was simultaneously constructed and vilified through sex in images like this one. I don't want to get off topic and go down the paths of imagined power, for they are truly truly twisted, so it's the relentlessness of the ways she comes up with to break a lover's heart that makes the connection to Pike's stinging walk through art history. We see her sawing the heart, stabbing it, putting it in a book press (!), setting it in a slingshot, branding it, putting it in a bread box - all the while standing in prancing contrapposto. Frau Minne will occupy your heart. Ouch!

Lancelot margins
There are medieval memes of chivalric violence, too. More, actually. Manuscript margins writhe with monkeys and men wielding the weapons of the aristocracy they never get to control in real life. At the top of the page, a naked man (the ultimately dispossessed) gestures wildly in an insane satirization of the knight's easy possession of weaponry. I hear him say: "Oh yea? Well, I can stick a sword up my ass!" The similarities for me are between the medieval artist and the contemporary Photoshop-er incongruously combining the real violence they've witnessed with the high culture they're meant to be serving. In other words, I don't think it's just John Pike that's being made fun of. There's something satisfying about seeing these classic painted surfaces disrupted. Michelangelo's God Creating Adam gets it every way: Adam spraying God, God spraying Adam, and the cop just spraying them both. The world upside down.

Charles Mann's wonderful book
Which is how you feel when you read Charles Mann's incredible book, 1491, detailing the pre-conquest violence of epidemics that preceded European arrivals and allowed the grand myth of a mostly empty land for the taking to take root. Unknowing slaughter on the molecular level. There is more to be rethought here than I have time for. Tom the turkey is calling, and I must wrestle a celery root into submission. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone - may we keep rethinking together.


  1. Funny you would post that Manet on the very day I saw it at the Orsay with my family! Luckily though no pepper spraying cop in it...

  2. Marvelous! Some kind of vicarious sync, then. Is the Déjeuner gang still upstairs? Such a festive, mysterious bunch to come upon. It's great to know your family is in France - 'urrah!