Sunday, December 19, 2010

Written in 1967

"The public, an invention of nineteenth-century gentility, laid it down as one of its working maxims, once it took up Culture, that it doesn't know anything about art but that it knows what it likes, thus assuming as its own folk wisdom what the emperor Caligula had assumed for it. On the first Sunday that the public was allowed into the British Museum, a portly greengrocer backed into the amphora that inspired Keats's ode and smashed it to rubble. With a discarded cigar the public burnt all of Frederick Catherwood's drawings of the Mayan cities of the Yucatan. The public has scratched out the eyes of paintings in the Uffizi, and one fine day a member of the public put the Mona Lisa under his arm, carried it out of the Louvre with great cool, and hung it at the foot of his humble bed." --
Guy Davenport in his celebratory essay "Tchelitchew," appearing in the 1981 collection,
The Geography of the Imagination, a book of surprises, provocations, and beautifully articulated erudition. Davenport was a fine poet and translator, as well as a master at making connections between artists, movements, poems, and the history of ideas.

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