Analects I: From ‘The Renaissance Nude’ to the Totalitarian Tube

Auctores Varii 2 May 2019
Image Credit: Royal Academy of Art

‘Analects’ is a new TCS column consisting of short pieces about any topic of recent personal interest to the author. The series aims to encourage the readership to think broadly about a diverse range of topics, and encourage writers to condense their thoughts into a concise and engaging paragraph. 

 

‘The Renaissance Nude’

Recently I have been thinking a lot about nudity. Formerly the naughty preserve of sandy stretches of the Cote d’Azur, nowadays it’s everywhere. For a positive riot of breasts, phalluses and buttocks, look no further than ‘The Renaissance Nude’ at the Royal Academy of Arts. To many, the sophisticated title may hint at a demure nature, but do not expect every figure to be modestly clothed with chastity. For every absent-minded Saint Sebastian, blissfully unaware of the arrows impaling his lucent skin, there is a naked Aristotle being ridden side-saddle or an ‘Ecstatic Christ’, one hand shoved beneath his loincloth as he strains towards the sky. Entranced, one is endlessly torn between viewer and voyeur.

This profusion of nipples and bumcheeks has made me ponder on the remarkable fact that, whilst hundreds of schoolchildren will be taken to the RA’s galleries this summer, Facebook’s rather prudish censoring software means you are having to read this article sans illustrations, sexualised or idealised. Have artistic preoccupations really changed that much in the 500 years since Manuel Chrysoloras argued “we admire not so much the beauties of the bodies in statues and paintings as the beauty of the mind of their maker”? Do Game of Thrones’ gratuitous and animalistic foursomes desensitise us to the allure of the flesh, or just make us hanker after more?

 


 

The Joys of Poetry

I love poetry because of the way it sounds. I’ve always been an aural learner, and that which I hear sinks in much deeper than that which I see, or smell, or touch. Nothing comes close to how I feel when I hear a few lines of my favourite verse read well. A minute or two of Mandalay and I experience all life more clearly. Colours and sounds come more sharply into focus. Forty seconds limbering through Sonnet 130 and everything transient just fades away. I feel the presence of soul within me. If I have ever learnt anything, it is that metered prose is, for me, the key to self-appreciation.

I love how poetry comes back to me as often as it does, and as powerfully. Regularly uninvited, but always the most welcome of guests, it sees fit to provide me with the tools I need to understand the thoughts I have and then share them. ‘Had we but world enough and time’, ‘Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths’, ‘Have you forgotten yet?’ These are the words and the rhythms of my existence. These are the contours of my mind. I have not yet stopped finding them extraordinary.

 


 

‘Civilisation’

There was a time when the British Broadcasting Corporation would provide a stimulating, entertaining, and educational flow of evening television, but that time seems to be no more. Though the plummeting quality of BBC comedy is just as obvious, my re-watching of the landmark show ‘Civilisation’ with my family (who, I must note, cannot be accused of being pretentious), in which Clark outlines the history of Western art and philosophy since the Dark Ages, particularly laid bare the intellectual inadequacies and stimulative failure of modern television. My parents and brother were initially horrified when I forced them to substitute their usual lazy, boring Friday evening viewing for the final episode in the series: ‘Heroic Materialism’. By the end of the hour, however, everyone in the room understood why Clark was made director of the National Gallery at the age of 30 and knighted at the age of 35. The BBC may think that their average viewers do not want to watch an old man in a suit unpacking the impact of industrialisation and mechanisation on the humanitarian spirit in the 19th and 20th centuries (partly through a careful analysis of the Realist and Impressionist art movements) on a Friday night anymore, but they might be surprised: you have to give it to them to find out.

 


 

The Biggest Year in English Cricket

2019 is arguably the biggest year in English cricketing history. This summer will see both the World Cup and the Ashes played on English soil for the first time since 1975, and with no Olympics, no football World Cup, and no Commonwealth Games, this really is cricket’s chance to fill the back (and potentially the front) pages. The team recently selected to play in the World Cup, a tournament held every 4 years, are the favourites to win the trophy, currently ranked as the number one side in the world. August and September’s Ashes sees naughty boys David Warner and Steve Smith return after over a year out of international cricket, banned for their involvement in a ball tampering scandal. This is all followed by two mouth-watering Test series against New Zealand and South Africa over the winter, and if England can come away victorious it really could be a year to remember. For a game at risk of becoming lost and unfashionable in a modern, fast-paced world, let’s hope the summer of 2019 captures the hearts and minds of the nation that invented it.

 


 

The Lounge Suit and Totalitarianism

The rumble of the morning tube is a dull one; its variations monotonous and predictable. As the carriages sway, another deadening feature greets the soporific eyes; it too lacks variation, is dull of colour and serves just as much to embody the repetitive grind of the commute and the corporate workload. It is the lounge suit. Like a series of study sketches of an English winter’s sky, the rows of men sit in grey, navy and black, broken by the white and blue of a crisp starched-collared shirt, meeting pallid skin at the edges and supported by polished black oxfords or increasingly decrepit brogues. Efficiency, conformity, inhumanity. These are the cold qualities of totalitarianism and we should oppose them with as much vehemence in the sphere of dress codes as we would in the world of politics. Yet, as with so many modern problems, the solutions have gone out of fashion. Just as first kiss of spring warmth on the neck or sight of the daffodil timidly peering above the soil, so amongst this dreariness stands ‘Jacket and Tie’: a relief of corduroy, chino, tweed and flannel. Put aside the matching trouser and jacket and instead don the dress code of leisure and, in doing so, brighten up the world about you with some eccentricity and cheer.

 

If you wish to share a thought on any topic you are interested in, please email in a short paragraph (~200 words) to psk32@cam.ac.uk. The only restriction is the word limit, and the only rule that your piece ought to get people thinking about the ideas you raise.