Lefty Lingo, the End of the Turner Prize, and the Gin Craze
The Turner Prize has been awarded to all four finalists. Why? Because the jury was hung? Because their work was so good it all had to be honored? Well, of course not: “The four nominees had appealed to the jury to consider awarding the prize to them as a collective due to their shared commitment to urgent social and political causes. ‘At this time of political crisis in Britain and much of the world, when there is already so much that divides and isolates people and communities, we feel strongly motivated to use the occasion of the prize to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity, and solidarity—in art as in society,’ reads a letter penned by the artists. The jury voted unanimously in favor of their request.” Writing for the Evening Standard, Ben Luke calls the move “a bloodless coup” by the artists: “In honouring the four shortlisted artists’ request to award them the prize collectively rather than giving it to one individual, the jury and its chair, Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson, arguably agreed that the award is meaningless. This is far more radical than the Booker Prize jury failing to decide between Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo.” That may be overstating it. It’s more like an inevitable farcical endpoint for a prize that has been mixing politics and art for years.
In other news: The British have been drinking gin for a long time, sometimes in disastrous quantities: “Seventeenth-century British soldiers, fighting in the Low Countries, showed a sweet tooth for the local rotgut, and the word ‘gin’ derives from jenever, the Dutch for juniper. (Just to complicate matters, genever—a respectable spirit, sweeter and warmer than regular gin, and ideal for fending off the northern chill—is still widely drunk in the Netherlands.) Juniper had long been embraced as a curative, especially against the plague (it didn’t work), and that benign reputation lingered. We don’t know exactly what went into the ‘strong water made of juniper’ that the diarist Samuel Pepys knocked back on October 10, 1663, but it did the trick and, he said, allayed his constipation . . . ‘In 1700, the average adult drank slightly more than a third of a gallon of cheap spirits over the course of a year; by 1720 that amount had nearly doubled; and by 1729, the year when the first act restricting sales of gin was passed, the number had nearly doubled again, to slightly more than 1.3 gallons per capita.’ The annus mirabilis, Warner adds, was 1743, when one person’s average annual consumption hit 2.2 gallons.”
Rethinking Metternich: “More than most statesmen of his time, Metternich thought about history and his place in it. He was right to worry: most biographies have depicted him as an essentially reactionary politician—a ‘coachman’ of Europe who was fond of the whip hand.”
Revisiting the work of Dora Maar: “A new exhibition at Tate Modern is the first retrospective in Britain of her commercial and documentary photographs, surrealist photomontages and paintings. More than 200 pieces are on display; her contribution to 20th-century art can be seen, at last, on its own terms.”
A “meticulous” and “engaging” account of the Greely Expedition: “In July 1881, Lt. A.W. Greely put together a crew of 24 scientists and explorers and set out to reach areas of the north that had not been traversed before. The expedition carried equipment to conduct scientific research on the weather and planned to catalog the flora and fauna of the place. However, Greely’s main goal was to achieve Farthest North and claim that record for the United States. While they achieved almost everything they set out to accomplish, Greely and his men also confronted every possible challenge.”
Essay of the Day:
The jargon of today’s Left is “joylessly accusatory,” Lionel Shiver writes in Harper’s. Sad!
“Propelled by digital technology that spreads rhetorical fads like herpes, this decade’s lengthy left-wing lexicon has impressively penetrated both mainstream media and everyday speech, while carrying ideological baggage so overstuffed that it wouldn’t fit in an airplane’s overhead compartment. The idiom is persistently negative. Many of the cringe-inducers I grew up with in the 1960s conveyed enthusiasm: ‘Way to be!,’ ‘Outta sight!,’ ‘Far out!,’ and ‘Dig that!’ Subsequent generations have also latched onto effusive expressions, such as ‘Awesome!’ and ‘That’s sick!’ But the glossary particular to today’s left is joylessly accusatory: ‘fat shaming,’ ‘victim blaming,’ or ‘rape culture’ (which indicts not only men but pretty much everything). As we said in 1970, what a drag.
“Front and center in overused progressive vocabulary is, of course, ‘privilege.’ From Lyndon Johnson onward, we’ve expressed concern for the ‘underprivileged.’ Shining a spotlight instead on the ‘privileged’ fosters resentment in people who feel shafted and an impotent guilt in people at whom the label is hurled. The word functions something like a rotten tomato without the mess. I myself have been decried in the Independent as ‘dripping with privilege,’ while the writer Ariel Levy was portrayed in The New Republic as ‘swaddled in privilege.’ This is a shape-shifting substance in which one can bathe or nestle.
“Whereas a privilege can be acquired through merit—e.g., students with good grades got to go bowling with our teacher in sixth grade—privilege, sans the article, is implicitly unearned and undeserved. The designation neatly dispossesses those so stigmatized of any credit for their achievements while discounting as immaterial those hurdles an individual with a perceived leg up might still have had to overcome (an alcoholic parent, a stutter, even poverty). For privilege is a static state into which you are born, stained by original sin. Just as you can’t earn yourself into privilege, you can’t earn yourself out of it, either.
“Even taken on its face, the concept is elusive. ‘Privilege is an unbelievably hard thing to define,’ the British journalist Douglas Murray observes in The Madness of Crowds: ‘It is also very nearly impossible to quantify. . . . Is a person with inherited wealth but who has a natural disability more privileged or less privileged than a person without any inherited wealth who is able-bodied? Who can work this out?’ Not I, although I confess I’m under-motivated.
“Yet in practice, while ‘privileged’ may also mean ‘straight and male,’ it almost always means ‘white.’ In The Tyranny of Virtue, the academic Robert Boyers observes that these days the label is deployed in a way that ‘makes it acceptable to target groups or persons not because of what they have done but because of what they are.’ That sounds awfully like a workable definition of racism.”
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