The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence and Depravity in an Age of Beauty by Alexander Lee
-001- Florence constitutes the historical and spiritual ‘home’ of the Renaissance as a whole. Both contemporaries and modern historians have generally agreed that it was in Florence that the ‘Renaissance’–however we might wish to define it–began and grew to maturity.
-002- The chronological bounds I have chosen to use for this book–that is, the years between ca. 1300 and ca. 1550–is not intended to be either authoritative or definitive, but instead reflects the general sense of scholarly consensus…
-003- However tempting it may be to succumb to the temptation of viewing it as a period of cultural rebirth and artistic beauty during which men and women were impossibly civilized and sophisticated, the achievements of the Renaissance coexisted with the dark, dirty, and even diabolical realities. Corrupt bankers, greedy politicians, sex-crazed priests, religious conflicts, rampant disease, and lives of extravagance and excess were everywhere to be seen, and the most ghastly atrocities were perpetrated under the gaze of the statues and buildings that tourists today admire with such openmouthed adoration.
-004- At the level of historical accuracy, this tendency is unfortunate merely because it introduces a somewhat artificial separation between high culture and social realities. But at a much more human level, it is also unfortunate because it robs the period of its excitement, its vividness, and its true sense of wonder. For it is only by appreciating the seamier, grittier side of the Renaissance that the extent of its cultural achievements really becomes clear.
-005- Two hundred years earlier, it would have been unthinkable for any artist to have been honored in such a way. In the eyes of more contemporaries, a late-thirteenth- or early-fourteenth-century artist was not a creator but a craftsman. The practitioner of a merely mechanical art, he was largely restricted to the confines of a provincial bottega (workshop) that was subject to the often draconian regulations of guilds.
-006- From the mid-fourteenth century onward, however, the social world of art and the artist had gradually undergone a series of radical changes. In step with the growing popularity of classical themes and the naturalistic style, artists were progressively recognized as autonomous creative agents endowed with learning and skill that set them apart from mere mechanics.
-007- How could the same personality create such innovative, elevated art and indulge in such base habits? [re: Michelangelo]
-008- For some, the defining characteristic of Renaissance art from Giotto to Michelangelo lies in a pronounced sense of individualism. While the Middle Ages could be thought of as a period in which human consciousness ‘lay dreaming or half-awake beneath a common veil’ of ‘faith, illusion, and childish prepossession,’ the great Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt argued that the Renaissance was a time in which, for the first time, ‘man because a spiritual individual, ‘ capable of defining himself in terms of his own unique excellence, free from the constraints of the corporation or community.
-009- Yet by far the most important and influential school of thought views the ‘Renaissance’ as a far more literal and even straightforward form of ‘rebirth’ and presents all other developments–individualism, naturalism, exuberance–as the prelude to or corollary of the comprehensive rediscovery of classical themes, models, and motifs that appears to be evidenced by the artful trickery of the the young Michelangelo’s lost Head of a Faun.
-010- As a number of eminent scholars have observed, one of the merits of this interpretation of the Renaissance is that it is precisely how the leading intellectuals of the Renaissance saw their own times. The self-conscious writings of ‘the artistically-minded humanists and the humanistically-minded artists of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries’ appear to betray a clear and unambiguous sense of living ina new period defined by the revival of the culture of classical antiquity.
-011- Giogio Vasari coined the word rinascita (rebirth, Renaissance)
-012- …the Renaissance can only really be understood when it is viewed as a whole–vicious brawls and all [this is a reference to a fight where Michelangelo had his nose broken]
-013- From a population of around thirty thousand in ca. 1350, Florence had grown to become one of Europe’s largest cities. As early as 1338, as the chronicler Giovanni Villani recorded, its inhabitants consumed more than seventy thousand quarts of wine each day, and around a hundred thousand sheep, goats, and pigs had to be slaughtered each year to keep pace with the city’s appetite. By the mid-sixteenth century, it boasted no fewer than fifty-nine thousand inhabitants and was rivaled in size only by Paris, Milan, Venice and Naples.
-014- …brothels were of much the same order as inns. Were it not for the rampant sex and even more rampant disease, it would, in fact, be comparatively hard to tell them apart from taverns.
-015- Despite the vogue for classical ideas in urban design, the homes of the poor were erected either in the absence of regulations or in defiance of occasional attempts at civic improvement and were consequently built in a ramshackle manner according to the limited resources available. Particularly in Oltr’Arno, these houses were narrow–with a frontage generally no more than fifteen feet–but deep and often very tall, regularly comprising up to four stories, and would typically be inhabited by a number of families renting a few cramped rooms for a few florins per year. Covered with a simple form of plaster, walls were commonly crisscrossed with threatening cracks and, lacking paint or decoration, presented a dull and forbidding appearance.
-016- Florentine merchant banking had originally emerged out of the massive explosion in trade that had occurred at the dawn of the fourteenth century as a means of facilitating commercial transactions across large distances.
-017- The overwhelming majority of the city’s inhabitants were colossally poor. In 1427, roughly 25 percent of the city’s total wealth was owned by 1 percent of households. Even more surprisingly, little more than 5 percent of the city’s capital was owned by the poorest 60 percent of the population. Most people listed in the commune’s tax records actually owned nothing at all.
The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch
-01- 36: …the chance, in 1960, of dying in your own bed: less than one in ten.
-02- 54: The poor cousin of fear is anger.
-03- 79: Chesty teenagers with good muscle tone dressed in their underwear and come-hither looks can sell us more Chevys than we need, more Marlboros than we need, more perfume than we need, more exercise equipment; more and better, and fewer and better and new and improved and faster and cheaper and sexier and bigger and smaller; but the one funeral per customer rule has held for millennia, and we don’t really need a study to show us that for most folks even the one and only is the one too many.
-04- 80: A reviewer of mine quite rightly calls poets the taxidermists of literature, wanting to freeze things in time, always inventing dead aunts and uncles to eulogize in verse.
-05- 81: But for our mortality there’d be no need for churches, mosques, temples, or synagogues. … Faith is for the heartbroken, the embittered, the doubting, and the dead.
-06- 90: We’d call every year around Christmastime to see if the families of these abandoned ashes had come to any decision about what should be done, but more often than not we’d be left holding the box. One Christmas, my younger brother, Eddie, said we should declare it The Closet of Memories and established a monthly holding fee, say twenty-five dollars, to be assessed retroactively unless the ashes were picked up in thirty days. Letters were sent out. Calls made. Old cousins and step-children came out of the wood-work. Widows long-since remarried returned. The Closet of Memories was near empty by Easter.
-07- 93: There seems to be, in my lifetime, an inverse relationship between the size of the TV screen and the space we allow for the dead in our lives and landscapes. With the pyramids maybe representing one end of the continuum, and the memorial pendant—in which ashes of your late and greatly reduced spouse are kept dangling tastefully from anklet or bracelet or necklace or keychain—representing the other, we seem to give ground grudgingly to the departed.
-08- 95: Likewise, people of the Irish persuasion have a special knack or affliction for searching out the blessing in every badness. “Happy is the grave the rain falls on,” they say as they stand ankle deep in mud, burying their dead, finding the good omen in the bad weather. Thus, in a country where it rains every day, they have proclaimed the downpour a blessed thing.
-09- 117: We need our witnesses and archivists to say we lived, we died, we made this difference. Where death means nothing, life is meaningless.
-10- 126: For now he had not only a life to lose but a life made precious by the blissful consortium of married life.
-11- 130: The standing joke is that Matthew possesses an open offer of a sizable advance from a prominent publisher for an intimate treatise on hypochondria, which, alas, he has never felt well enough to do.
-12- 133: I made mention to Matthew of a highly regarded theory, first proffered by a student of C.G. Jung’s, that the presence of an overwhelming existential threat to the organism produces glandular secretions and other biochemical adaptations that occlude the cerebral synapse through which the business of nerve cells is, in the norm, conducted. This psychological response amounts to none other than a kind of coma from which, depending on the distance of the fall, the victim either awakens with broken but reparable bones in the nearest emergency ward or does not awaken at all. In either event, it could be fairly stated, your man would never know what hit him…
-13- 142: I had this theory. It was based loosely on the unremarkable observation that the old are always looking back with longing while the young, with the same longing, look ahead. One man remembers what the other imagines. I think the theory holds for women, too. The vision of pleasure in the arms of the beloved, or of triumph after great effort, or safety snatched from the hold of peril, or of comfort after long struggle—whether produced by memory or expectation, are or youth, the ache is the same, and so it the vision.
-14- 146-7: Here was a young man who had killed himself, remarkably, to deliver a message to a woman he wanted to remember him. No doubt she does. I certainly do. But the message itself seemed inconsequential, purposely vague. Did he want to be dead forever or only absent from the pain? “I wanted to die” is all it seemed to say clearly. “Oh” is what the rest of us say.
-15- 156: Post mortem caloricity, they taught us in mortuary school, was the name for the way the body warms immediately after death occurs. The cells keep dividing, metabolising, exchanging oxygen and protein, doing their accustomed work. With no exhaust system—breathing, sweating, weeping, farting—the system overheats. The cells shut down. Punch the clock. Call it a day. Then the dead body cools to room temperature, nearly thirty degrees cooler than the rest of us, accounting for one of our most frequently asked questions—why is it cold?
So there is a difference, an important difference, between when we die to our stethoscopes and encephalograms: somatic death; when we die to our nerve ends and molecules: metabolic death…
-16- 158: But those who uphold the state’s rights to make war and execute criminals often decry the right to “Choice” or “Death with Dignity.” Just as those who uphold abortion rights and the right to die turn out in droves against Vietnam, the Gulf War, the lethal injection of a serial killer.
-17- 161: The debate is controlled by the extremes, each side shouting answers and accusations over the heads of the people in between, who are kept from formulating questions by the din of the argument all around them. Each paints the other with a broader brush. Each has an arsenal of names and adjectives to deploy against the other side. No one listens. Everyone screams.
Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships by Temple Grandin
-01- our mouth full” or “Raise your hand in class before speaking.” So too was the initial idea for the book: Talk about some of the unwritten social rules you learned along the way. However, the more immersed one becomes in social situations and social understanding, the more intricate and interwoven are those rules, the less clear-cut they become. We descended into that realm of fuzzy boundaries and more exceptions than rules the more we talked about the book.
-02- imagining,” within a fog of autism so dense that nothing existed beyond the fog. He was a solitary boy, curious only about things he already knew, but wanted to hear repeated. Order and calm lived only within sameness; odd rules came to govern his daily interactions. It was a horrible, frightening, out-of-control world; whatever behaviors gave him even a minuscule degree of reprieve became his lifeline to survival.
-03- own, or something he didn’t understand. Some of these chal- lenges continued into his adult life; not asking for help was per- haps the longest lasting of al
-04- wrong with him, that he was “bad.” He was self-focused, not by choice but by his autism. Managing the fear and anxiety associ- ated with daily functioning was ofte
-05- manifest when neuronal connections that link up the many different parts of the brain fail to hook up. The frontal cor- tex is the most affected area and the back part of the brain, where memories are stored, is usually more normal. They have also found that the brain areas that process emotional signals from the eyes are abnormal. Variability in the parts of the brain that are not wired properly would explain why behaviors and feelings can be so different amo
-06- often depressing and continually anxiety-laden. We offer this book in the hope that people of both cultures- those with autism and neurotypicals alike-can gain a deeper awareness of and appreciation for the other. To do tliat, we can think of no better way than sharing with you
-07- about something over and over again that the kids didn’t really like, one of my fixations. For instance, one of the neighbors had a fake donkey where you’d push the ear down, the tail would go up and a cigarette would emerge from the donkey’s butt. In the ’50s, this was akin to a dirty joke. I thought that donkey was the funniest thing I had ever seen and I kept wanting to talk about it and talk about it and talk about it. The kids eventually got sick of hearing me go on and on, but what was good was that they just told me to stop. Plain and simple:
-08- use she knew me so well, I could try to enjoy them, trusting that when it got to be too much for me, she’d take me out of the situation. I give Mother a lot of credit for her acute understanding of my boundaries and when and how far she could push me.
-09- Cathi Cohen, in her book, Raise Your Child’s Social IQ, offers the following list of characteristics of children with positive and negative self-esteem: Kids with High Self-Esteem Have fairly stable moods Set realistic goals and achieve them Have self-mo tivation and “stick- to-it-ness” Can accept rejection or critical feedback Can say “no” to peers Are realistically aware of their own strengths and weaknesses Kids with Low Self-Esteem Often blame others for their actions Need to be liked by everyone See themselves as losers Are critical of others Get frustrated easily Have trouble accepting responsibility for their actions Make negative comments about themselves Tend to be quitters The “fix it” mentality that seems more prevalent today wasn’t part of my younger years, either. While I did have speech thera- py in elementary school, and would visit a psychiatrist once a mon
-10- online or within a different environment. A colossal amount of energy is needed just to manage the stress and anxiety that builds up every day in this type of environment; it leaves lit- tle left over for academics. And, socializing with teenagers is not a skill I or others will use later in life. I’m not saying everybody with ASD has to be taken out of high school. Actually, I think the lower-functioning kids have an easier time. Their needs are usu- ally more obvious, to both the school
-11- opportunities. And that door led to another, and another, and another. Many people with ASD never seem to grasp this idea; I licy see only one door if they see any at all. I also realized that I ~iccded to “start at the bottom and work up.” That meant doing ~lic things that were delegated to me, even the things I didn’t real- ly lkel that charged up about doing.
-12- or biochemical circuitry is missing-no matter how hard we try, it’s a bridge that may never be built because some of the basic building materials are missing. For others on the spectrum, the building materials that create emotional relatedness are there and it’s just a matter of assembling them into a structural whole that forms that bridge. They are different paths, that’s all, and people on both paths can lead happy, productive lives. Unfortunately, many people on and off the spectrum still characterize one as inferior, or somehow lacking in options over the other. this, I disagree. It is a statement that speaks to a lack of understand- ing of the different way some of our minds work. In some regard, it is more an issue of physiology than psychology,
-13- benchmarks along the way that can gauge whether or not learn- ing is taking place, social awareness can’t be neatly covered by a single
-14- more association-circuits in their cortex so they develop highly complex emotional connections.
-15- he is apt to feel unable to control his own destiny, to affect his future, powerless over his actions. This fosters a sense of help- lessness that drains whatever motivation the person may have to try (or try harder when needed) to be socially engaged. I’ve wit- nessed this in many children who don’t think social skills are “necessary” and in so many of my peers today who have given up because it takes more effort than they are willing to give. There are other Aspie adults who feel the rest of the world is at fault and that responsibility for their social acceptance lies with ever
-16- help them with social skills and social understanding should clearly understand the distinction be tween social func- tioning skills and emotional relatedness. The first is way of acting; the second is a way of feeling. They are very different from one another, and yet seem to be treated as the same within many of the popular social skills training programs that are developed for people with ASD. They also seem to be lumped together when- ever conversation turns to “social skills.” This is a disservice to the autistic population and only further complicates for them what is already a complicated realm of understanding. It also muddies the waters in trying to teach social awareness and social competency to a child on the spectrum. Learning social functioning skills is like learning your role in a play. When I was a little kid, being a child of the ’50s, there was a priority placed on manners and etiquette and knowing how to act appropriately in different social settings. Social skills like sharing, turn-taking, playing with other kids-those things were
-17- Will he miss me when I’m gone?” And, it’s really hard to give them an honest answer, because with some kids, they might end up missing their computer more. Mother talks about this in her book, A Thorn in My Pocket, and how terrible a thought it is for most parents to even entertain. It’s not a statement of the value the child feels for their parent-in many cases it’s simply more biology than it is bonding. My brain scan shows that some emotional circuits between the frontal cortex and the amygdala just aren’t hooked up-circuits that affect my emotions and are tied into my ability to feel love. I experience the emotion of love, but it’s not the same way that most neurotypical people do. Does that mean my love is less valuable than what other peo- ple feel?
-18- of Neurophysiology (see References for citation) described a research study done on the brains of seventeen young men and women who were newly and “madly” in love. The multidiscipli- nary team found support for their two major predictions: (1) early stage, intense romantic love is associated with subcortical reward regions rich with dopamine; and (2) romantic love engages brain systems associated with motivation to acquire a reward. Using functional MRI scans, they discovered love-related neurophysiological systems operating in the brain, and postulat- ed that romantic love may 11ave more to do with motivation, ACT ONE, Scene One reward and “drive” aspects of behavior than it does with emotions or the sex drive. One of the researchers was quoted as saying, “As it turns out, romantic love is probably best characterized as a motivation or goal-oriented state that leads to various specific emotions, such as euphoria or anxiety” The researchers also cited their findings as applicable to the autism population
An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2,ooo Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge by John O’Farrell
-001- Great Moments in British History (and some mediocre ones to pad it out a bit)
AD 60: Boudicca burns down Colchester, St Albans and London. Roman Governor regrets asking her if it’s her ‘funny week’.
1349: ‘The Black Death’ kills two fifths of the population, but homeopaths stand by their natural remedies.
1380s: Chaucer writes The Canterbury Tales. No one checks spelling.
Nov 5, 1605: Guy Fawkes discovered with 36 barrels of gunpowder, some sparklers and an overcooked jacket potato.
1649: Charles I sentenced to be beheaded. Head sewn back on after appeal.
1763: Seven Years War ends bang on time.
3 Sept, 1770: Entire population of England moves from rural bliss to one small tenement building in Manchester.
1789: French Revolution prompts widespread tutting in England.
1805: Nelson dies in determined bid to get statue on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square.
1900: South Africans nearly drive out British Army using only repellent accents.
1918: Germany admit they have lost the ‘First World War’. Some anxiety over their choice of name.
1921: Ireland finally gains independence from Britain ut entire population moves to Kilburn anyway.
1930s: Great Depression. Everyone puts on cloth claps and hangs around on street corners waiting for World War Two.
1940: Winston Churchill sees ‘Prime Minister’ job advertised in the Guardian’s ‘Creative, Marketing and Media’ section.
1941: Hitler denies hubris. Declares war on Russia, America and Jedi Empire.
1944: D-D day. Only time in history the Brits get to the beach before the Germans.
-002- pp17-8: The point is that the way we recount the past is deeply affected by how we feel now; whether our perspective is clouded by fierce religious fervour, a surge of patriotism or three pints of Brakspear’s bitter.
-003- p18: Britain, you know; big island off the coast of Europe, rains a lot.
-004- p22: The land that is now the British Isles had already been occupied and then become uninhabitable again according to the limit of ice sheets. The ice was a mile thick over much of the country. And still all the Geordie girls went out with bare legs.
-005- p23: Strictly speaking, those few thousand who found themselves isolated in these islands were the only original Britons. All the rest—Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, Normans—they were all immigrants. In fact there are one or two Conservative politicians who would still like to see a repatriation policy based upon the narrow criterion.
-006- p24: If members of prehistoric British society were like any other society, then only some of them would have wanted to smash their neighbours’ skulls in so they could steal all their possessions, But other would have cherished and developed the friendship, cooperation and mutual support without which they could not survive. And then once their neighbours’ guard was down, then they would have smashed their skulls in. Then, as now, every member of society would have to battle with his inner caveman. Much of the journey is history is attempting to control the external factors they determine whether we win the battle or not.
-007- [Impartial 0007]