The Vyne

The approach to the house is through a lime walk leading to a peculiar round summerhouse in red brick surrounded by a period garden filled with flowering lamb’s ears, tradescantias, electric blue delphiniums, and lavender. A black and white cat hides amidst the flowers to avoid visitors. The house faces onto a lake, an oddly Palladian outlook reminiscent of West Wycombe Manor. Conversely, all that Cliveden house reminded me of was Colditz, where the castle is on a steep cliff above the Moldau, just as Cliveden is above the Thames. The gardens are filled with ponds, alongside which Acer and bamboo grow and shelter a Chinese pagoda. Elsewhere, in the midst of the parterre garden, a marble chapel has an interior filled with gold mosaics, even the ceiling. The effect is not so much high church as Greek orthodox.

This is essentially an early romantic response to classical pagan religion ( with the frieze in the great hall corresponding reasonably well to that of the Ara Pacis Augustae), since Chute was a friend of Horace Walpole. Accordingly, the interest in the pagan is part of a broader engagement with cultural others (as with examples of chinoiserie and oriental furniture from his grand tours; the druid statue and Ramses statue follow in the same vein). Accordingly, the altar is actually made of a South East Asian wood, padouk. Walpole and Chute do seem to have made detailed sketches of various buildings for many of their designs but their approach seems to have been to combine differing elements (the house could be called ‘rococco gothic’).

Next to the bricolage of The Vyne Waddesdon Manor has a certain sterility in its purity of style; a French chateau with the interior in the manner of Versailles, a form of decoration that had been anachronistic for the bets part of a century, having been overtaken with neo-classical and gothic architecture. Each room is replete with Chandelabra, gilded panelling, Sevres porcelain, Savonnerie carpets and marquetry furniture by either Boulle or Reisener. The paintings are by Gainsborough or Reynolds. Occasionally, this uniformity is broken up with a mother or pearl mughal table but the effect is rather oppressive. There are two exceptions to this. Firstly, a gallery of Dutch paintings; Ter Borch’s The Duet, de Hooch’s A Game of Skittles or a Van Der Velde maritime painting. There’s also an odd gallery of fairytale paintings by Leon Bakst, better known for stage designs for Diaghilev. Secondly, the gilded aviary, filled with Rothschild Mynahs, Satyr Tragopan, Spreo starlings and Grey Peacock Pheasants. The
grounds also have a rather nice glade filled with tree ferns.

Morrissey’s new album ‘You are the Quarry’ has been widely touted (largely by one S Morrissey) as his best album since The Smiths. While at least three of his previous albums strike as being better qualified for that accolade (the music is a little too leaden for my liking), there’s little doubt that has more than a few surprises here; most obviously a certain air of glasnost on such topics as race and sexuality, where his lyrics on the former had previously led to accusations of racism and the latter to accusations of being a furtive closet case. That said, the most striking aspect is the oddly mid-atlantic character of the album. On the one hand, there are songs about gangsters that seem a perfect reprise of his earlier Krays obsession, while another extolls an English heritage without Cromwell or the Royal family. Conversely, the opening song is about his ambivalent attitudes to America while Los Angeles is as likely to be the setting for the other songs as Manchester.

Fritz Lang’s Dr Mabuse represents a traditional trope within fiction; that of the criminal, like Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, or Doyle’s Moriarty, that comes to threaten the stability of the body politic. However, the ambiguity is that whereas Rohmer creates a convenient cultural other, Mabuse is much more of a floating signifier; for example, he also represents a form of metaphysical corruption, more in the vein of Stevenson’s Hyde or DuMaurier’s Svengali. Accordingly, both of the Mabuse films do not sit within traditional genres; they are as grimly realistic as The Maltese Falcon but with the same themes of the supernatural and the insane as Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari.

Although Mabuse lacks the Brechtian theme seen in M where criminality emerges as an intrinsic part of civil society, the film is in many ways amenable to a Marxist interpretation since Mabuse’s victims are all the decadent rich. Mabuse’s games become a means of alleviating the anomie inherent in capitalism, as much as Countess Told’s trips to the gambling dens. Equally, it’s amenable to Rosa Luxemburg’s description of capitalism in The Accumulation of Capital as "greed for surplus value, enhanced by competition, and the automatic effects of capitalist exploitation," where social instability is an inherent aspect of capitalism. Another aspect of the films is technology (as with Heidegger’s Question Concerning Technology), where the villain in each case is a scientist (not to mention the nightmare sequence towards the end of Dr Mabuse: Der Spieler). However, the film can equally be interpreted in other ways, other than it’s depiction of Mabuse’s kampf (i.e. a critique of Nazi demagoguery); in particular, the undermining of law and authority by criminal conspiracy represented a key theme in Nazi propaganda, where Wenk and Lohman are able to resist this through force of will, e.g. where Hitler saw mob rule as part of the Marxist "endeavour to eliminate the dominant significance of personality in every sphere of human life and replace it by the numerical power of the masses." Lang’s films use conventional genre structures to put forward more subversive ideas about crime, capital and society.

JG Ballard’s Millennium People presents a similar prospect to many Ballard novels where rebellion ("an entire professional caste was rejecting everything it had worked so hard to secure.") is both a rejection of society and a product of it, as much as sexual tourism ("thrill seekers with a taste for random violence.. a deep need for meaningless action, the more violent the better"), something analogous to a hitherto repressed Freudian drive. The difference from previous Ballard novels lies in the notion of a middle-class revolution and its obvious absurdity, so that the revolution becomes a purely social matter ("amateur and childish but then the middle classes are amateur and childish" – normally Ballard concerns himself with the liminal space between pornography and technology) with docility being so inherent that any repression ceases to be evident; "we’re trying to rescue them from heaven.. I want to be brainwashed." Not only this, but the novel suggests that any such rebellion is effectively assimilated, as with Kay Churchill becoming a TV presenter (not dissimilar to the one killed by Gould); "far from being on the fringe, these groups were now part of the country’s civic traditions."

Advertisements