Archive | February 14, 2010

All Your Mind Are Belong To Her

So law prof Karin Calvo-Goller writes a book with the catchy title Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court: ICTY and ICTR Precedents; and fellow law prof Thomas Weigend pens what seems to me a rather mildly negative review.

Why doesn't Karin Calvo-Goller want to let you read anything critical of her book?

Why doesn't Karin Calvo-Goller want to let you read anything critical of her book?

Whereupon Calvo-Goller reacts by writing to journal editor (and likewise law prof) Joseph Weiler demanding that he suppress the review, on the grounds that it might have a negative impact on her “professional reputation and academic promotion.” When Weiler very politely declines (at the same time patiently explaining some of her misinterpretations of the review), she drags him into court and has him charged with criminal libel. (CHT Der Leiter. Whether similar charges are being brought against Weigend as well is unclear.)

Given that Calvo-Goller’s actions threaten to injure her reputation by making her look like an idiot and a fascistic jerk, I am hereby charging her with criminal libel against herself.

Mr. Orchardson, I’m Ready For My Close-up

This painting, Quiller Orchardson’s 1882 Voltaire (which I saw in Edinburgh’s National Gallery on my 2006 trip), is one of my favourites; but I wouldn’t blame you for wondering why, for this rather indistinct print – the best one I could find online – scarcely does it justice. (Click to see it slightly larger.)

VOLTAIRE by William Quiller Orchadson

The painting illustrates the following famous anecdote:

One night at the Opéra the Chevalier de Rohan-Chabot, of the famous and powerful family of the Rohans, a man of forty-three, quarrelsome, blustering, whose reputation for courage left something to be desired, began to taunt the poet upon his birth …. To which the retort came quickly, “Whatever my name may be, I know how to preserve the honour of it.” The Chevalier muttered something and went off, but the incident was not ended. Voltaire had let his high spirits and his sharp tongue carry him too far, and he was to pay the penalty. …

Voltaire, dining at the Duc de Sully’s, where, we are told, he was on the footing of a son of the house, received a message that he was wanted outside in the street. He went out, was seized by a gang of lackeys, and beaten before the eyes of Rohan, who directed operations from a cab. …

The sequel is known to everyone: how Voltaire rushed back, dishevelled and agonised, into Sully’s dining-room, how he poured out his story in an agitated flood of words, and how that high-born company, with whom he had been living up to that moment on terms of the closest intimacy, now only displayed the signs of a frigid indifference. The caste-feeling had suddenly asserted itself. Poets, no doubt, were all very well in their way, but really, if they began squabbling with noblemen, what could they expect?

There’s more to the story. When Rohan subsequently learned that Voltaire was practicing his fencing, he heroically arranged to have Voltaire arrested and exiled without trial – an event that resulted in one of the classics of the Enlightenment, Voltaire’s Letters from England, so it was all worth it from our point of view, if not perhaps from Voltaire’s.

This painting depicts the moment when Voltaire (right) has just been beaten up by Rohan’s thugs outside and is asking his patron and supposed friend the Duc de Sully (slumped passively in his chair, left) and his aristocratic associates to bear witness on his behalf, only to be met with their indifference and contempt. One might call it Voltaire’s moment of radicalisation.

What you can’t see in this reproduction is the fiery indignation in Voltaire’s face: not Voltaire the courtier but Voltaire the fighter. That’s the most notable feature of the painting when one sees it in person, and it’s just completely invisible here; only a close-up could really convey the proper effect that makes it my favourite Voltaire portrait.

So if you’re in Edinburgh, I recommend a visit; as I recall, it was on the basement level, down the left-hand ramp as one enters.

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