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16 JANUARY 2013

Call to Order: the subordination of the matter to the light of the form

"The French poet and filmmaker, Jean Cocteau, is usually given the credit for the title by which the neoclassical revival of the 1920′s and early 1930′s is known. Le Rappel a l'ordre or the Call to Order summoned the civilized world to its senses. These were the very organs, you will recall, that had been ripped away by a shell fragment in Dix's Skin Graft.

This 'call to order' actually had its roots in French wartime propaganda. The virtues of France's Latin–based civilization were ranged against the Teutonic brutalism of the Germans. Before the war, néoclassicisme had languished like a discarded stage prop. In 1918, with the 'Huns' surging for a second time toward the gates of Paris, Cocteau and others summoned the cultural icons of Greece and Rome to join the Allied ranks. That year, Cocteau published a book, Le Coq et l'Arlequin, which he revised and renamed in 1924 as Le Rappel a l'ordre. The message was the same, without the 'us versus them' jingoism of the war: civilization must look to its ancient past to regain its bearings and enhance its vitality.

Cocteau's thesis found an appreciative audience in many circles, including the United States. According to French writer Jacques Maritain, 'what makes the purity of the true classic is … a subordination of the matter to the light of the form.' The discipline and dedication of the artist would admit only the essential elements of art into the work being created, excluding anything that would 'debauch' the senses of the viewer."

(Ed Voves, 4 October 2010)


1920s19241930s • ancient past • brutalismcall to orderchaos and classicism • civilized world • classical formcreative fundamentalism • cultural icons • debauch • enhance vitality • essential elements of artessentialismGermanGreek • Jacques Maritain • Jean Cocteaujingoism • light of the form • neoclassical • neoclassical revivalneoclassicism • neoclassicisme • nostalgiapurity • regain bearings • return to order • revival • Romanromanticism • senses of the viewer • Teutonic • Teutons • true classic • us versus them • wartime • wartime propaganda • World War I


Simon Perkins

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