Helprin defends kitsch


Mark Helprin defends kitsch:

Marshall, “watched as the teacher formed a collection of students welded together against what they had been told was contemptible. But what then of the Irish woman and her grandchild Marshall had seen on Dyckman Street in upper Manhattan…The woman was great and fat and must have weighed 300 pounds. Her coat fit her like a tarpaulin slung over a Volkswagen. She had gum shoes and striped socks, a kerchief was drawn over her head, and she wore alabaster-colored glasses with thick lenses. The material of her coat was so cheap Marshall could see the cold traveling through it. And her grandson of three or four was bundled in thin single-stitched cloth…Marshall passed them as they stood in front of a religious articles store, its window crammed with garish unholy implements. The grandmother held the child’s hand and pointed to one of the plaster castings, saying, ‘Look. Isn’t it beautiful? A beautiful statue. Beautiful.’    What would his classmates and the teacher have said about that? By absolute standards it was indefensible, and yet evne if the love which the woman had for the plaster statue were formulaic, automatic, and artificial, it was all she had, and because of that the indefensible gained a great power and came up behind arguments assembled against it. It was all she had, and she approached it with dignity and love, and as the little boy’s hand stroked the cold window, learning the lines of an object of beauty, Marshall felt a strong bond” (Refiner’s Fire, 97).

 

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