“Manet” (Bourdieu, 2017) synopsis, with my own extended analysis.
Emerging from a bourgeois background, Manet was the primary exponent of France’s bourgeois symbolic revolution against the state-sponsored art academy just after the Crimean War peak of Napoleon III’s modernizing empire. Manet had all the cultural capital of his class background and state-sponsored training, and he used it to create more economically-efficient painting techniques and a subject matter that better fit a stronger businessmen’s interior decoration market.
Manet’s subject matter tended to to deviate from the imperial-rivalry signfications of classical subject matter that the Salon academy reproduced–particularly in Manet’s cheeky play with the symbolic boundaries of sexuality. A consumer public of “the (bourgeois) people” supported Manet’s rebellion, a symbolic blow for absolutist state-supported antistatism. After all, isn’t antistatist symbology the most radical revolution imaginable, from within the bourgeois interest?
As well as flat, contextless scenes of the new urban life, Manet painted a couple scenes from the collapse of that French Empire, including the Execution of Emperor Maximilian (when Mexico defeated Imperial France) and a sketch of the Barricade (the restoration of–the 3rd–French Republic).
But in Manet’s communication with his friend Zola, it is clear that Manet regretted the return of democracy, which he perceived as the ascendance of brutes–just as he had treated the French imperial state’s art academy functionally as a contrasting background wall for the display of his work, and morally as a vehicle of conformist oppression. Manet and bourgeois aesthetics flourished in the pure and defiant urban bourgeois interstice that inegalitarian late-absolutist imperialism created.
It was clear that Manet’s symbolic revolution, “which interprets nature with a gentle brutality” (Zola) was the product of the final absolutists’ modernization campaigns, and its particular beneficiary, the urban bourgeois world those reforms established in a few European metropoles.
The rarified, charming, naughty, ingratiating, and playful way of life that finally found footing and new expression was the product of an imperial, late absolutist–including Napoleon III, Bismarck, the dying Austrian and Ottoman Empires, the continuing Anglo-led repression of Russian and Egyptian development–reaction against and management of democratic Enlightenment, an orchestration to take the Enlightenment’s ideas and implement them, with economic liberalization but without democracy.
That island of urban French life, with its luminous, ginger cast of well-dressed bourgeois and naked servants, is what Manet valued. That is the worldly “peace” condition that the romantic antidemocratic bourgeoisie values, because it has created for them a little private topos of sexualized play and bourgeois decisionism, an affirming, “universal” collective experience of transitory symbolic structural subversion, complementing the enabling, institutionalized elite decisionism of (democracy-conditioned) conservativism, and substituting for the painful if also transitory universal decisionism of democratic revolution. Exclusive, ephemeral, nubile, tragic beauty is what romantics aestheticize.
The French symbolicists’ and the White Austrian managers’ precious conditions were the epitome of combustible. What built that European modernized-metropole bourgeois world, loved and represented by Manet and other French aesthete beneficiaries of late absolutist-imperialism, also must devolve from Crimean War unto the loss against Mexico and the Franco-Prussian War loss, then onto WWI and WWII, the rolling implosion/explosion of rearguard late absolutism.
…Leaving a gilded cherry, a bourgeois world poised to dominate, its expendable ally democracy having been discreetly managed away.
The Austrian emigres were court dregs, fueled by the Excellent urban experience, the bourgeois decisionism of that romantic metropole moment within an inegalitarian, rearguard, fast-decaying imperial mobilization, a mobilization that co-opted the ideas of the democratic Enlightenment it repressed, and then imploded in imperial war, before exploding into a thousand pointed shards finally in WWI.
The Austrian Whites blamed the socialists for the end, but the Red Vienna socialists came to build in the interwar period, long after the Austrian empire was collapsing and even after the empire died. That is what Atlantic Anglo-America’s capitalists imported upon us: The Austrian courtiers of inegalitarianism’s thievery, brutality, dishonesty, and failure. Bolstering the diffused institutions of slavery and the spatialized institutions of colonial conquest, inegalitarian romanticism fuses with inegalitarian pragmatism in the US.
Haven’t romantic bourgeois aesthetics institutionalized pre-1870s imperial absolutism’s urban bourgeois metropole ideal as the ruling mystification of capitalist order in the Anglosphere and Atlantic Europe?
The key to romantic-pragmatic inegalitarianism is never giving credit where credit is due. To keep up, and to transform into meritocratic ideology, the instrumentalist Burkean faith that the elite are the only excellence possible in this world, while the vast servant class embodies all of humanity’s faults, we have to pretend that Napoleon III did not repress democracy and co-opt democrats’ ideas, but rather invented the modernizations wholecloth in the mid 19th century–and invented them in his free time on the side, while he stormed Europe and the world to subjugate and expropriate its wealth, for capitalist modernization.