Skip to main content

The Masquerade




* Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge(1892, 1895) Lautrec’s love for caricature is apparent in the figure’s rough and sketchy lines and unprimed background. Balls and café scenes have been adopted by numerous French painters, extending back to the Impressionism period when they became the dominant subject matter. Rarely one fellow French painter, however, presented a wholly endearing scene of people in their indulgence. Manet’s luminous figures belie their unbounded sexuality; Degas’ marvelous performers can hardly hide their exhaustion when off-stage; the revelers in Lautrec’s paintings, as recklessly as they can be, unreservedly trumpet their decadent lifestyle. A phlegmatic insouciance or coolly restrained emotion is not a sentiment that best sums up Lautrec’s works. The light that shines ruthlessly on the woman’s face in At the Moulin Rouge, everything within or without her is exposed, including unnervedness and fear.


A masquerade was taken place in the grand mansion of an old yet wealthy man, who planned the prodigious event merely to appease his raucously lonely soul. Myriads of townsfolk the old man had invited, with their faces ever-shielded by masks unknown whether the veneers can be sheerly fraudulent. The old man was well-aware of the plausible deception, but neither was he too keen on seeing people in their genuine selves. Anything stripping bare left a grating displeasure within him that truly bothered. An unalloyed person always inevitably welcomes with arms outstretched uncensored scrutiny. Multitudes of eyes like pieces of piercing glass, sliding down one’s body with every pore opened, every hair raised. With palpitating heart one waits, until the time the glass no longer dithers, and find a spot to be rooted, and finally to be determined.

The ballroom was walled with mirrors, as appointed by the old man, to enable the partygoers to judge their deceptions. Such design doubtlessly created illusion too, as one guest remarked by whispering to the ear of his dancing partner, that the room was huge yet packed with people ever flocking in to fill the gaps. The music played in the background, hark! did it not sound more like a marching requiem? The opulent chandelier emitted slants of variegated beams, which, with the aids of the aforementioned music generated a giddiness that made the dancers swoon, heads hung out of the shoulders like the final posture of a body under the gibbet. Some people screamed when swirling and flouncing around the ballroom. They were in their own ecstacy which words were ineffable or redundant for description.

The old man judged quietly the roaring event at a side. He himself neither engaged in any one of the dances nor put on a mask, but no one noticed it since rarely one could point out how masks were different from real flesh. The masquerade rendered the old man hard-bitten and resentful, with a fermenting rage he nursed furtively since the entrance of the guests. He at once sashayed into the circle of dances in the fashion of a professional dancer who overheard the waltz playing in his head when he walked. Keeping the action as randomly as possible, the old man tore off the mask of whoever that passed him by. Spates of shriekings and groanings occurred, punctuated by the rhythmic beats of the requiem that spurred the dancers on notwithstanding.

The old man left numerous masks and flesh trailing in his wake, like the seared leaves that suddenly fell. The old man was hardly merciful.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Honore Daumier

“If you shut up truth and bury it under ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”- Émile Zola
Exited Honoré Victorin Daumier, 10 February 1879, in an impoverishment that many of his contemporaries, especially his foes, would have thought was his long overdue retribution- the painter was blind, heavily in debt, and later relegated to a pauper’s grave. His friends, upon visiting his resting place, would, I imagine, see it a chance to admonish their children: “Now that’s a lesson for you cheeky devils whose tongues rattle off things that should better stay unspoken.” But Daumier devoted his life in revealing those “unspoken things.” His lithography ink proved sharper than most writers’ pens. He vented his rage and stigmatised others’ infamy in his satirical and, oftentimes, side-splitting cartoons. The tone was relentlessly acerbic but only because Daumier was exposing truths that, in the time…

Review: Gaslight (1944)

Despite its varied forms or narratives, all Gothic fictions revolve on a fundamental contrast: that between the tenuous comfort of an isolated self and the dangerous fascination of an intrusive otherness. The Victorian is an age characterised by its obsession with the supernatural – poised on the verge of modernity, with scientific advancements like Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species inspired missions to unlock the myths of the natural world, people began to take notice of what lay outside their limited knowledge of things, of anything that is external to the closed domain of humanity. This curiosity for the unknown provoked an appraisal for the known – the immutable social system was revealed as hostile to the cultivation of individual minds, and time-honoured ethics such as that dictating a woman’s role in a traditional domesticity a menace to the preservation of personal integrity.
The negotiation between the old and the new, the internal and the external, is the dominant theme of V…

Review: Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)

Every adversity in life is a test of one's fortitude, the occasion of which, as proved invariably in the past, man is capable of defying destiny, of reversing the inexorable course to which life is doomed to tend. Too often we sympathise with the travails of the dogged, indefatigable fighter, whose hard-on victory we shed tears of relief and admiration, and whose stories and examples we evoke when in need of a boost of morale or motivation, that our notion of heroism has come to be hallowed with a glow of divinity peculiar to those who triumph in their fights. Those who fail – the martyrs who labour for nothing, who die without fulfilling what they die for – they are regarded with no less sympathy, but to recount their stories we averse, refusing to be reminded of what ultimately makes us humans – our inherent and infinite capacity to fail.
To face up to one’s failures, especially with the forlorn hope that such failures can ever be remedied, requires a special kind of courage. Wil…