by Peter Leight
Even in Rembrandt’s portraits,
they don’t look like a ruling class,
and their wives are no less pronounced, prizing money not blood, merit
rather than patronage, showcasing girth as though business
set a standard of living
they merely adhered to.
Rembrandt put them in chairs, money conversing with beauty, but they’re standing (in the commercial sense) as exponents of the solvent,
if common, misconception,
that with their lumps, muffs, stomach folds,
pendant chins, unfinished outer layers, and the predilection
for airless, well-choreographed virtue one sees revealed
in their business-like poses they are merely ordinary and unremarkable citizens.
Unlike the Celts, whose heroes
spent time in fields, they do their peril-averting and giant-killing in Amsterdam’s
downtown, their obstacle-bypass
in numbered accounts that Calvin’s Geneva conferred, and conform
in the obvious ways.
Having found that the means justifies the means, and that persons are
a sort of ingenuous social money, they mask their puissance and assume a cheapness that ensures acceptability, creating a perceptual
market in sternness, plainness, and flatness.
And looked at from the
throneless power angle, business is beautiful indeed
(this is also the power to say what is beautiful,—though
sandwiched between scavengers
and black detectives, business men
manage to avoid both legwork and overexposure. Preferring
a little of everything to much of less, a fashion
the Chinese dispensed with through
a standardization of wants,
business has come to serve as a substitute for inspiration,
which is too slow to pay, and supplies us with Rembrandts
that reproduce their merchants
(without brush strokes) for home viewing.
They don’t look like rulers, but with their funds, their
rents, and unrelenting wives, they may be entitled to their own way of looking.
Paris Review: Issue no. 73 (Spring–Summer 1978)