Mona Lisa’s Moustache: Making Sense of a Dissolving World
After spending almost ten years writing Plato Prehistorian, I cleansed my palate, so to speak, with a complete departure from archaeology and wrote a book about the ways in which the dissolution of western culture is reflected in postmodern art. Mona Lisa’s Moustache was published in 2001, shortly before 9/11, with the subtitle Making Sense of a Dissolving World.
Our cultural forms are now even more dissolute, and although a few aspects of the original book may seem dated, its essential premise holds true. In the one hundred years since Marcel Duchamp drew a moustache on a copy of the Mona Lisa, the dissolution of culture has intensified to the point that there is no longer an absolute, a “proper” form, anywhere. This generalized breakdown is evident in social and moral codes, in personal relationships, in politics and economics, in literature, music, dance, painting, and architecture, in our concepts of reality itself.
Is there any sense to be made of this seeming chaos? And if so, can any single theory adequately account for all aspects of the phenomenon? Physicists and mathematicians have informed us that reality is irreducibly complex and plural, unable to be exhausted by any one system of description. Following their lead, the reader is invited to explore several different ways of looking at the reality of dissolving forms, seeing it as the result of (1) global consumer capitalism, (2) environmental deterioration, (3) the end of a cycle of time, (4) the beginning of a new cycle, (5) a shift in the evolution of human consciousness, and finally, seeing the dissolution of form as (6) a cause for celebration.
Each of these six perspectives is theoretically “correct” in its ability to explain the breakdown, and each can be supported by the work of twentieth century artists. Readers are asked to forego the impulse to choose which view they believe to be true and are encouraged instead to practice the simultaneous holding of multiple perspectives. Like the Cubist painters of the early twentieth century, who were among the first to recognize the error in a single point of view, I have tried to portray our subject from all sides in hopes of capturing it whole.
“. . . a divine read for divining our future.”
“With great concision and accuracy, Mary Settegast describes our times even as she sets out several alternative explanations for what is causing them. . . . Mona Lisa’s Moustache is a solid and valuable little book. I believe that most readers won’t be able to see their world in the same way after they’ve read it.”
— John Briggs, author of Fractals: The Patterns of Chaos
“. . . a lucid gem of a book. . . . Her wisdom comes highly recommended.”
— Suzi Gablik, author of The Reenchantment of Art