Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Charm and Duplicity, Like a Talking Snake

I was in a meeting with a man. He said that he trades in charm and duplicity. He said this allows him to recognize it when others do it. Actually, he said that all of us in the arts work in charm and duplicity. Really? I'm not so sure.
I've got my eyes on you, mister.
Do not fuck with me.

I would like to interrogate the origins of that phrase, but the internet is not yielding. says
Charm: enchantment, allure, talisman 
Duplicity: deception, cunning, exhibition of disloyalty

The Online Etymology Dictionary says:  
Charm (verb): c.1300, "to recite or cast a magic spell," Related: Charmed; charming. 

Duplicity: early 15c., being "double" in one's conduct (Gk. diploos "treacherous, double-minded," lit. "twofold, double.")

Charms on a bracelet
An excerpt from a review of the film "There Will Be Blood" says:

"Daniel Day-Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar 2007 for this role as Daniel Plainview, a hardworking prospector who exploits the turn-of-the-century American oil rush by buying drilling lands from uninformed homesteaders, convincing them of his good intent for their properties with a charm and duplicity like the talking snake from the King James bible, ultimately elevating himself to power so absolute that it teetered on the edge of madness."
Moral of the story: do not share fruit.

Is the snake in the King James bible the source of this phrase?
Hello, people: in the bible the snake is the devil.
You remember that woman positive story about talking to animals, eating an apple, and then telling a man about it, that has plagued us for so long? What was the moral of the story? Don't talk to men? Don't eat and tell men about it? Don't share food with men? Aw, so many messages. They should learn to stay on point.

If you start to look, you find this phrase used everywhere for shady fellows, liars, spies, evil geniuses, that sort of thing. But where did it come from? Which Dostoyevsky novel?

Spies = duplicity
No charm. No double talk. Or I'll use this handy megaphone.
(Hey: Are you in love with this lady? Her name is Omahyra. Google it.
Well, I can only take this man on his word.

I will proceed as though he is charming and duplicitous.

I'll sleep with one eye open.

And if he brings out any shiny objects, I'll make a lot of noise.


  1. I don't really get it? Why would he attribute those characteristics to artists?

    Maybe he was employing some backwards liberal logic of commodity fetishism whereby one must rely on "charm and duplicity" in the same way Daniel Plainview does to prospect and exploit "uninformed" "art enthusiasts". They aren't just selling art, they are selling the culture of art.

  2. As you say, it is a backward liberal or medieval logic that he's using. I see it as less a comment about art, and more about how he conducts himself and his work. He's telling me that no one can trust him (the uninformed and beyond).

    It seems to be a misplacement of image for artifice. Image is a thing, or a way of experiencing a thing. It may or may not be exclusively surface, but the point is that it is actually the image of a thing, or a thing in image form. On the other hand, artifice implies a false representation: so that is when a thing is inaccurately represented by a particular image.

    He conducts himself in artifice. I'm not sure if he meant to imply that all who deal in art also conduct themselves in the same way. Even though we deal primarily in images, *they* do not need to be artifice, and when dealing with these images, *we* do not need to go down that road in our conduct. For better or worse, though, it's never just about art, it's always also about the culture of art.