BOOKS: MASTER OF THE ABSOLUTE - Stephen Bayley is a style guru for whom design is never a superficial matter. George Walden finds gems scattered throughout this collection of his writings - General Knowledge, by Stephen Bayley Booth Clibborn Editions - po

BOOKS: MASTER OF THE ABSOLUTE - Stephen Bayley is a style guru for whom design is never a superficial matter. George Walden finds gems scattered throughout this collection of his writings - General Knowledge, by Stephen Bayley Booth Clibborn Editions - po

by GEORGE WALDEN, a former diplomat and politician, now ajournalist and author of The New Elites

Reading the best commentary I have seen on the Tate Modern and the new museum culture the other day (it was, of course, written by an American, Jed Perl, writing in the New Republic) reminded me of how few Brits can write about modernity unselfconsciously, within a historical frame of reference and without the indiscriminate gush towards anything young or new characteristic of the anxious middle-aged, or the puerperal fevers of the born-yesterday style writer. One is Bryan Appleyard of the Sunday Times, another Stephen Bayley. Reading Bayley is an exercise in freedom from cant and condescension and in verbal stylishness.

For Bayley is what is known as a style guru, which means he can animadvert on anything and he duly does, from Coke bottles to Mme de Pompadour and car design to high-flying sex (to judge from Bayley's description of her self-withholding ways, a modern Ms Pompadour would not have been on for that).

His book is an artful compilation of his writings over 25 years - artful because they are grouped not chronologically but by subject, so giving thematic coherence to his pronunciamentoes. Some themes recur, but this is mass modernity and, like Warhol multiples, there can be attraction in repetition.

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