In late October in the park the autumn’s faults begin to show: the houses suddenly go stark beyond a thinning poplar row; the edges of the leaves go brown on every chestnut tree in town.
The honking birds go south again where I have gone in better times; the hardy ones, perhaps, remain to nestle in the snowy pines. I think of one bold, raucous bird whose wintry song I’ve often heard.
I live among so many things that flash and fade, that come and go. One never knows what season brings relief and which will merely show how difficult it is to span a life, given the Fall of Man.
The old ones dawdle on a bench, and young ones drool into their bibs; an idle boffer, quite a mensch, moves fast among the crowd with fibs. A painted lady hangs upon his word as if his sword was drawn.
Among so many falling fast I sometimes wonder why I care; the first, as ever, shall be last; the last are always hard to bear. I never know if I should stay to see what ails the livelong day.
I never quite know how to ask why some men wear bright, silver wings while others, equal to the task, must play the role of underlings. “It’s what you know, not who,” they swore. I should have known what to ignore.
I started early, did my bit for freedom and the right to pray. I leaned a little on my wit, and learned the sort of thing to say, yet here I am, unsatisfied and certain all my elders lied.
A middle man in middle way between the darkness and the dark, the seasons have tremendous sway: I change like chestnuts in the park. Come winter, I’ll be branches, bones; come spring, a wetness over stones.
A longer-term, skeptical position held by this blog: Attaching one’s sentiments and beliefs to certain ideological doctrines (Marxism, Socialism, Communism), leads toward violent revolution.
Many (H)istorical truth and knowledge claims, with an Enlightened elite claiming to possess knowledge of (M)an’s ends, have proven disastrous.
Attaching one’s sentiments and beliefs to socially liberal political ideals, claiming the mantle of moral progress (environmentalism, feminism, identitarianism, racism/non-racism), leads toward competing political factions. Politics is, by its nature, coalitional and factional.
Universal truth and knowledge claims, coming from the (S)ciences and Social (S)ciences, or simply from many political idealists, unite some and divide others.
This can often lead to pretty bad outcomes for poor folks.
Dear Reader, what am I missing?
Here’s Theodore Dalrymple on using the social sciences as imprimatur, turning George Floyd into something like a grafitti saint. There’s always an ‘expert’ to be found, ready to justify the activist cause as virtuous and ‘normative’, reagrdless of the actual person and events.
‘Blood does not boil without moral judgment, whether right or wrong. In other words, the passage I have quoted about prejudice and stigma is at best self-delusion; the author, unintentionally no doubt, for he is probably a kindly and well-intentioned man, is a corrupter of morals.
He presents himself as a man free of prejudice, but no one is, could or should be, free of prejudice. He clearly has a prejudice himself against prejudice and stigma, as if these were wholly bad and never good; but surely the most cursory self-examination would demonstrate to him that this is not so. One of the reasons one tries to be good, for example, is to avoid the stigma of being bad, and one avoids such stigma because man is a social creature. No one is a Kantian saint, pursuing the good only for its own sake, and if we met such a saint, he would not be very attractive. It is unexamined and rigid prejudice and stigma, impermeable to all evidence and human feeling, that are bad.’
Apparently graffiti art does have a price, and it may be much more than $$$:
Ruling that graffiti — a typically transient form of art — was of sufficient stature to be protected by the law, a federal judge in Brooklyn awarded a judgment of $6.7 million on Monday to 21 graffiti artists whose works were destroyed in 2013 at the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens.
Would you be willing to undermine property-rights and the rule-of-law?
A NY Times beat reporter shared in the suffering of those graffiti artists whose 5pointz canvas was whitewashed in preparation for demolition by owner Jerry Wolkoff.
‘One street artist, who would give his name only as Just, had at least two works painted over. He spent hours early Tuesday gazing at the whitewashed buildings, leaning against a red-brick wall across the street. Then he bought himself a tall glass of beer, which he sipped slowly from a brown paper bag.
“Heartbreaking,” he said. “This is not just about graffiti — it’s about the unity of people who met here from all over the world.” He paused and took a drink. “That’s what really hurts.”
Once the real-estate market began heating-up in NYC, Wolkoff decided to whitewash his building overnight..
Every bit of graffiti scrawled there over 40-years was at his discretion.
Personally, I don’t take pleasure in the erasing of people’s hard work and creativity, nor in the breaking-up of a graffiti-collective which traveled far and wide to get to 5pointz, nor even in the iconic stature they gave the place, but David Thompson sums it up pretty well:
‘The moral of the story, gentlemen, is buy your own canvas’
The pathos in the Times article stops short of a familiar ‘art will unite all races, classes, & genders,’ type of Leftist political ideology.
I”m getting a sense that even should graffiti become a longer-lasting vehicle for artistic expression, beyond the street, it likely began for many non-taggers possibly in affect, driven by ideology, or the boredom and rebellion of the suburbs and people looking for some meaning in their lives.
What are they overlooking? What are they looking for? What do the people looking at the work might think they’re looking at?
Or perhaps it would have been better to celebrate the way street-culture and graffiti has interacted with money and market forces through tourism. 5pointz arguably was a tourism draw.
From The Times piece:
‘Though street art is meant to be temporary, 5Pointz became known as a graffiti museum. And the medium itself, once considered a symbol of urban unraveling, became a sought after gallery-worthy commodity, with work from street artists like Banksy commanding millions of dollars. Which is one of the reasons the whitewashing of 5Pointz’s walls was greeted with such vociferous dismay. “What?! What did they do?!” cried a tour guide named Hans Von Rittern, as he raced out of a tour bus early Tuesday, his arms wide, his face crumpling as soon as he caught sight of Ms. Flaguel. They embraced tightly and wept.’
I can think of some possible messages being sent by the law:
–You don’t have to work and own something to have ownership in it (normalizing a collectivism which rejects the property-rights of others…thus your property rights as well…for what’s to stop the next guy from tagging over your tag?). Someone else owns all this building anyways, so screw him, and screw the guy who came before me too.
–The value of artistic creation is yet again associated with money in the modern world (partially out of guilt, I suspect), and not so much with self-expression, technique, craft, freedom, and moments which can elevate and expand, offering meaning within a process.
–The criminality associated with graffiti is also tactily rewarded/overlooked by a court of law (there are real victims to the kinds of activity that can accompany tagging). I would much rather have lawmakers and law enforcers hold a simple line, rather than set the wrong incentives.
It can’t have been a good day for those who lost something. It’s hard out there.
Here’s a video:
More broadly, romanticizing the logic of the street, and taggers, comes with its own risks. Celebrate the spirit of creative lawlessness and turf warfare with the full acceptance that there ain’t much law involved. I’m sure 5pointz served as an escape, and a positive environment for many, but all the other things going on in these neighborhoods aren’t so uplifting, hence, it’s importance.
God has a brown voice, as soft and full as beer. Eleanor, who is more beautiful than my mother, is standing in her kitchen talking and I am breathing in my cigarettes like poison. She stands in her lemon-colored sun dress motioning to God with her wet hands glossy from the washing of egg plates. She tells him! She tells him like a drunk who doesn’t need to see to talk. It’s casual but friendly. God is as close as the ceiling.
Though no one can ever know, I don’t think he has a face. He had a face when I was six and a half. Now he is large, covering up the sky like a great resting jellyfish. When I was eight I thought the dead people stayed up there like blimps. Now my chair is as hard as a scarecrow and outside the summer flies sing like a choir. Eleanor, before he leaves tell him Oh Eleanor, Eleanor, tell him before death uses you up.
The trees are in their autumn beauty, The woodland paths are dry, Under the October twilight the water Mirrors a still sky; Upon the brimming water among the stones Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me Since I first made my count; I saw, before I had well finished, All suddenly mount And scatter wheeling in great broken rings Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, And now my heart is sore. All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, The first time on this shore, The bell-beat of their wings above my head, Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover, They paddle in the cold Companionable streams or climb the air; Their hearts have not grown old; Passion or conquest, wander where they will, Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water, Mysterious, beautiful; Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day To find they have flown away?
Andrew Sullivan and Antonio Garcia Martinez have a discussion (Judaism vs Christianity, time and distance shortening technologies, the darkness potentially coming as we dissolve our common, civic bonds).
Surely you trust the people in the Federal Government?
Here’s James Lindsay on the ideologies and ideologues filling many gaps within our institutions. The Humanities is the education where you can actually learn about your own human nature through dialog with the great voices of the past.
It’d be nice if such a defense weren’t necessary, but it is.
Alas, The New Yorker.
Don’t think the postmodern void and the search for meaning won’t suck on your legs as the tide goes out.
It’s okay to like the long-form stuff, high-quality cover art and criticism but…
…you will increasingly find reference to political violence, narrow true-belief and a rigid, cloying moralism. The logic was there, all along, beneath the human rights universalism, secular liberal idealism and profound moral concern for the ‘culture.’
The radicals haven’t changed all that much, but here’s one major difference: The new rules involve mainstreaming political violence and blaming your political enemies for it.
‘One study suggests that two-thirds of Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four who were treated in emergency rooms suffered from injuries inflicted by police and security guards, about as many people as the number of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles.’
– Jill Lepore, New Yorker
Perry on Lepore’s piece:
This in a 5,000 word feature on the history of policing in the United States, which draws a link between the early role of police in suppressing slave rebellions, and police killings of Black Americans in the twenty first century.
‘We know that political bias warps cognition, sometimes catastrophically, and this is, I think, an example of that in action. Lepore read Feldman’s research and she misunderstood part of it, despite being an exceptionally intelligent person. Like many other Left-leaning Democrats, she is convinced that police brutality is a huge, under-acknowledged problem in the United States, and she therefore jumped to the conclusion that this wildly inflated ‘two-thirds’ figure was plausible.’
Previous links on this site from The New Yorker:
Our sacred National Parks and EPA regions, uniting all races, classes, genders, and species in a non-corporate, environmental utopia, are being despoiled by the dirty masses:
Carefully balanced rock towers make a pretty picture, but the proliferation of cairns, fuelled by social media, has negative consequences for the environment. https://t.co/q4BGmJtAHC
‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’
Not the ‘right’ kind of emptiness for Richard Brody, at The New Yorker, in Todd Phillips’ ‘The Joker.’
‘“Joker” is an intensely racialized movie, a drama awash in racial iconography that is so prevalent in the film, so provocative, and so unexamined as to be bewildering.’
Brody’s review is as much about historical events (The Central Park Five), and moral judgments surrounding these historical events (racist and nothing else, Trump is horrible) as it is about the movie.
Basic plot, aesthetics, and stylized choices are kind of what I’m after in a movie review, with some of the reviewer’s own expertise and respect for the reader’s intelligence thrown-in (should I see this movie?).
The Boston Evening Transcript
The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.
— When evening quickens faintly in the street, Wakening the appetites of life in some And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript, I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld, If the street were time and he at the end of the street, And I say, “Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.”
‘There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”
Such politicization can make for bad stewardship of the arts, certainly.
Perhaps New Yorker features are increasingly flogged to maintain readership in a competitive marketplace, or are being put to use for other purposes, like reaffirming political ideology and identities to signal the right beliefs and in-group/out-group loyalties. Many of the liberal pieties can be found on display at the New Yorker.
***Who do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?
Or will this simply take care of itself?
As posted: Maybe some deeper currents from Romanticism to Modernism to Postmodernism are worth thinking about. As I see things, many people who care deeply about the avant-garde also can bind themselves to ever narrower political and ideological commitments.
The journey of The Western Self bears proper care.
According to some folks at The New Yorker magazine, the only answer to injustice is radical and revolutionary equality.
To be fair, the logic embedded within much radical chic usually reveals itself to be cool at first, the same old murderously bad doctrinaire utopianism a little later on:
‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’
My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.
On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.
Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams. The radical pose will be with us for a while.
Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just is their day in the barrel.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.
You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.
There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.
Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:
“I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”
Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?
In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?
As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read. It’s all just an author’s “stuff.” Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:
Addition: Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.
‘I was struck by the parallels between the furious debates among artists in the early years of the revolution and those that raged during the Depression about the “correct” way to paint and the role of art in society—the assumption being that an indubitably correct answer was there to be found, as if there could not be many mansions in art, as if appreciation of one style automatically precluded admiration for another. The debates were highly ideological: in the Russian case, about what activity truly served the revolution and the proletariat (itself an abstraction, very different from workers’ actual lives); and in the American case, about what activity was truly American.’
To be flippant, as previously posted on this site: A little piece I like to call ‘Stalin’s Fingers’ in Seattle. Comic and graphic art may be taking up some of the muscularity of socialist realism and public-works solidarity.
You might have noticed those tiles already look a little drab and dated, even though construction only finished a few years ago.
More here on the piece (apologies to all comic/graphic artists ahead of time, for not portraying your craft with as much fidelity as it probably deserves).
Our muraliste is a comic/graphic artist tapped to make signs and symbols for all the Community:
‘Forney, originally from Philadelphia…landedthe light rail station gig back in 2008 after submitting a series of paintings of hands in provocative positions to Sound Transit — paintings which had originally been featured in the 2007 Seattle Erotic Art Festival. The series was called Big Fuckin’ Hands.’
Get it? They’re hands, and they’re…well…you know.
In my view, the liberation doctrines tend to flirt with sexualized and over-sexualized representations in art. Often, this is true because liberationists haven’t really thought that deeply about sex, love, and human vulnerability beyond their ideological framework; from within the childish spirit of rebellion. This is true especially in relation to political authority. Should such liberationists actually gain political and/or regulatory power, watch out.
‘In a wide-ranging and candid interview with New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio casually noted that the “way our legal system is structured to favor private property” provokes his “anger, which is visceral.”
De Blasio likely places certain ideals (‘community,’ equality, and cooled revolutionary spirit) above private property, free enterprise, and individual liberty, even as he’s collecting the wealth from the successes of NYC finance, trade, property taxes, and tourism.
‘Bill de Blasio, then 26, went to Nicaragua to help distribute food and medicine in the middle of a war between left and right. But he returned with something else entirely: a vision of the possibilities of an unfettered leftist government.
‘His activism did not stop. In the cramped Lower Manhattan headquarters of the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York, where he volunteered, Mr. de Blasio learned to cause a stir. He and a ragtag team of peace activists, Democrats, Marxists and anarchists attempted to bring attention to a Central American cause that, after the Sandinistas lost power in a 1990 election, was fading from public view. “The Nicaraguan struggle is our struggle,” said a poster designed by the group’
Guilt and shame are the primary teaching tools of the old religion and the new, woke religion. If you don’t care, no one can make you care. This leaves many sociopaths with competitive advantage. For the rest of us, being an asshole to the ones you love and with whom you deal isn’t a laudable goal. As much as this is true, decent people have to strike a balance. Sometimes, when you think you have the truth, you must speak that truth, even to loved ones and even when it hurts.
You also need to hear the truth. This hurts, too. It’s really one of the only ways to make your life better and deal with the problems you have. Growth isn’t possible without it.
In the public square, I believe it’s necessary to fight against the true-belief of zealots and fools, while doing my best not to become either of these things myself. What truth I might have to tell, should be told. This [often] puts me on the side of religious liberty and tradition in the good old U.S. of A.
Sometimes it puts me on the side of (S)cience and (R)eason.
Such skepticism also recognizes the danger of bad ideas. A lot of people will find the framework of radical resentment to be sufficient in their lives.
Guilt and shame are also how ideologues make headway. This has consequences for all of us:
Below is a poem by Wendell Berry. Berry is chiefly agrarian, anti-technology and pro-environmental in his outlook. He’s also a traditionalist, who believes family and local associations come first.
For Berry, (M)an must return to family, traditional values and to the Earth. Technology corrupts and while business might scale, both create alienation and unrooted individuals.
Of course, a return to (Man) and (N)ature is not an uncommon view amongst poets, especially since the Romantic Poets in England. Around that time, (M)an, instead of God, became one of the highest things around. Serving the poor and dispossessed is the work of those who care about (H)umankind. Oh, how some people care. Man, did mad, bad Byron care.
It’s a mixed bag.
Here is a tweet by a MoMA curator of Architecture & Design. I mean, she’s Italian and likely has fellow-feeling for the guy, and he probably saved a lot of lives under rough circumstances, but….you know.
I worry about ‘maestros of humanity,’ because the same old human nature and reality await. In the meantime, what kind of world we live in has a lot to do with how well our maps of human nature and reality align with….human nature and reality.
Beneath Humanism and the sentiment now being extended to all living things (except the bugs we’ll all eat while singing Kum-ba-ya), are a lot of unsavory characters, ideologues, and future politicians.
To my mind, making heroes out of men, necessary though it is, often leads to disappointment; a reasonable part of life. Making something like a religion out of (H)umanism seems to be a permanent feature of ‘modern’ life, and a much deeper problem.
One thing Berry seems to be saying: A route to truth lies in overcoming shame.
Do Not Be Ashamed
You will be walking some night in the comfortable dark of your yard and suddenly a great light will shine round about you, and behind you will be a wall you never saw before. It will be clear to you suddenly that you were about to escape, and that you are guilty: you misread the complex instructions, you are not a member, you lost your card or never had one. And you will know that they have been there all along, their eyes on your letters and books, their hands in your pockets, their ears wired to your bed. Though you have done nothing shameful, they will want you to be ashamed. They will want you to kneel and weep and say you should have been like them. And once you say you are ashamed, reading the page they hold out to you, then such light as you have made in your history will leave you. They will no longer need to pursue you. You will pursue them, begging forgiveness, and they will not forgive you. There is no power against them. It is only candor that is aloof from them, only an inward clarity, unashamed, that they cannot reach. Be ready. When their light has picked you out and their questions are asked, say to them: “I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon will come around you. The heron will rise in his evening flight from the hilltop.
On that note, I am pretty pro-technology and science. While I have no particular quarrel with neuroscience on its own, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self. In some quarters, this becomes the window-dressing to sell discredited ideologies.
Readers often come for the anti-woke sentiment, and stay for the personal charm and winning personality (kidding). I get complaints that I am too anti-woke. Or that I’m not anti-religious enough. Or that I’m too pro-religious.
A while ago, I wrote about Jeff Koons, and the removal of religious guilt and shame as a central idea in his work. I also frequently write about Marxism and neo-Marxism as relying on both liberation and revolutionary praxis for their survival. Such doctrines get nature and human nature horrifically wrong, but they get enough of both right, it seems.
Robert Hughes wasn’t a big fan of Koons, and looked at him with a skeptical, suspicious eye:
Celebrity, money, art and fame are mixed in a big bowl:
As posted, I think this except highlights the idea of liberating one’s Self from not only guilt and shame, but judgment. Artists and the avant-garde thrive in such space, but so do ideologues and the worst kinds of people, and a lot of what’s bad in people.
Many avant-garde have become avant-huitard.
Jeff Koons’ Made In Heaven blurred the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.