‘Liberals engage the right mood by contemplating the experiences of those they take to be oppressed, in what I have called “suffering situations.” You might think this an admirable altruism amid the selfish indifference of the mass of mankind, and there is no doubt that it has often been sincere and that it could at times mitigate some real evils. But the crucial word here is “abstract.” The emotions are elicited by an image, as in the craft of advertising. The people who cultivate these feelings are usually not those who actually devote their time and energies to helping the needy around them, but rather a class of person—liberal journalists, politicians, social workers, academics, charity bureaucrats, administrators, etc.—who focus on the global picture.’
I would add that while I have my doubts about the religious true-believer and salvationist, I have particular doubts about the Neo-Romantic Environmentalist, the secular, progressive do-gooder, and the high liberal globalist shuttling between academy and government.
‘The centerpiece of Miller’s argument is the making and appreciating of art. Miller’s idea of art, as we might expect, is wide-ranging and popular, drawn more from everywhere in culture: dancing, body-decoration, clothing, jewellery, hair-styling, architecture, furniture, gardens, cars, images such as calendars and paintings, creative uses of language, popular entertainments from religious festivals to TV soaps, music of all kinds, and on and on. Miller’s discussion is less focused on the high-art culture of modernism and postmodernism, since it anyway distinguishes itself against popular taste.‘
Of course, there will be all manner of reductionism (art=sex) and popularized idiocy (Bach + brain-scan = pop-neuroscience) to follow.
There’s something about both our cultural tilt towards (S)cience-ifying every aspect of life (stretching out these new fields of knowledge) as well as the popularized explanatory journalism (Jesus Christ not another think-piece) which are worth thinking about.
Witnessing the outcomes and consequences of such truth and knowledge claims downstream, some quite possibly more true than others, invites skepticism.
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
Don’t worry, ‘ethics’ on the fly, in universities and in journalism is everywhere these days, and beneath that, some crazy new true-believers.
As posted, please check out Jeff Koons (if you thought the celebrification of politics was striking, culturally, this happened quite before with the celebribrification of art):
There’s always been a bit of the showman about Jeff Koons; the kind of young man who could put on a bow tie and try to give many museum-goers their time/money/aspirations’ worth at the membership desk.
This blog forgives people trying to explain what their art ‘means,’ exactly, but confesses to pleasure in seeing Koons put on the spot under the suspicious eye of an ornery old Robert Hughes.
I don’t fault Koons for finding himself firmly within modernism, searching for universal forms and broader historical context within those confines, but I admit it’s nice to see him held to account for his bullshit, and perhaps the broader, deeper bullshit he shares with many modern and postmodern artists: Pursuing novelty and recognition and thus making art into a business and often commercializing it, aiming for celebrity while offering meta-critiques on celebrity, making the personal and private very public (masturbation into social commentary, sex into meta-critques of religious shame, ‘culture’ and pornography).
Two quotes by Hughes that stood out:
‘Religion is diminished into celebrity..a kind of reverse apotheosis.‘
‘This alienation of the work from the common viewer is actually a form of spiritual vandalism.’
It’s tough to say that art is really about religion (though much clearly is), but rather more about an experience Hughes wants as many people as possible to have, and that such experiences can elevate and expand.
Aside from the above, there’s something that strikes me as not just late 20th century-modern about Koons, but also very American
The visual arts, painting and architecture are all areas where Spaniards thrive, and where much genius is funneled and compressed through the culture. Madrid’s also a governing city, with a certain staid heaviness found in such places.
Earthlings were visited, many times this past century, by beings from the planet Utopia. Little is known about these curious creatures, but they were advanced, and went about vigorously erecting structures across our planetary surface.
What were they trying to tell us?
Concrete, as a material, was used, presumably because it was so common and functioned as our ‘lingua franca’ (so hard to use well). Shapes were decided upon that might please and delight us (flowers, blocks, dodecahedrons), but also shapes that could disconsole, consigning some souls to work and live in an eternal present, possible futures winking upon the horizon.
Dear Reader, rumor has it these beings whispered in Esperanto, but only into the ears of those most ready to receive such comprehensive knowledge and advanced understanding; humans beings closer to knowledge of Universal Shapes and Human Destinies.
As posted, come to the University of Washington, where neo-Gothic meets brutalism. The Global People’s Revolutionary Movement is just around the corner within the Department of Studies’ Studies:
We should be comforted when corporate/bureaucratic art is bland, bad, and uncommunicative. After all, do you think you’d trust a bank more or less if it had a shocking modern/pop art sculpture in the lobby?
What about when their marketing team tells you how you should think, behave and act?
The attempt to seek collective purpose and postmodern meaning in modern art, music and even cartoons etc. is fast upon us. The flirtations with nihilism can encourage more desperate collectivist/ideological impulses to fill the void. The excesses are many.
As for a critique of Albany Plaza, another modernist/bureaucratic concrete wonderland, here’s Robert Hughes:
A man holding a narrower, classical definition of art will also hold some bias towards those who don’t (many moderns and post-moderns). Hughes’ harsh eye passes over landscapes full of landscapes discussing the Self-as-Landscape.
‘To most of the people who have heard of him, he is a name handed down from a distant museum-culture, stuck to a memorable face: a cashiered Latin teacher in a pale fiber wig, the guy who paints soup cans and knows all the movie stars.‘
I look forward to seeing you at my upcomingOne-Man-Show: You will be free to make eye-contact as you process around me. I will be sitting Native-American-style, half-nude on the floor of MoMA, with industrially-made glassware suctioned over my mouth.
Scorn me. Censure me. Make love to me with your gaze.
As I babble incoherently into the vacuum, losing consciousness, I will also regress into the empathetic purity of childhood.
Should you lift my body up the weight of (H)istory becomes clear.
Should you leave me passed-out on the barren, linoleum floor, the shame of inaction implicates you in Oppression.
‘Its silver-papered walls were a toy theater in which one aspect of the sixties in America, the infantile hope of imposing oneself on the world by terminal self-revelation, was played out. It had a nasty edge, which forced the paranoia of marginal souls into some semblance of style, a reminiscence of art.‘
As someone often looking to take a classical, or ‘outside-the-modern’ perspective, such goring-of-the-sacred-60’s-oxen is refreshing. The pursuit of (S)elf is long-past tiresome. The pose of the too-Self-aware-nihilist haunts many a coffee shop these days.
‘Become an empty vessel, mass-produced on a shelf. Let fame pass through you, empty as the wind itself.’
Maybe the 60’s generation was as much a walling-off from the past, as it was a fruitful opening inwards towards (S)elf-Actualization.
Perish the thought.
In looking for some criticism of Hughes’ on Warhol, unsurprisingly, I found Google’s algorithm suggesting the following piece at the top of the list (freedom is next):
‘The problem is that authentic modern art – of which Warhol is unarguably one of the greatest practitioners, even if you don’t much care for his work – operates according to non-aesthetic narrative principles, and is therefore headed in a quite different direction from the quest for classical, museum-quality ‘beauty’. Modern art is about connecting with the experiential landscapes which some artists are able to conjure up through their artworks, and this connectivity functions according to theatrical and narrative principles rather than aesthetic ones. Modern artists are revealing to the viewer worlds they have discovered, and then, using their artworks and artforms, inviting you to experience them as your own. A Warhol ‘Marilyn’ is not an ersatz Velasquez – even if Andy thought it was, and wanted it to be: a ‘Marilyn’ – like any or all of his other works – is an invitation to a theatrical extravaganza of transgendered and drug-addled camp nihilism, spiked with glitz and glamour and celebrity, and dialogue reduced to a cultivated vacuity. This performative inversion of normative values – Warhol’s real theatrical ‘art’, in words, pictures and behaviour – is quite other than the kind of cognitive deficiency Hughes though he was dealing with. Truth be told it is Hughes who turned out to the stupid one, wholly unable to recognise the transgressive artistry all around him, and wholly unable to make the transition from an orthodox classicism – the type of lumpen conception of pictorial art any bonehead can come up with – to the new world order.‘
Everyone’s a Self, you see, and every Self deeply wants fame and recognition, or at least to be fresh, new and ahead of the curve in the marketplace.
Or do you?
Don’t set your sights too high, this pickled basketball seems to be saying, for your aspirations, too, may be empty as the liquid void in which this Spalding hovers. Gaze upon your hoop dreams within the silence of the ideal… hallowed as you temporarily are within this modern secular temple called…MoMA.
The marketplace delivers us that which we want, enriching our lives and fulfilling our desires but that’s not really what we want, is it?
Do you long for the days of unabashed American consumerism? Are you nostalgic for nights lit only by a soft, neon glow on the underbellies of clouds? Return to a time when America broadcast its brash, unironic call to the heavens.
‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’
As to the epistemological questions surrounding Modernism, below are four poems. Hopefully, each is a representative example of a move away from the Romanticism that had been prevalent up until the late 1800’s.
In addition to the move away from traditional Romantic rhyme and meter towards modern blank verse, there’s also a certain conception of the Self rendered in them; a presentation of our natures that might be worth examining in some detail.
I believe we can see clearly a move away from tradition towards the Self, the Poet isolated, the poem itself as a means of communication, and an anxiety so common within the 20th century.
‘At the heart of Bloom’s project is the ancient quarrel between “poetry” and “philosophy.” In Bloom’s opinion, we ought not have to choose between Homer and Plato; we can have both, as long as we recognize that poetry is superior.’
Says the guy who writes about poetry…
What does one find within, as one looks without, waking from sleep and dream?
What kind of world is this, and can the poet actually help us know it?
You tossed a blanket from the bed You lay upon your back, and waited; You dozed, and watched the night revealing The thousand sordid images Of which your soul was constituted; They flickered against the ceiling. And when all the world came back And the light crept up between the shutters And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, You had such a vision of the street As the street hardly understands; Sitting along the bed’s edge, where You curled the papers from your hair, Or clasped the yellow soles of feet In the palms of both soiled hands.
The world will stain you, and it is a fallen, modern world, rendered profoundly and exquisitely.
As consciousness creeps in, building a bridge to the day, to the world, to the facts left as though they were the first facts, the light as though it were the first light, what one finds is distressing, both within and without.
That distress must be ‘made new,’ which is to say, the suffering (original?) in which we all sometimes find ourselves must match our experiences within the modern city and world, at least, the world created within Eliot’s lyrical verse.
Of the four poems, only the first and last have a 3rd-person subject.
Wallace Stevens‘ ‘I’ is in a more contemplative state, but it’s an ‘I’ exploring similar themes, and experiencing some distress in trying to know how the world actually is, and what might lie within.
The journey to The Self may not be a journey for the faint of heart.
The Poems Of Our Climate (stanzas II and III)
II Say even that this complete simplicity Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed The evilly compounded, vital I And made it fresh in a world of white, A world of clear water, brilliant-edged, Still one would want more, one would need more, More than a world of white and snowy scents.
III There would still remain the never-resting mind, So that one would want to escape, come back To what had been so long composed. The imperfect is our paradise. Note that, in this bitterness, delight, Since the imperfect is so hot in us, Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
Even if the verse can describe a perfected world, delivering us, perhaps, a little closer to perfection, our poet is still not free from the impulses and desires which simply never cease.
Interestingly, we end-up not with a discussion of the heart, the spirit, libido etc. as a source for those desires (for Plato, the irrational), but rather, for Stevens, just a mind.
We also find more Romantic elements of language and an almost baroque/rococo arrangement of words and ideas, dandyish even, yet combined with an intense effort to abstract, define, and clarify. From here, the poet may proceed on his task of flawed words and stubborn sounds.
***I find myself thinking of elements of modern architecture and abstract-expressionist painting. The meaning, or at least some delivery from our restless existences, can be found within the abstract itself. Or at least within a retreat to the abstract for its own sake, away from the world.
The modernist, glass-walled house on the hill will exist in its own space, offering and defying meaning. The structure’s own shapes will be stripped down to often mathematically precise forms interacting with Nature. These shall guide Man, or at least offer individual men a little refuge.
It is perhaps in Stevens’ poem we can see the questions of knowledge about the world suggesting questions about whether there is a world at all, or, at least, what kind of worlds each Self might be able to inhabit.
The Self is extremely isolated. In fact, Lowell went more than a little crazy. Unlike the known nervous breakdown of Eliot from which Eliot recovered, Lowell’s life was essentially one long breakdown from which he never recovered.
Here he is, looking back:
Those blessed structures plot and rhyme- why are they no help to me now i want to make something imagined not recalled? I hear the noise of my own voice: The painter’s vision is not a lens it trembles to caress the light. But sometimes everything i write With the threadbare art of my eye seems a snapshot lurid rapid garish grouped heightened from life yet paralyzed by fact. All’s misalliance. Yet why not say what happened? Pray for the grace of accuracy Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination stealing like the tide across a map to his girl solid with yearning. We are poor passing facts. warned by that to give each figure in the photograph his living name.
The weight of having to make that meaning, for yourself, and by yourself, is a horrible weight indeed. One can glorify one’s Self and family, but that, alas, only goes so far. Rhyme and form still carry one’s living name, as far as they do.
Of course, there’s still wonderful rhythm and form here (this is excellent verse), but blanker now, with a relentless focus on the ‘I.’ The poet is perhaps talking a little more to himself, and the poem keeps self-consciously calling attention to itself.
In fact, it reminded me of the poem below, by Robert Creeley, which was published a few years afterwards.
From this page:
‘Creeley was a leader in the generational shift that veered away from history and tradition as primary poetic sources and gave new prominence to the ongoing experiences of an individual’s life. Because of this emphasis, the major events of his life loom large in his literary work.’
There’s Nothing but the Self and the Eye seeking and making meaning, by itself within a void of emotionally compact and precise language (of course there’s still form and other things besides).
Can the poet fit inside the little abstract chapel of words he’s building for himself (let alone the world, tradition etc.)?
For all the talk about ‘space,’ there seems very little.
Position is where you put it, where it is, did you, for example, that
large tank there, silvered, with the white church along- side, lift
all that, to what purpose? How heavy the slow
world is with everything put in place. Some
man walks by, a car beside him on the dropped
road, a leaf of yellow color is going to
fall. It all drops into place. My
face is heavy with the sight. I can feel my eye breaking.
The distress is still there…but I’d argue that we are now a good distance away from the grandness of Eliot’s vision, his religiosity and virtuosity with form and meter at the dawn of Modernism. Very few people can/could do what Eliot did (addition: even if he can help us gain knowledge of our Selves or the world).
That said, it’s unclear there’s enough tradition and confidence to even undertake such a project, now, even as such talents come along. The state of things is more scattered. We’re in a very different place of selves and artists isolated, of anxiety and post-anxiety.
Aside from the very accomplished poets above, in terms of both knowledge (epistemology) and being (ontology), we often have writers feeling pressure to weigh-in on such questions without even being about to write that well; artists who can’t draw or paint that well, and frankly, quite a bit of bullshit besides.
So, where are we headed? Who’s ‘we’ exactly?
Predictions are hard, especially about the future.
‘In “Sea Change,” Graham becomes Prospero, casting spells by spelling out her thoughts to merge with ours, and with the voices of the elements. The result is a mingling of perceptions rather than a broadcasting of opinions. Instead of analysis, the poems encourage emotional involvement with the drastic changes overwhelming us, overwhelm- ing the planet.’
‘Strengths and weaknesses, flows and ebbs, yet every poem in “Sea Change” bears memorable lines, with almost haunting (if we truly have but 10 years to “fix” global warming) images of flora and fauna under siege. Jorie Graham has composed a swan song for Earth.’
What are these poems being asked to do?
And moving away from poetry into the realm of ‘performance art,’
‘In Vanuatu, Theroux finds villages where Christianity had been abandoned in the late 1930s in favour of the John Frum cult. John Frum, if that was his actual name, seems to have been an American pilot whose appearance was taken as a sign calling for a return to the old animist traditions — no more tithing, Ten Commandments, or prudish, meddling missionaries. And he promised “cargo”: useful, valuable goods from another world. Some villages fly the American flag as an act of continuing faith, and people even told Theroux the Gulf War was an event perhaps heralding Frum’s next appearance.‘
‘Unfortunately, for many American politicians, federalism is a dead letter, broken up on the obsession with equality and rights. Though Minogue does not discuss federalism in depth, The Servile Mind is a crucial book for the task of understanding and reconstructing the proper bases for a free society.‘
Christopher Rufo’s also in Seattle, pushing back against the Left-radicals taking over the public square. Oh yes, they would do violence against you. Oh no, you will not believe the lunatic ideas and people running Seattle, condoning the violence.
‘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.’
The Weinsteins discuss how reasonable people committed to progressive social and political causes, both biologists, got driven out of a public university dedicated to similar progressive social and political causes.
A longer, thoughtful, detailed piece.
One notes it’s not progressive nor even ‘mainstream’ publications offering a platform for the Weinsteins to speak-out at the moment, partially due to what I consider the Brockman effect (sugar caves):
Wouldn’t a ‘canoe meeting’ qualify as ‘cultural appropriation?’:
‘And then came the canoe. First, senior administrators were called by name, invited to walk down to the stage, and to step into a large and imaginary canoe. Then, everyone in the room was invited to come aboard, en masse. Finally, everyone walked in a line, as if in a canoe, out of the building together, on a fantastical voyage toward campus equity. An Indian drum beat and the recorded sound of crashing surf were in the background.’
Who needs the arts, science, social science when you’ve got righteous certainty, ideology, and grievance on your side?
Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.
‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’
Related On This Site: Perhaps after Kant’s transcendental idealism, Chomsky really does believe that morality, like Chomsky’s innatist theory of language, is universal and furthermore hard-wired into the brain. This could possibly lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism (a central postmodern problem), or at least his retreat into anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism away from such idealism. There’s little to no room for the individual in such a vision. Perhaps Chomsky has never seen life, liberty and property and the individual except from such a vantage point: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge…
‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’
We visited a Richard Serra piece in Seattle this past weekend, entitled Wake.
Click through for a Serra-released photo of four metal pillar-forms aligned in the deserts of Qatar, designed to inevitably rust. The piece has a slight ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ feel, but that could just be me.
I suspect a lot of wisdom can be found throughout ‘Western Civ 101’ about the problems of the human heart, human nature and political power.
Apparently, though, such wisdom is being lost on a lot of people these days. I humbly submit such people should not merely think their ideas will become more justified, their hearts more pure, simply by organizing coalitions with the purpose of gaining political power.
If the Pluribus=identity politickers & the suggested Unum=unified party w/ political power…where are the limiting principles on power? https://t.co/nbgJoyoT7C
‘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.
Unsolicited advice for The New Yorker: Build a wall around your political stable, don’t bet too much on current trends and politicians, and keep other spaces free for the genuinely ‘avant-garde,’ the strange and beautiful, and biting satire when it shows-up.
For further context:
Here’s one senior New Yorker editor, Hendrik Hertzberg, discussing years ago how to abolish the Electoral College, arrive at a National Vote (to better serve the People, of course) and enact ‘democratic change.’
This strikes me as in-line with much Left and Left-liberal majoritarian populism. activism and softly (ultimately hard) radical change.
He has knowledge, of course, regarding what the People (will, should?) want, and why eroding such checks will lead towards more victims enfranchised voters and the ‘good’ society.
Perhaps some of the publishing decisions at the New Yorker make a little more sense…
As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:‘
‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’
Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…
As for free speech and public sentiment, perhaps we’ll see where a new speech beachhead lies as the tide recedes from the powerful pull of an activist moon.
‘Brownstone is a word used both to refer to a type of building material and structures built or sheathed in it. While it is most closely associated with the Eastern United States, this material was at one point used all over the world in construction, particularly in upper class regions. A distinctive architectural style using brownstone is very familiar to many residents of industrialized nations. Its popularity as a building material waned when builders began to realize that it weathered poorly, and that other materials might be more suitable.’