Shouldn’t one begin from the point-of-view of neutrality regarding Nature (beyond value-judgment?)
Nature can be: The sweetest-smelling spring meadow and the source of life. The enveloping tenderness of mother and child. It can be a series of renewing calls to adventure in which we find ourselves most alive. I’m guessing the subjugation of one’s ideas about Nature into (Nature), and God, or no God, is where we often find our thoughts returning.
Nature is also: A volcano scorching thousands of men, women and children at a time. The river dangerously rising. Rabies, A.I.D.S. and an uncompromising, relentless disregard for our hopes. It can be the casual disregard of the old by the young, and the sad fading of a loved one into oblivion. Imagine, if you will, the last thoughts and experiences of someone eaten to death by a predator (but my spirit animal is a bear..I’ve always practiced bear/human moral recognition).
No wonder our default is to explain through mythology, idealization, and highest conceptualizations along with the calling forth of deepest desires during intensest experience.
The modern flavors of myth veer into Romantic Primitivism and Collectivism, Radical Western animism and the ideological discontents of the ‘Modern’ age.
How’s that stuff working out?
Beware the modern theologies of (M)an? Back to the old theologies of God and all those attendant problems?
What are the artists up to? How have so many, so often, come to undervalue, and overvalue, the Arts, and the (S)elf?
The search for meaning goes on.
Land-art pieces are site-specific. They require you to be there and experience them, designed as they are to be within the specific spaces they occupy.
In so doing, they break from previous modernist ‘Readymades‘ and reproduced images (I don’t know about you, but I’m tiring of so many commentaries on consumerism, the desire for craft over mass production, a certain collective vagueness against such disposability…the dream of unique Selfhood, celebrity even, amidst a thousand urinals).
As a viewer, you’re supposed to interact with these pieces and start feeling and thinking differently than perhaps you might have otherwise. Walk around, through, and over them.
Time is clearly intended to be an element, here; the long sweep of geologic and/or historical time as the artist understands it, as well as the relative brevity of personal time during just a 10-minute visit.
These pieces can act as signposts towards Nature and what we can begin to observe of our specific natural environments (steel rusts in unique, but perhaps underlying, patterns…winds blow at different angles and around different obstacles in one grove as opposed to another, these lichens are growing here…other lichens over there, are they the same species?).
If you pull the piece out of its specific environment, it may just wither and die, looking out-of-place as many other products of civilization do amidst natural settings (a jar in Tennessee). Perhaps, though, they won’t look quite so out-of-place as mass-produced objects because of such careful design and attention to detail.
That said, these pieces will eventually look quite awkward undergoing the changes they will undergo if Nature’s Laws are any guide (Romantic/Modernist recreations of Nature can promise the comforts of Home).
Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simple:
‘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.’
‘Robert Smithson and Richard Serra both believed that sculpture should have a dialog with its environment. This program explores the challenging dialectic of the site-specific sculpture of Smithson and Serra through examples of their work. In an interview, Serra discusses the aspects of time and context in relation to his art as well as the influence of Smithson.’
Maybe it’s worth pointing out that Serra seems interested in symmetry, visualizing and realizing abstract shapes with the help of some mathematics and the practice of drawing/drafting. Interesting problems can arise from tooling around with shapes on paper (a practice of Serra’s), the kind I’m guessing folks fascinated by puzzles and software and math love to solve.
But Serra’s not a mathematician nor an engineer nor an architect. He’s not writing a proof for its own sake nor building bridges nor houses for practical use.
Rather, the intuitive and creative impulses of the artist take over in his work, a kind of creative exploration, as well as the dialog between fellow artists, living and dead.
Much (A)rt, of course, is useless for most, if not all, purposes. It’s one of the things that can make it meaningful for people. There can be a significant gap between what the artist may have felt, thought and realized, and which emotions, thoughts and experiences any viewer/listener might have in interacting with a particular piece.
Serra, in his work, wants to alter the thinking of anyone moving through the space he creates by manipulating specific substances like steel (he has a facility with the material), and by getting viewers to a point of reorientation of spatial and temporal awareness.
Of course, this involves reorientation towards certain ideas as he understands them, and by promising people a return to themselves, or a state of experience and creative play perhaps similar to that of the artist.
Here’s a Charlie Rose interview:
More about Land Artists:
Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Feel free to highlight my ignorance…
Making the ‘personal political’ tends to politicize all aspects of life. It’s unsurprising that a few good artists will fall on more conservative sides of topical political discussion.
As I see the world: Radical doctrines weaponize personal confessions into political (C)auses. Envy is a deep and nearly constant human emotion, and when the green eyed monster appears, honest self-criticism is much harder than righteous indignation (maybe this guy is smarter/better than me…what can I learn from him?).
I should add: There are plenty of religious prigs who are, essentially, failures at life. More than a few have traced their bitterness into a God-shaped mold.
It’s no surprise the basics learned in youth sports (how to lose honorably, the long hours of toil and sacrifice, the daily practice) are eschewed by most ideologues. If you’re weak and/or losing, becoming anointed into an ideology plugs into one of the deepest human desires: Defining yourself by what you are not, and finding group membership and meaning. The thought that ‘they’ are winning, and thus, I’m (we’re) losing is powerful stuff.
I’m somebody. I can win. I’m less racist than you. I’m more deeply (H)uman than you. I feel more authentically than my enemies. Sister Nancy is the most God-fearing gal in the whole convent.
Human nature hasn’t changed all that much, as every revolutionary radical seems to find out the hard way.
For anyone not in dire straits (genuine need and/or actual oppression), inviting the clumsy hands of ideological (C)ause into the bedroom is a kind of lunacy. Liberation doctrines valorize anti-heroes, medicalize illnesses and glamorize vices into badges of authenticity.
This tends to lead to a lot more failure, and more ideology to fill the holes.
I’m pretty sure: Deep down, rebels and anti-heroes still have authoritarian tendencies and tragic flaws: See History. Most sane people don’t idealize sickness and disease. When it comes to drugs, alcohol and the Zubercocks of this world, what awaits is often just a sad lonely death and a whimper.
Word to the wise: Placing your eggs in the activist basket is a long-term losing game (gays/lesbians/actual minorities) as I see the world. Short- and mid-term gains gather into an ever-growing list of human ‘rights’ which normalize the marginalized and politicize the personal. But politics is a thing. It’s about distributing unequal resources and making decisions. It’s contentious and corruption is usually the rule, not the exception. Believing in politics won’t bring more ‘peace’. Bureaucracy is a large organization where power and authority accrue, but instead of corporate bureaucracies subject to market forces, they continue on with bad incentives and the same amount of inequality as before.
Individual eggs get scrambled into unrecognizable omelettes of mass justice. Many individuals find out too late there’s no real space for individuals in mass movements and passionate (C)auses.
This blog welcomes lenses with which to view works of modern art.
‘Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types. Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.
So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter. One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.’
‘You call yourself a salesman you son-of-a-bitch?:’
For those who’ve ever had a real job, and seen people at their best and worst, or been reasonably honest about their own motivations and willingness to be do right by others under duress, well, there’s a lot of truth to be found in this particular work of art.
Like boxing gyms and MMA matches, or call-centers full of debt collectors, or daily life on public city buses, the stuff of humanity is pretty much the same as anywhere else, just more raw and closer to the surface.
On fuller display, perhaps.
Feser provides some reasonable context, here, the kind that forms the backbone of a good Catholic education, and which this blog considers to have enriched the debate.
For those who didn’t ask!:
As this blog sees things, the modernist project is not explicitly ideological, but it is extremely ambitious: Make it new. Start from the ground up, or go back to the foundations and take a really good look, and have the individual genius start building his own, new foundations (alone or in contact with others, such as the Bloomsbury Group).
It takes really talentedindividuals to pull this off; often individuals with previous exposure to tradition; young practitioners with enough talent and perseverance, as well as enough of a pedagogy to inherit and rebel against should they choose.
As this blog has noted, it’s not hard to witness a string of causation between high modernist aims and a lot of the modern and postmodern aimlessness we see all around us. There sure are a lot of poseurs and would-be artists bobbing in the postmodern stew, left to sort out the entire world and their relation to it alone, or upon a stage (as alone and not alone as one can be).
They write these f**king art blurbs before they have any art! What the f**k is this lady doing?:
‘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?’
The above can invite all manner of despair and isolation, and perhaps a deeper cynicism we see in upcoming generations’ rather pervasive desire for fame and recognition.
The above can also exacerbate the spiritual and meaning-making demands individuals place upon the Marketplace, the Church, and in The Media and The Academy (where an authoritarian/totalitarian radical Left seeks to control institutions, institutions where a kind of Western secular humanism and standard-issue political idealism often dominates).
As I see it, I cannot call myself a believer in the questions the Catholic Church claims to to be able to answer, but many modern political and politico-philsophical movements are incomplete at best, and dangerously wrong at worst.
Ah well…there’s my two cents.
There’s good art to be found, of course, but like most well-made things, good art is relatively rare, its ultimate value and quality endlessly disputed, but perhaps, enduring.
–Born and raised in Chicago, Mamet seems pretty old-school and pretty tough. He reminds me a bit of Norman Mailer, verbally pugilistic and combative, though unlike Mailer he’s taken a different turn into ju-jitsu, instead of boxing, as well as into a different set of motivating principles. Alec Baldwin’s Death-Of-A-Salesman-on-steroids speech from Glengarry Glen Ross is a well-known example of Mamet’s work (demonstrating the kind of balls-out truth-telling dialogue from which Baldwin has possibly not recovered). I’m guessing Mamet grew-up back before anti-bullying campaigns and excessive political correctness became the norm.
***As I understand it, Thomas Sowell, after becoming a young Marxist eventually became a young ex-Marxist, embracing a hard-bitten empiricism regarding outcomes and results, not the intentions, of economic and social policies. See him discuss his later vision of human nature and political organization in a Conflict Of Visions.
–Mamet cites the Bible, but mainly the Talmud as a source of wisdom and knowledge to draw upon as a guide for flawed human nature. Jewish folks in the U.S. have traditionally formed a reliably liberal/Democratic voting bloc, so unlike many Christian religious conservatives, they aren’t necessarily voting Republican. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but to be sure, there are also many tales of neoconservatives ‘mugged’ out of the social sciences and policy-making halls of the liberal establishment into doubt and skepticism, some chased away by the New Left. There is also a conservative Christian/Jewish pro-Israel alliance which has traditionally been strong on national defense (some fundamentals of that American/Israeli relationship may be changing).
Religious belief can ground one in a kind of traditional and tragic view of human nature. This, say, as opposed to human nature understood as simply a blank slate or existentialist absurdity, or by some political movements as human clay to be molded with the right knowledge and right people in charge of our social institutions (they always seem to nominate themselves). As Mamet discusses in the video, there are distinctions to be made between Talmudic justice and social justice.
I’m guessing he might agree there are distinctions to be made between abstract equality and equality under the law (the exception of Civil Rights and black folks held under the civil laws is discussed). I’m also guessing he’d argue there are distinctions to be made between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on one hand, and liberation theology and/or individual freedom granted by a rights-based cohort in charge of government on the other.
–Mamet also touches on the fact that the arts aren’t a political endeavor. If writing a play is simply a didactic enterprise and/or a vehicle for deploying a political philosophy (Ayn Rand?), then I think the artist has probably failed in some fundamental way to show the audience/reader a unique truth which only that work of art has to show. Didactic art can come across as clunky at best, pure propaganda at worst.
Personally, I tend to believe that politics, religion, convention and popular thinking all have trouble with the arts.
Anyways, this is just a brief summary. Any thoughts or comments are welcome.
The incentives of print/online clickbait aside, our author can’t just write about something so boring and conventionally dull as taking a walk through the city at night, partaking in the pleasures of the flaneur.
A self-date is about reclaiming that control. The choice is yours: What would you do with your time if no one else got to call the shots? For how long would you do it, and when?
I’m assuming most men don’t read stuff like this, so the targeted reader needs to remind (W)omen there are responsibilities that go with (R)ights. The targeted reader ought think about the duties of (S)elf-Care, the burdens of market liberation, as well as how to (T)hink and what to (D)o as an Independent (W)oman and (S)elf in the (M)odern World.
I mean, you can’t handle that kind of freedom to take a walk, right? Nor be alone with your thoughts?
Therapeutic, conformist psycho-babble is pretty common out there.
As I age-out into irrelevance (Gen X), spinning sadly into forgetting, weakness and oblivion, I’d like to remind younger folks: I didn’t ask to be born in something like a Great Unwinding, either. I’ve found some poems, photographs, music and paintings which I love. I hope you come to appreciate them, too. I’ve found work which challenges me, and some principles I find worth defending (speech, property, and the honor freedom requires).
Everybody wants to be a (S)elf, nobody wants to be a (S)elf.
I’m pretty sure: The nihilist fog has settled in and will be here for awhile. American politics will likely become even more contentious. Political parties will be increasingly full of (S)elves and (C)auses, as well as the odd principle. Cynicism and ironic detachment will wear much easier than patient duty. Many institutions are becoming captured by true-believers and thus, much less efficient. Righteous people, of course, will often prevail (not necessarily right, nor truthful, nor reasonable…especially in groups and through the laws).
If you’ve read thus far, thank you, so here are some past thoughts and links for free:
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 YouGov poll on behalf of Homes & Antiques magazine has revealed that Banksy is Britain’s favourite artist.’
Dear Reader, I used to read ‘Homes & Antiques Magazine‘ religiously, hours of orange rinds scattered on my plate. ‘What can it mean?’
I used to drive half-dressed to the last parking lot on Earth, a few final photons bending through our atmosphere.
I could not outrun a racing mind, pacing among the dunes, staring out across an empty bay, salt winds curling the grasses: ‘Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are FOURTH on the yougov most popular food and snack brands list.‘
This calms me, anyways:
Once you accept the idea that a good work of art can play deep chords, elevating you, proffering wisdom, awe, and pleasure, you generally wish to preserve it and hold it close, sharing in its illumination. In such a light, a lot of other stuff can resemble so much kitsch strewn after a storm of technological and engineering progress..
Depending on how deeply and often you do this, you can become ‘refined.’
‘We have been replacing a lack of cultural quality with cultural quantity. Instead than having rare moments of beauty, power and insight, we (or, at least, many of us) face a ceaseless barrage of the cute, the curious and the clichéd. Rather than seeking out artworks which flicker in our minds long after we have stopped looking at them, we browse past endless images that light our brains up like catherine wheels. Images are almost too accessible. We can see everything, and nothing matters. Like. Like. Like.’
As I currently see things, there are always questions of artistic sorts feeling constrained by convention, tradition, repetition and practice. Money issues never really go away. Now there’s just an arguably greater quantity of crap with which to compete for a reader’s attention.
Perhaps there’s also the condition of the isolated individual artist alone, conceiving of himself as outside all meaningful conventions, traditions and practices. This, too, has become a convention, tradition and practice, for many artists and non-artists alike. Selves speak to Selves.
Just stay on the surface of things, and move through:
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.
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.
‘The truth was, as Arnold Hauser had gone to great pains to demonstrate in The Social History of Art, the intelligentsia have always had contempt for the realistic novel—a form that wallows so enthusiastically in the dirt of everyday life and the dirty secrets of class envy and that, still worse, is so easily understood and obviously relished by the mob, i.e., the middle class. In Victorian England, the intelligentsia regarded Dickens as “the author of the uneducated, undiscriminating public.” It required a chasm of time—eighty years, in fact—to separate his work from its vulgar milieu so that Dickens might be canonized in British literary circles. The intelligentsia have always preferred more refined forms of fiction, such as that longtime French intellectual favorite, the psychological novel.‘
Let’s not get too French: Theodore Dalrymple on prostitution during COVID19:
‘The spokeswoman for the Union of Sex Workers in France, Anaïs de Lenclos (a pseudonym, one wonders?), eloquently pointed out the difficulties that prostitutes, male and female, now face.
That sounds pretty French.
In fact, let’s go to Charles Baudelaire, live on the street:
Behold the sweet evening, friend of the criminal; It comes like an accomplice, stealthily; the sky Closes slowly like an immense alcove, And impatient man turns into a beast of prey. O evening, kind evening, desired by him Whose arms can say, without lying: “Today We labored!” — It is the evening that comforts Those minds that are consumed by a savage sorrow, The obstinate scholar whose head bends with fatigue And the bowed laborer who returns to his bed.
Meanwhile in the atmosphere malefic demons Awaken sluggishly, like businessmen, And take flight, bumping against porch roofs and shutters. Among the gas flames worried by the wind Prostitution catches alight in the streets; Like an ant-hill she lets her workers out; Everywhere she blazes a secret path, Like an enemy who plans a surprise attack; She moves in the heart of the city of mire Like a worm that steals from Man what he eats. Here and there one hears food sizzle in the kitchens, The theaters yell, the orchestras moan;
The gambling dens, where games of chance delight, Fill up with whores and cardsharps, their accomplices; The burglars, who know neither respite nor mercy, Are soon going to begin their work, they also, And quietly force open cash-boxes and doors To enjoy life awhile and dress their mistresses.
Meditate, O my soul, in this solemn moment, And close your ears to this uproar; It is now that the pains of the sick grow sharper! Somber Night grabs them by the throat; they reach the end Of their destinies and go to the common pit; The hospitals are filled with their sighs. — More than one Will come no more to get his fragrant soup By the fireside, in the evening, with a loved one.
However, most of them have never known The sweetness of a home, have never lived!
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers in North Africa..had problems:
How (B)lack should you become when reality intrudes, and reality doesn’t have much good to say?
Which are the rules all of us should follow when it comes to right and wrong?
‘The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism. This idea of victimization is an example of what I call a “poetic truth.” Like poetic license, it bends the actual truth in order to put forward a larger and more essential truth—one that, of course, serves one’s cause. Poetic truths succeed by casting themselves as perfectly obvious: “America is a racist nation”; “the immigration debate is driven by racism”; “Zimmerman racially stereotyped Trayvon.” And we say, “Yes, of course,” lest we seem to be racist. Poetic truths work by moral intimidation, not reason.’
‘There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people—people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.’
I have my doubts all will be made well, in human affairs, by simply including the oldest profession within the latest politico-moral doctrines.
Someone tell the French ladies of the night: Technology has made it possible for people to sell the lowest and highest of things online. There might be…options. Let’s expect the same old problems, however, in new venues (a few moments of beauty, grace and kindness but mostly pimps, drug abuse, robbery, extortion etc).
There’s absolutely nothing funny about Telly Savalas playing Kojak as reported by Norm MacDonald to Jerry Seinfeld, shattering naive fictions in solving a T.V. crime-drama:
On French problems of liberte: Theodore Dalrymple on Michel Houellebecq here:
‘Houellebecq has been accused of being a nihilist and cynic, but far from that, his work is an extended protest against nihilism and cynicism. It is true that he offers no solution to the problem, but it is not the purpose of novels, but rather of tracts, to offer solutions to such problems. For him to tell his readers to take up basket-weaving or some such as the answer to existential emptiness would in fact be an instance of that very existential emptiness.’
I’m not much of a feminist nor a Main Line (Philadelphia) liberal myself:
Martha Nussbaum writes:
“Spitzer’s offense was an offense against his family. It was not an offense against the public. If he broke any laws, these are laws that never should have existed and that have been repudiated by sensible nations.”
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.
Darwin and the arts. Kirsch has an interesting piece reviewing 3 books, including one by Denis Dutton. What might neuroaesthetics have to say about art that hasn’t been said already?
‘This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin’s death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton’s much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.’
Worth a read.
More broadly, it’s interesting to note how art, aesthetics, morality, moral reasoning, ethics etc. are being attached to Darwin’s thinking. For some, I suspect, it is to advance a secular humanist platform which is full of oughts and shoulds for all of us in other areas of life, including politics and culture.
‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’
Beauty, ugliness, youth, strength, and decay: Via Mick Hartley Bruce Davidson at Magnum’s ‘Subway‘.
Many of the images in Subway are sensual, dangerous and raw, but then again, so was the NYC subway in about 1979 or 1980. Davidson plays with different exposures, techniques and settings, eventually deciding on using color to depict what he saw. He also reportedly toned-up physically, geared-up, and mentally prepared himself to get off and on those subway cars during the project. He had some undercover city cops with him a few times.
Imagine how conspicuous a new Nikon/Canon DSLR and a flash would make you in one of those cars at night (he, in fact, had one camera stolen).
Come for the raw, dangerous subject matter and the vicarious risk (oh yeah, it can happen again…just stay tuned). Stay for Davidson’s compositions, subtle use of light and color, and the genuine humanity he found within his larger vision.
Is a certain dangerous, glamorous adventure beneath you?
What about in your prime?
It’s not like these problems haven’t been with us for a while. Without police protection, you’ll probably get worse outcomes and more retributive violence. A reader sends a link to The Confessions Of Bernhard Goetz, subway vigilante:
There’s a lot here: Genuine threat (thugs), fear, real victimization (previous muggings and a likely soon-to-be mugging), but also serious ignorance and over-reaction.
I imagine Goetz was a bit like a feral animal fleeing out of that subway car, up the station stairs and into the night.
From min 33:40:
The question to be litigated was whether the community would make a judgment about his (Goetz) own good faith belief….are we in a position to condemn him for over-reacting?
From The Warriors to Dirty Harry to Death Wish, a certain gritty, pulpy style was born. One of the main desires of men, especially, is to quash injustice and heroically protect that which falls under their honor. When the authorities can’t combat crime in public transport, or choose to enforce the law selectively, then the desire for vengeance, punishment and order finds outlets.
‘Imagism was a sub-genre of Modernism concerned with creating clear imagery with sharp language. The essential idea was to re-create the physical experience of an object through words. As with all of Modernism, Imagism implicitly rejected Victorian poetry, which tended toward narrative.‘
‘The most exemplified phase of Modernism, referred to as “High Modernism,” occurred during the inter-war years (1918-1939). This was the time when writers synonymous with Modernism, such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and D.H. Lawrence, thrived. While Victorians typically concerned themselves with rendering reality as they understood it into fiction, Modernists recognized that reality was subjective, and instead strove to represent human psychology in fiction.‘
During the post-war years, the confessionals, with a fair amount of free and blank verse became dominant, with a kind of feelings-first, psychological exploration of the (S)elf.
Dear Reader, this photograph represents the closest I’ve gotten to elements of the modernist imagination so far. I hope you enjoy.
***On second-thought, the photo of these parts of very real thing is abstracted into a kind of modernesque design.
Perhaps there are enclaves in NYC’s commercial bustle where people can lead lives less burdened by the racial history of the U.S., in addition to bettering their lot. Perhaps there are freedoms and opportunities not found in other quarters, either, which have been nurtured by this extended culture. There are schools, like minds, and fellow artists to develop alongside. New York City’s a cultural center, after all.
Despite the decadence and grime, the many fakes, fops, and wannabes drawn to the flame, there is genuine talent and potential genius.
There are also the temptations and realities of celebrity, the creative destruction and ruthlessness of the market, as well as ideas in the modern bubble which can actively discourage artistic development (the incentives and meta-bullshit of a lot of modern art galleries and buyers, the desire for the genius of the Noble Savage).
I believe this is Briton Douglas Murray’s (The Strange Death Of Europe) argument regarding enfant terrible of the 80’s Jean-Michel Basquiat. Whatever natural talent Basquiat may have had, and however much the larger culture thought itself supposedly ready to celebrate such an artist, it is a mess.
Basquiat, through relentless self-promotion, found himself blown up like a balloon over 5th avenue.
‘It was not obvious that Basquiat would end up the producer of such trophies. Born in Brooklyn in 1960, he left school at 17 and first gained attention through his co-invention, with a friend, of a character called “SAMO.” Graffiti signed with this name cropped up in SoHo and on the Lower East Side in 1978.’
‘Friends claimed that Basquiat was famously independent of mind and that nobody could tell him what to do. They should at least have tried. If they had said at the outset that, instead of dealing his work, they would help him learn the skills needed to pursue it, then he might not have banged his head so visibly and continuously against his own limitations throughout his short career. Perhaps he understood that he was only getting away with something and worried when it might end. Far greater artists than he have had similar fears and been brought down by them.’
‘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.
On that note, some previous links and quotes:
Donald Pittenger, at Art Contrarian, and formerly of 2 Blowhards, has been looking at modernism. From the banner of his blog:
‘The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished — just put in its proper, diminished place’
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
Somewhere apart from Medieval, Christian, Classical and pre-Enlightenment forms of authority and social hierarchy; somewhere away from the kinds of patronage, inspiration, rules, money that bent and shaped previous Art, emerged the Enlightenment and came the Romantic, Modern, and Postmodern.
***As for ideas to fill the holes, there’s definitely one path from Hegelian ‘Geist’ to Marxist class-consciousness to the revolutionary and radical doctrines found in the postmodern soup…but there are also problems with the liberation of the ‘Self’ from Schopenhauer’s ‘Will’ to Nietzsche ‘Will to Power.’
Is street-art, or the use of graffiti & mixed-materials performed illegally out in public (on public and privately owned property) partly due to the success of capital markets?