Edward Hopper, Deconstructionists, The NY Times & Postmodernism-Some Links-Where Are You Headed?

Via Althouse via the NY Times, applying decontructionism to the works of Edward Hopper:

They’re coming for your ‘myths’, America.

Some of them, anyways:

“Yes, there’s a lot of talent and beauty and all that,” said Mr. Shadwick, who remains a big Hopper fan, “but there’s also a very conscious awareness of his place in history, and of the purported Americanness of the scenes he was painting.”

Althouse:

I think the “awareness” he’s referring to is in the minds of people who value Hopper. Maybe those minds are full of delusions and mythology. They’re only half-aware. Not… woke.

It’s not as clear to me a deconstructionist would go after obvious ‘woke’, so much as interrogate other things, driving towards (S)elves without myth nor national character in an increasingly flattened landscape.

From the author’s site, where he is making a career out of ideas about ideas about Hopper:

This relation of Hopper’s works to their broader social history will underpin an interrogation of the development and cultivation of Hopper’s Americanist persona, challenging notions of Hopper’s quintessential ‘Americanness’ and deconstructing the implications of such rhetoric in relation to the artist’s canonical reputation.

Hmmm….as to choices artists must make. From the NY Times piece:

In rendering his pioneering views of everyday life in average America (or, as Mr. Shadwick would say, in the America Hopper helped define as average), Hopper chose an everyday style that brings him closer to the modest commercial illustration of his era than to the certified old masters.

The arts can be one lens with which to look at these problems and places…

Repost-Ah, Look At All The Lonely People-‘Jeff Koons Is Back’ Via Vanity Fair

-Banksy’s website here. Newsweek’s piece: ‘See You Banksy, Hello Invader.

When it comes to the Old Masters, I can’t help but think of Auden:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W.H. Auden

The Fall Of Icarus

Discussed in the video: James Lindsay’s cogent account of his experiences in the Atheism movement, and the emergence of Atheism Plus. He attempts to use moral psychology (he mentions Jonathan Haidt) to explain many religious-seeming elements of the woke, social justice crowd.

Also, the two touch upon Critical Theory, and the next generation of post-post-modernists, reacting against the previous generation.

I doubt movements like this ever really die, especially ones committed to the logic of radically standing apart from all institutions of authority, traditions, systems and social arrangments; the lone, brilliant artists and the academic poseurs cloaked within the glamour of nihilist jargon and bad epistemologies.

Lindsay also mentions the Stephen Hicks/Thaddeus Russell debate: ‘Postmodernism Is Necessary For A Politics Of Individual Liberty

Related On This Blog:

Martha Nussbaum on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

Postmodern generator here, via David Thompson.

Simon Blackburn revisits the Sokal hoax.

The Sokal hoax:

“…in 1996 the radical “postmodernist” journal Social Text published an article submitted by Alan Sokal, a mathematical physicist at New York University, with the mouthwatering title “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” Sokal then revealed the article to be a spoof…”

Sokal has been busy ruminating since that paper, and Blackburn, a Cambridge philosophy professor, reviews his ruminations.

Mentioned In The Review: Kant, Karl Popper, Einstein, postmodernism, a sympathetic account of the academic postmodernist climate, Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, (T)ruth, Richard Rorty…


Daniel Dennett from 1998: Postmodernism and Truth

‘When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted “an epistemology,” he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear–it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn’t matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party’

Worth a read.

The arts and humantities can be given a seriousness of purpose, I’m guessing, but must that purpose necessarily be scientific?

Do creative musical/artistic geniuses really need to understand particularly well how the sciences advance? How much does it matter that a theater major understands how the sciences come to say true things about the world and predict with high accuracy how nature behaves beyond a science course or two?

I could be wrong.

Clearly, one problem is that out of the postmodern malaise comes the nihilism, moral relativism and general desperation where many can be found clinging to the sciences, or some standard of rationalism and reason that doesn’t seem sufficient in answering all the questions religion claims to answer, nor doesn’t seem sufficient as a platform to understand human nature, history, tradition, the wisdom in our institutions, and the experience past generations can offer beyond its own presumptions.

Lots of people can thus make ideology their guide and political change their purpose, or the State their religion and their own moral failings or moral programs everyone’s moral oughts through the law and politics.

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

Quote found here at friesian.com (recovering Kantian idealism through post-Kantian philosopher Jakob Fries):

‘Oddly enough, it is the intellectual snobbery and elitism of many of the literati that politically correct egalitarianism appeals to; their partiality to literary Marxism is based not on its economic theory but on its hostility to business and the middle class. The character of this anti-bourgeois sentiment therefore has more in common with its origin in aristocratic disdain for the lower orders than with egalitarianism.’

John M. Ellis, Literature Lost [Yale University Press, 1997, p. 214]


Using quite a bit of German idealism (Hegelian) to get at the problem:

Roger Scruton here.

Book here.

‘While I am complaining, I will also note that Scruton has nothing to say about how several of these figures—especially Žižek and Alain Badiou, along with Jacques Derrida, who is barely mentioned here—have played a role in the so-called “religious turn” of humanistic studies, in which various movements generally called “postmodern” find a significant place for religion in their reflections, if not in their beliefs or practices. This marks a significant departure from the relentless secularism of most earlier forms of European leftism, and that deserves note. Nor does Scruton account fully for Jürgen Habermas’s reputation as a centrist figure in the German and more generally the European context. (Habermas too has spoken more warmly of religion in recent years.’

I’ve heard Scruton’s rather sober vision of the good society referred to as ‘Scrutopia’ by dissenters:

On this site, see:

More Scruton here.

So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’

Steven Pinker piece here.

Pinker boils his argument down to two ideals:

‘The first is that the world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves.’

and:

‘The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms.’

Hilary Putnam and Bryan Magee discuss the ‘treasure chest’ vision of science, where you just keep filling up the chest with more and more knowledge.

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Pinker’s second ideal is as follows:

‘The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions.’

One of the other debates here is about where meaning shall be found, in politics, in ethics, as a foundation for the humanities, and religion, as all manner of other ideas fill the void.

Addition: I guess I’m trying to say that I remain skeptical the sciences can properly scale. Many people claiming to have a scientific worldview are curiously more committed to ideas downstream of scientific inquiry. This can involve an idealized or popular, mummified vision of ‘science,’ (the science is clear, it’s on on my side, we must act together or vote for x) or even ‘anti-science’ nihilism and destructive cultism (the universe is a meaningless void, you’re utterly alone, here’s exactly what the scientists don’t want you to know, so join us).

Related On This Site: From The NY Times Book Review-Thomas Nagel On John Gray’s New ‘Silence Of Animals’From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.… Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

More here from the Times Literary Supplement.

I suppose ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ and/or ‘libertarian socialism’ is better than the dead-ends of socialist doctrine. Noam Chomsky actually had enough computational/scientific training to be dismissive of postmodern thought. 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 lead to a political philosophy of either universalism or nihilism, 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

What about value pluralism…positive and negative liberty?: The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Martha Nussbaum criticizing Chomsky’s hubris in Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal

Welcome To The Western Skies Motel-Some Old & New Links On Place In America

Ernst Haas-Western Skies Motel, Colorado, 1977. It’s a wonderful use of color, along with those clouds and that light. A mood is created, and not much extra visual information is provided.

Ernst Haas-There’s so much visual information, but is there? What is communicated through your eye and to your brain? Route 66 Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1969

As posted:

Via Mick Hartley, British photographer Mark Power’s Good Morning, America, vols. 1 (mostly Arkansas) & 2 (mostly across the South).

Power:

‘I keep a physical and metaphorical distance between myself and the subject. It’s a way of delineating my ‘foreignness’ and is a similar stance to the one I took while working in Poland making The Sound of Two Songs (2004-09). It’s comes very naturally to me; I’ve always felt I’m better at observing than participating, so to stand back and watch from afar suits me very well.’

I often find myself drawn to photos with some distance.

As posted:

Via Mick Hartley, Steve Fitch Photography has neon motel signs glowing into the Western night.

He also has a book simply titled ‘Motel Signs:’

What’s more American than an exiled member of the Russian aristocracy intimately making his way into the English language and peering out from a thousand Motor Lodges?

Nabokov in America:  On The Road To Lolita.

Michael Dirda review of the review here.

“Nabokov in America” is rewarding on all counts, as biography, as photo album (there are many pictures of people, Western landscapes and motels) and as appreciative criticism. Not least, Roper even avoids the arch style so often adopted by critics faintly trying to emulate their inimitable subject.’

Well, there’s Donald Judd and Marfa, Texas, which looks interesting:

As previously posted, The Critic Laughs, by Hamilton:

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.

But it can be empty, and lonely, and full of hard work and suffering:

MT-3 Storm Breaking-3

Montana Pastoral    

I am no shepherd of a child’s surmises.
I have seen fear where the coiled serpent rises,

Thirst where the grasses burn in early May
And thistle, mustard and the wild oat stay.

There is dust in this air. I saw in the heat
Grasshoppers busy in the threshing wheat.

So to this hour. Through the warm dusk I drove
To blizzards sifting on the hissing stove,

And found no images of pastoral will,
But fear, thirst, hunger, and this huddled chill.  

J.V. Cunningham

Detroit Nocturne‘ found here. Via Mick Hartley.

I’m partial to ‘Joey’s Meatcutter Inn, Bar & Grill 2017‘:

Joey's Meatcutter's Inn, Eastside, Detroit 2017

Immediately, I think of Edward Hopper: The lonely cityscape at night or the familiar glow of gas station lights cast into the American wilderness. The eye might want to linger among the colors, shapes and clouds even though the mind knows this is pretty much an empty street in a ‘post-industrial’ zone.

Perhaps it has do with another strand of expression: The break into free verse from past forms. The move from American Romanticism to Modernism which occurred this early past century. William Carlos Williams produced many good poems from a process of earnest, scrapbook-style intensity in trying to discover, redefine, and order a new poetic form within a modern ‘urban landscape.’

The individual artist is quite alone in the task he’s set before himself, and like much of modernism, it’s a rather big task.

Pastoral

When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.

No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation

William Carlos Williams

Do you believe any of that to be of vast import to the nation? Are you no one?

Friday Poems Around A Theme-Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens & Robert Frost

Luck is not chance (1350)

Luck is not chance—
It’s Toil—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned—
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
We spurned—

Emily Dickinson

To A High-Toned Old Christian Woman

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms,
Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began. Allow,
Therefore, that in the planetary scene
Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
Proud of such novelties of the sublime,
Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.

Wallace Stevens

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Wednesday Poem-Richard Eberhart’s ‘The Groundhog’

The Groundhog

In June, amid the golden fields,
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.
Inspecting close his maggots’ might
And seething cauldron of his being,
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.
The fever arose, became a flame
And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,
And through my frame a sunless trembling.
My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge
Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.
And so I left; and I returned
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained.
But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.
Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot
There was only a little hair left,
And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.
It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,
And thought of China and of Greece,
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.

Richard Eberhart

Friday Poem-Seamus Heaney

May

When I looked down from the bridge
Trout were flipping the sky
Into smithereens, the stones
Of the wall warmed me.

Wading green stems, lugs of leaf
That untangle and bruise
(Their tiny gushers of juice)
My toecaps sparkle now

Over the soft fontanel
Of Ireland. I should wear
Hide shoes, the hair next my skin,
For walking this ground:

Wasn’t there a spa-well,
Its coping grassy, pendent?
And then the spring issuing
Right across the tarmac.

I’m out to find that village,
Its low sills fragrant
With ladysmock and celandine,
Marshlights in the summer dark.

Seamus Heaney

Wednesday Poem-Rita Dove

Geometry

I prove a theorem and the house expands:
the windows jerk free to hover near the ceiling,
the ceiling floats away with a sigh.

As the walls clear themselves of everything
but transparency, the scent of carnations
leaves with them.  I 
am out in the open

and above the windows have hinged into butterflies,
sunlight glinting where they’ve intersected.
They are going to some point true and unproven.

Rita Dove

Downward To Darkness: From A Reader-Wallace Stevens’ ‘Sunday Morning’

A return to Nature?  To origins of faith?  To a simple freedom in a wild land, and new understandings, with death in view? To visions of Romantic Primitivism becoming modern?:

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

Wallace Stevens

Full poem here.

Read it aloud, for God’s sake, as the meaning lies in the experience of saying.

‘Spring Beauties’-A Brief Post And A Link On Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Ferguson on Andrew Wyeth: ‘Terror In The Abstract:’

Andrew Wyeth homepage here with some images included.

There are definitely interesting things going on with light in Wyeth’s work. It fills his paintings. I also find my eye and mind hovering between realist depiction and abstract arrangement of objects on the canvas.

Ferguson:

‘Beneath the frequent prettiness, most of the pictures are just this side of harrowing, not just lonesome and melancholy but portraits of life as it seeps inevitably away. The wind that lifts the lace curtain in Wind from the Sea makes the hair on your arms stand up. Jamie Wyeth, Andrew’s son and a celebrated artist himself, confesses to being puzzled by the benign view of Wyeth’s work. “My father’s work is terrifying,” he said. It’s not sentimental. It’s luminous! But in a creepy way.’

Wyeth reached a level of popular appreciation few artists ever receive in their lifetimes.

Like many Americans, I find myself drawn to what I would call a New England plainness and Yankee work ethic and aesthetic, which is evident is some of Wyeth’s landscapes, at least. Long winters and deep woods. Shorter distances and stonier soil in the meadows. Perhaps a Puritan, high-minded spiritual reserve.

Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and Nathaniel Hawthorne spring immediately to mind, but, I confess so did that gothic Mainer and fiction horror-writer Stephen King.

Or perhaps the Shaker work song ‘Simple Gifts’ adapted by Aaron Copland might be a good example of what I’m trying to get at.

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So, is this representative of Wyeth?  Perhaps. He did much of his work in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Maine, but according to Wikipedia there may be other influences as well:

‘N.C. also fostered an inner self-confidence to follow one’s own talents without thought of how the work is received. N.C. wrote in a letter to Wyeth in 1944:[8]

“The great men [ Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy] forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of an artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event. I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect — to score a hit — does not know what he is missing!”‘

So, I’m speculating. Addition: There’s also a strong modernist-influenced creative imagination at work here too, and like Hopper, the American question of what to do with all that space and wilderness.

Yet, a man able to walk familiar land, seeing it anew with keen eyes, hoping his senses pick up more than he knows, having a medium with which to express his thoughts seems a man who’s had some success in life, regardless of popular appreciation.

Of course, a concupiscent eye must come into tension with other parts of a man’s character.

Or at least when there was a tittering about his ‘Helga‘ paintings a while back.

Ferguson:

‘Stopping to rest near a group of European spring beauties, he saw on a trail above him a young woman on a walk. Assuming she was alone, she moved off the trail, lifted her skirt, and defecated in the grass. Wyeth was charmed. “The white curve of her bottom was amazing,” he told Meryman. The little lumps she left tumbled downhill and stopped in the patch of spring beauties.’

Well, there you go, America.

A discussion of ‘Christina’s World,’ a well-known work of his does more justice than this brief post.

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Repost-A Reaction To Jeff Koons-For Commerce Or Contemplation?

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: Woman… Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’