Sometimes, when I’m reading or listening to a paper which excites me with its novelty and brilliance, perhaps because it contains some really elegant move, a mental image comes into my head of Steve McManaman running with the ball, circa 1996. Colin McGinn, writing in the latest Prospect about how he became a philosopher, would see the parallel2008: Henry Farrell hearts My Bloody Valentine.
The metaphor that best captures my experience with both philosophy and sport is soaring: pole vaulting, gymnastics and windsurfing clearly demonstrate it, but the intellectual highwire act involved in full-throttle philosophical thinking gives me a similar sensation – as if I have taken flight, leaving gravity behind. It is almost like sloughing off mortality. (Plato indeed thought that acquiring abstract knowledge is a return to the prenatal state of the immortal soul.) There is also an impressiveness to these physical and mental skills that appeals to me – they evoke the “wow” reflex. Showing off is an integral part of their exercise; but as I said earlier, I don’t have any objection to showing off. In any case, there is not, for me, the discontinuity between sports and intellectual activities that is often assumed. It is not that you must either be a nerd or a jock; you can be both. It has never surprised me that the ancient Greeks combined a reverence for the mind with a love of sports: both involve an appreciation of the beauties of technique skilfully applied. And both place a high premium on getting it right – exactly right.
[if the video is gone, go here]
...not even as a guilty pleasure. Atomization, isolation and the illusion of absolute community. The low buzz and hum -the violence and warmth- of neurological overload. Henry Farrell as rationalist, rational actor, and club kid.
|Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)1950, National Gallery of Art|
T.J. Clark on Jackson Pollock [Farewell to an Idea, Chapter 6] makes arguments for Pollock's Modernism rather than concerning it. When he refers to "the nightmare of Modernism" his Modernism is the dreamer, not the dream. The nightmare is that Cecil Beaton was right.
|Cecil Beaton for Vogue, The New Soft Look, 1951|
It's not a question of indifference or even opposition to the raw pleasures of experience -to ecstasy of one sort or another- but of a necessary return to a questioning or doubting empiricism, even regarding the self. I have memories of a childhood ecstasy that the closest I'm come to seeing described in print was a paragraph from a woman's remembrance of the onset of childhood schizophrenia. Soon is basically one sonic image of the dance of death as led by the skipping children, "unkillable infants," of a laughing god. It works on those attuned to it first and foremost as reflex, and awareness of that does as much damage to its dream as Chris Farley's radical recontextualizations of Goth Talk. And isn't that also what Beaton does to Pollock?
In the arts it's not a question of philosophical truth. The central mistake of Modernism was to imagine that questions of right and wrong, or correct and incorrect, could apply to art even more strictly than to politics, and both of course were subject to overdetermined logic. But art is always no more or less then a record of our preoccupations, whatever they are. Most things end that way, as history, but art accepts its fate. At it's best it exists, after the fact of its making, as both the most honest and most intimate description of ourselves and our failures. Preoccupations are not truths except to admit that we have them. The question for Pollock, or My Bloody Valentine, or Cecil Beaton is whether they are giving us a rich description. I would say Beaton undermines Pollock without offering us anything better. What that would be, and who would supply it?
Update, January 12, 2009. Continued here
Much longer discussion in an essay. A passage below on Pollock, referring to an exchange between Alfred Brendel and Charles Rosen on Beethoven.
The experience of the sex act is social, formal, communicative, and if the world is seen as the social realm, world-creating. The moment of orgasm as reflex is aformal, asocial (isolate), ecstatic and if the world is seen as social, world destructive. Sex as performance is a form of communication, orgasm is artless. The pretense of an 'art' of orgasm is vulgar. The popular understanding of Pollock’s work is as an ‘act’ of ‘expression,’ as orgasm not structure. Mondrian saw structure. Duchamp thought nothing about cutting off a few inches of Mural (1943) because it was too big for Peggy Guggenheim’s wall. And Pollock didn’t complain. The what and how of communication for Pollock’s work are complex - as complex in their way as the question of orgasm in Beethoven.The paper, "Avant-Garde is Kitsch" here