Monday, November 30, 2009



"There’s a desperate falseness to the figuration in most of his work, the progression is towards a failure as mimesis and a focus on manifestation alone. The works embody and articulate a complex reaction to the world but the world exists more and more in the experience of methods and material. He’s “competing with the world.” [Anne Baldessari, Matisse Picasso, exhibition catalogue, MoMA/Tate, 2002. Page 126] But that’s not what he wants. And at his best with the conflicts at their peak there’s no pretense at resolution. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is so important to our understanding of the period because it is one of the few great moments of depiction in 20th century painting, and the last great act of depiction in Picasso’s career. His terrifying whores of Calle Avignon are not complex characters by the standards of art history as a whole but they’re more autonomous than we’re used to with Picasso, especially in his images of women. They look back at us as Manet’s barmaids and prostitutes do and Picasso tries to destroy them for that and fails, the proof, lying between the artist and his models his severed member on a plate. The greatness of the painting has everything to do with Picasso’s admission of defeat in the world beyond it. " PDF [updated]

I'm catching some flack for this and I don't understand it at this point. Did Picasso ever paint another painting with subjects so dangerously alive? Alive is a relative term in art and especially in Picasso, but can there even be an argument? As with the preference for materiality over mimesis: what does it imply?

In other news: Switzerland bans Yarmulkes.
Johnson sends more troops to Southeast Asia

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

From a letter -of mine- a couple of months ago. I like the way it lays things out:

Fried and Krauss, and Clark, all see the avant-garde as predictive or prescriptive. All I see is the current generation's desperate attempt to describe a world that didn't exist 20 years earlier: a continuing generation gap. And in the 19th century there's the problem that more and more artists seem less and less able to represent the world, so that over time all thats left for them to do -and they come to this over the course of decades- is to make not interesting depictions of things, but only interesting things; to the point that modern art only represents the world in the -general- sense that modern buildings do. But then popular art becomes the central forum for mimesis. And when abstraction is returned to the world it's returned to the world as authoritarianism. It were ever thus.

Reading Art and Objecthood first when I was about 20 was a bizarre experience for me. I recognized objects becoming figures, the beginnings of theatricality the end of idealism and the rest. I saw Smithson and baroque architecture. I didn't see the best art in the world but I saw the attempt of fine artists to make objects or non-objects that felt appropriate.
In the same way that artists found a way to make theater that they could call "performance art" This gets perverse pretty quickly and you end up studying minor practitioners of different fields who can be appropriated as artists. Studying Vertov for example in art school because he was a formalist but not Eisenstein, because what... he was popular?
Eisenstein thought Vertov sucked. He had a point.

Anyway Fried came off to me like the father who still thought it was 1948. but the world had changed. Art describes the world, no more no less. But the teleology of progress was so universal in intellectual circles, various versions of the avant-garde -esthetically philosophically, politically- that it was imagined we could or should put the cart before the horse.
Art is empiricism- the most honest empiricism that we have. It documents the struggle of ideas against preference: the brilliant cafe revolutionary, who's loyal to the conservative form (art) used to describe the radical idea. But there are no ideas outside form. As Kunstler said: "I'm not a radical. Radicals don't believe in the justice system. I'm a lawyer who defends radicals. That's not the same thing." The history of art over the last 200 years is the struggle between the conservative and the reactionary. Art is always conservative. It tries to conserve. The founder of the Penna ACLU said the same thing about his organization.

There are varieties of kitsch: the kitsch of desperation- of early Cezanne, bad Manet, and early Pollock; pompous laziness - god-awful Courbet! and Jules Olitski, and hypocrisy- The Paris Salon, fascist kitsch. Kitsch is very wishful thinking. And Modernism and modernity is full of that.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Which of the following comes closer to your view of the budget deficit -the government should run a deficit if necessary when the country is in a recession and is at war, or the government should balance the budget even when the country is in a recession and is at war?

Run a deficit 30% 33%
Balance the budget 67% 65%
No opinion 4% 1%

The poll asked this question: "Do you think that Barack Obama legitimately won the Presidential election last year, or do you think that ACORN stole it for him?" The overall top-line is legitimately won 62%, ACORN stole it 26%.

Among Republicans, however, only 27% say Obama actually won the race, with 52% -- an outright majority -- saying that ACORN stole it, and 21% are undecided. Among McCain voters, the breakdown is 31%-49%-20%. By comparison, independents weigh in at 72%-18%-10%, and Democrats are 86%-9%-4%.
Democracy without leadership is failure but in America the myth has come to be the people lead, so conservative leaders are aggressive cynics and liberal leaders are idealistic and passive, a passivity that among the wealthy is clearly self-serving: they make money the same way rich conservatives do. That's changing now, slowly, and the motion is from the ground up, the cultural ground of course more than the economic one. John Stewart, a rich man, engages conservatives not just their ideas. He faced Lou Dobbs directly, talking to him not just about him. Interesting that the right doesn't attack Stewart and Colbert much.

It's not about idealism but a certain sense of obligation. Intellectual political liberalism is premised on the rationalism of rational action, of individual self-interest bound by law. Intellectual social -tacit, or de facto- liberalism is founded on the understanding that people are linked by overlapping and conflicting social obligations, that selves and others are wrapped up together in ways that are never clearly defined, but deny and demand description, and re-description. Academic liberalism is modeled on the naturalism of the hard sciences, informal, cultural, liberalism on historically minded but non-academic empiricism. In the US absent a crisis, that liberalism is anti-political, fitting with the hyper-political rationalism of the competition. That's the transition now.

The NY Times' professional television watcher catches the subtlety that the political intellectual does not.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Der Lauf Der Dinge







Fischli and Weiss: Rube Goldberg, Calvino, Syberberg.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] has been playing completely by the book. The PA has been killing Palestinians to prove that he is prepared to serve Israel’s security interests. What did he get in return? Only a continuation of setttlements, home demolitions, land expropriations..."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Conflicts Forum on General Dayton (again).

Link is dead; the article is here

Sunday, November 08, 2009

"I cannot remember a more misleading statement than Mr Eric Russell Bentley’s in the Spring Number of the Kenyon Review, 1945: ‘The potentialities of the talking screen differ from those of the silent screen in adding the dimension of dialogue—which could be poetry.’ I would suggest: ‘The potentialities of the talking screen differ from those of the silent screen in integrating visible movement with dialogue which, therefore, had better not be poetry.' "

Erwin Panofsky, Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures
And earlier in the same essay
"Today there is no denying that narrative films are not only 'art'—not often good art, to be sure, but this applies to other media aswell—but also, besides architecture, cartooning and 'commercial design,' the only visual art entirely alive...

In the beginning, then, there were the straight recordings of movement no matter what moved, viz., the prehistoric ancestorsof our 'documentaries'; and, soon after, the early narratives, viz.,the prehistoric ancestors of our 'feature films.' The craving for a narrative element could be satisfied only by borrowing from older arts, and one should expect that the natural thing would have been, to borrow from the theater, a theater play being apparently the genus proximum to a narrative film in that it consists of a narrative enacted by persons that move. But in reality the imitation of stage performances was a comparatively late and thoroughly frustrated development. What happened at the start was a very different thing. Instead of imitating a theatrical performance already endowed with a certain amount of motion, the earliest films added movement to works of art originally stationary, so that the dazzling technical invention might achieve a triumph of its own without in-truding upon the sphere of higher culture. The living language,which is always right, has endorsed this sensible choice when it still speaks of a 'moving picture' or, simply, a 'picture,' instead of accepting the pretentious and fundamentally erroneous 'screenplay.' "
Brilliant, brilliant, man.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Looking through my archives, I found that I linked to this and quoted the same paragraph, in 2003. Nothing's changed,
But there is something poignant about the Zionist left's continuous attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. Its criticisms of Sharon hark back to an idealised notion of a Jewish state in which democracy, decency and tolerance are the guiding principles. In moving forwards towards peace with the Palestinians, the left seeks to take a few steps back; consolidating the Jewish state, preserving its Jewish character, withdrawing from the quagmire of occupation and reinstating the values of a democratic and humane society. But to Palestinian ears there is something inherently wrong here: for us, there is a basic and inescapable contradiction between Zionism and democracy. If Zionism means anything, it means a Jewish state with a clear Jewish majority - and in Palestine this has necessarily been at the expense of Palestinian Arab rights.
Wiseman
And more on Levi-Strauss by Maurice Bloch.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Note-taking
I've written about this enough but it seemed like a good time to do it again.
If I'm running from a lion who's pawed a gash in my leg, my body is communicating information by means of the qualia of "pain," while a robot programmed for its own preservation will receive feedback in concrete quantitative terms. Biomechanical qualia are quanta: vast amounts of data known to us only in totality as sense.

Biological machines are capable of reason but are programmed also by conditioning, and reason and reflex can produce contradictory imperatives. If there's a "choice" to be made, which mechanism is it that "makes" the choice?

Consciousness is not complex calculation it's indecision. Create an indecisive computer, a neurotic computer, torn (having been given the imperative to survive) between the heuristics of conditioned response and calculation, and you'll have a conscious non-biological machine.

Mary the color scientist, seeing -sensing- color for the first time, will learn nothing new about color itself but will now give it a place among the trillions of sense impressions over the course of her life which she has compartmentalized, characterized, and like as not narrativized into her personal logic. She will have a new understanding of color not as independent but in relation to herself as a form of experience within the totality of her imagined and imagining life.
Mary will see, construct, and experience her red.
It will become a part of the totality of her experience and her conditioning.

More:
What exactly are qualitative states? In its definition of qualia at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy begs the question. Perception is physical: experience, sandpaper etc. When animals sense we categorize things in the history of our perceptions (patterning as comfort) Our history is foggy, and facts and values are confused from the start. The machines we make do not have this complex conflicted relation to the world, they’re not desirous or anxious. They have no sense of telos, even a blind drive for survival.

It seems easier to want to ascribe qualitative states to man-made machines than to describe the mechanics of qualitative “experience” and “perception.” To a machine, the blueprint for a building and the building itself are identical, while animals require the presence of the building to understand the thing. And like the color red in doing that we’re not understanding the building or the color but our categorization of it, and all the details that we analogize in relation to what we’ve already stored away. We’re bombarded by perceptions and evocations resulting from perceptions. But all of that can be described in quantitative terms. What’s private -as experience- is that each of us contextualize the data according to our own history. Every animal has his or her own filing system and her own adaptive conditioning. Animals are drunken machines, each of us drunk in our own way.

The limits of conceptualism it seems to me is in the unwillingness to mark the distinction between blueprints and buildings, between ideas and experience, because ideas are universally available and one’s experience of a building is private and therefore secondary, But what this means is that the ability to communicate always private experience atrophies, while experience is still our primary relation to the world. This conversation above seems more about desire than the world we will always only know as experience, while shying away from real questions regarding our biological machinery.