Monday, December 27, 2010

More old/new. Still working. p.48 [PDF]
Yves Saint Laurent was three when he pointed out to his aunt that her shoes and dress didn’t match. His statement can be designated a truth in the terms of the system in which he had already, and precociously, educated himself. But systems are always changing and are always in the process of becoming. Society is always changing and representational systems ossify into formal systems that outlast their role as representation. Forms are still used even as they become brittle. And as I described in Manet and Picasso, and now with Duchamp, this is the crisis that defines modern art, which is no more or less than the art of a culture in crisis. Sometimes forms are taken up in new ways, as in Duchamp’s literary objects. Sergei Eisenstein’s favorite author was Dickens. With film the 19th century tradition moved onto a different track, so in art school we studied Vertov. Man with a Movie Camera was adopted as an example of the fine art—non-narrative—avant-garde, by which definition Eisenstein in inverse relation to his actual importance, was a maker of popular film.

Eliot’s poetry as is memorial, describing a desire to hold on to what one loves even after it’s dead. But he found a strange way to bring the dead to life. He used modern forms to describe an anti-modern philosophy and he ended up leaving behind one of the greatest descriptions that we have of the interior life of a modern conservative. If G.A. Cohen had the clarity of Eliot, he could have written a great novel about the dream and failure of communism in the west. And he would have been able to give communism a better defense than he did. What he lacked was an ability to articulate his own tragedy. He and his work will end in obscurity because both will be useless to history.

The abolitionist John Brown was a political vanguardist, avant-garde and outlier, and a more directly moral man than Lincoln. But the fact that Brown was right, simply and straightforwardly, in his absolute condemnation of slavery and slaveholders doesn’t make him a more important man. Lincoln’s moderation, his political and rhetorical expertise, even considered as partially corrupt, make him the more complex figure, precisely because Lincoln could communicate with those for whom Brown would have no patience. Lincoln was more representative of the complexities of the white, and majority, American imagination.

Brown’s politics was the fanaticism of the slaveholder’s brother, not the anger of the slave. Frederick Douglass thought the raid on Harper’s Ferry was much too dangerous. The genius of Lincoln stems from his relationships, belonging to the dominant party—moderate only in its own terms—of white America, and to the dominant language of American culture. That’s not a defense of Lincoln over Brown, or of corrupt moderation over radical action; both played their part. But any complex defense of either of them, including the possibility that Brown’s last raid was not foolhardy but a suicide mission, with the intent of driving the nation towards a final civil war, would have to be among other things, a defense of their self-awareness and of their political art. Both are important in the sense that Demoiselles d’Avignon is important: as useful to our understanding of history. But we return to them not to find answers but to ask questions that are still relevant to us, about emotions and moral responsibility, about our relations to each other.

My discussion to Harper’s Ferry and suicide missions is not the same as Karlheinz Stockhausen’s claim that the attacks on New York in 2001 were a work of art, let alone a great one. The attack was no more than spectacular stunt that killed thousands of people and led nowhere. It was in a very real way anti-political: a “fuck you”, “epater le bourgeois!” and it’s precisely the old avant-garde assumption that such violence is or ever could be an artistic gesture that allowed Stockhausen to say something so stupid. Taking Brown’s last acts seriously, as political strategy, the clear parallel is to Hamas, who are neither romantic idealists nor nihilists, but are committed as most experts agree to very specific and limited political goals. Hamas. like John Brown, and unlike al Qaeda are engaged.

The image of Palestinians in the western imagination is a perfect contemporary example of change in normative language. Over 30 years Palestinians have moved from absence to presence in our culture, while little about their own experience has changed at all. And any sociological analysis of that change in our perceptions would have to cover the entire political spectrum. Culture functions through relations of distance and proximity. Palestinian absence in the west was physical. But for Israel where they’ve always been physically present the most universal parallel is simple enough: the presence and absence of women. The original shock and continuing ambiguity of Manet’s Olympia has to do with the full presence of the central figure. She’s looking directly at us, without being very interested. The boredom itself was once shocking. But Manet made art out of the indifference of a naked whore the same way Duchamp made art out of a urinal, by moving something that was always in the world, from the background of our experience to the foreground. The change for Palestinians has been slow but simple moral logic has played no bigger a role from 1947 to 2010 than it did in 1860. The new Palestinian presence has allowed us to engage them and their experience for the first time. The Palestinian problem, modeled on the Jewish, Negro, or Woman, problems, has become the Israeli-Palestinian problem. But acknowledgement is no more than that. There is no way to work outside of time, to shorten the process of assimilation by imagining as philosophers do, an oxymoronic aperspectival view. All we can do is demonstrate the uselessness of arrogant presumption and the rhetoric of truth, and argue for replacing them, not with a fallacious truth of rhetoric, but the truth of process.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Adding more to the paper. [12/11. see the link on the right] Why not post it here.

"If the anthropocentric civilization of the Renaissance is headed, as it seems to be, for a 'Middle Ages in reverse'... " Irwin Panofsky wrote those words in 1955, in the introduction to a collection of his essays. The introduction, “The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline”, is a resigned but damning criticism of the culture of instrumentalization, so it’s fitting that his definition of humanism now seems largely forgotten. In the older originating definition of the term, Erasmus was the humanist, not Luther; now Luther’s descendants are called humanists. Looking over the literature on Pollock, from Greenberg on, the references to the “Gothic” aren’t surprising. It’s become clear to me where my childhood associations of Pollock and Uccello begin. But you have to look farther into the past or to historians, not philosophers or theorists of the present to understand the implications. The reconstruction of humanism begins with a return to history, and a focus not on how various forms are distinct, isolated from one another, but how they’re related: tied together. I’ll end this with another passage from Clark, from Farewell to an Idea, the beginning of the chapter on Pollock: on Flaubert and Pollock and the fantasies of Modernism in modernity. You’ll hear echoes of Henry James on Eliot and of Bourdieu and Greenberg in their faithful taking of people at their word, following others’ fantasies as ideas rather than as descriptions of desire (and as echoes of/in a closet). As a critique of Bourdieu, [here] the passage is devastating
Farai un vers de dreit nien:
non er de mi ni d'autra gen,
non er d'amor ni de joven,
ni de ren au,
qu'enans fo trobatz en durmen,
sus un chivau.

(I shall make a poem out of [about] nothing at all:/it will not speak of me or others,/of love or youth, or of anything else,/for it was composed while I was asleep/riding on horseback.)

William IX of Aquitaine

Once Upon a Time. When I first came across the lines by the duke of Aquitaine some years ago, naturally I imagined them in Jackson Pollock’s mouth. They put me in mind of modernism; or of one moment of modernism which I realized I had been trying (and failing) to get in focus ever since I had read Harmonium or looked at Le Bonheur de vivre. Two things were clarified. Not just that modern artists often turned away from the detail of the world in order to revel in the work of art's "essential gaudiness," but that the turning away was very often associated with a class attitude or style not unlike Duke William's, or, at least, an attempt to mimic that style - its coldness, brightness. lordliness, and nonchalance. Its "balance, largeness, precision, enlightenment, contempt for nature in all its particularity."' Its pessimism of strength.

You might expect such an effort at aristocratic world-weariness on the part of bourgeois and even petty-bourgeois artists, operating in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries not the eleventh and twelfth, to bear some strange fruit.

Largeness and lordliness, after all, were not likely to be these artists' forte. Take the novelist Gustave Flaubert, for (central) example, at the beginning of work on Madame Bovary in 1852: already chafing at the he bit of reference that seemed to come with the form he had chosen and dreaming of "a book a about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would he held together by the internal strength of its style ... a book which would have almost no subject or at least where the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible.” What strikes me as truly strange in Flaubert's case is not so much the project he outlined for himself - though as an ambition for a novel rather than a sestina or a set of haiku it has its own pathos – as the distance between the hook he imagined and the one he actually wrote. No book has ever been fuller than Madame Bovary of the everything external which is the bourgeois world. Fuller in its heart of hearts, I mean; fuller in its substance; in the weight it gives to words themselves. It is as if the more intense a bourgeois artist's wish to dispense with externals and visibilities, the stronger will be their hold an the work's pace, structure, and sense of its own objectivity. Or maybe we could say that what brings on the word "bourgeois" at all as a proper description of Madame Bovary is exactly the deadlock within it between a language so fine and cold that it hopes to annihilate the emotions it describes as it describes them, and an absolute subjugation to those emotions and the world of longing they conjure up. A deep sentimentality, not relieved but exacerbated by a further (ultimate) sentimentality about language – call it belief in the arbitrariness of the sign.
See also earlier posts: on Clark (Cafe Concerts), Eliot, Greenberg's snobbery (and cultural insecurity) and Marie Lloyd. All now plugged into the paper.
In order of appearance:

See also the previous post
The artist as preacher, side show barker, and snake oil salesman. The Confidence Man.
"Artists. All Charlatans." (Flaubert)
"Men let your wallets flop out,
And women open your purses!"

...Webcor, Webcor

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jeff Wall: [Referring to Delacroix] Violence is only a theme in this kind of art; the art itself isn’t violent. That makes it very different from, even opposed to, the art of the avant-garde, which expresses aggression against the idea of art itself. This aggression is no longer viable. I don’t think its necessary or possible to go beyond the idea of bourgeois art -that is of autonomous art- towards a fusion of art and its context. Or if its possible it isn’t very desirable. We have learned how the aggression against autonomous art was consistent with aspects of totalitarianism, from the Stalinist period for example, and how state violence could benefit from that kind of aesthetic. The concept of art as autonomous, and therefore less amenable to that kind of instrumentalization, is a central concern of the modern, and I’m most sympathetic to that.

A-MB/RM: Modernity and avant-garde, to you, are two separate things?

JW: We can’t confuse them anymore.
A Democratic, a Bourgeois Tradition of Art: a Conversation with Jeff Wall,
Selected Essays and Interviews.
No choice
Prominent Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola recently told the Jerusalem Post that Jews already constitute just under 50% of the population in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. In effect, a Jewish minority rules over a majority population that includes 1.4 million Palestinian (second-class) citizens of Israel, 2.5 million Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and another 1.5 million under siege in the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip. All credible projections show that Palestinians will be the decisive majority within a few years.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

[reusing old graphics]

From the paper [see the link on the side of the page]

Again: the problem isn’t one of Analytic or Continental philosophy any more than one of (academic) left or right. The problem is philosophy itself: the placing of ideas over their enactment. If in the beginning was the word, then our world begins with God. If in the beginning was the act, then it begins with us. The Derridean critique of Logocentrism is little more than a critique of those who would be speak before their maker. Derrida is an exegete for whom secular literature is parasitic . Even when he could have been direct and to the point, as in his dismemberment more than deconstruction of John Searle’s arguments, in the essays published in Limited Inc , his indirectness shows as little more than the false modesty of an ostentatiously self-deprecating priest, constantly referring to a higher authority. His ‘performance’ as an author reminds me of my mother’s painfully deferential attitude when playing Bach; painful precisely because of her refusal to perform, as if to do so would be to usurp his authority. Derrida’s philosophy is as opposed to art as is any other form of Modernist intellectualism. How does his whispering discussion of “…the other” fit with the vulgar realities of theater or law? If an actor plays Macbeth, a fictional character, written by William Shakespeare, where’s the self? Can you imagine the theater reviews of Derridean passivity as applied to Hamlet? Deconstruction is nothing but the manifestation of hypertrophied individualism, overdetermined and under analyzed, glossed-over by the sincere desire to be something more. And sincerity is like intention, meaningless. Better the powerful insincerity of Olivier or a trial lawyer at the bar. Better philosophically, better politically.

The contemporary “theory of art”, if not of literature, music or film, begins not with art but with philosophy, with an individualism that’s foreign to the arts. The aristocratic arts have become bureaucratized to match the intellectual aristocracy of management. It was popular until recently in art/intellectual circles to argue against “mastery”, not against mindless technique in favor of communicative skill –not against Jazz fusion and for Charlie Parker or against Yes and for the Clash- but against craft as such in favor of the moral and intellectual mastery of ideas and the mind. And this bookish authoritarianism when allied to the pretensions of the academic bourgeois, left and middle, was called truth. th. In the acknowledgements of her intellectual biography of Clement Greenberg aptly titled ‘Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses , Caroline A. Jones thanks Benjamin Buchloh, historian, critic, and theoretician of high-seriousness in contemporary art, for his “stimulating aperçu regarding the ‘administrative sensibility’ of post-Greenbergian conceptual art.” It’s left at that.
It should be clear by now my point is that craft is less individualist than reason, whether the reason of the analytics or of the craftiness of theory, though as I’ve said, foreign thought is less translated than transliterated. And its readership is barely more sophisticated than Donald Davidson in his arguments against “conceptual schemes”. Americans are naïve about themselves. European socialists and social democrats are not American liberals and the writings of academics enamored of French theory are no more French than Johnny Hallyday is Elvis. Middle class Europe took working class America and made it sophisticated, removing the vulgarity. American middle class vulgarity takes European sophistication and replicates it in the university and mall. American theory is bureaucratized and humorless, self-indulgent and childish. It’s anti-cultural. Derrida was engaged as the product of culture. He was a priest. The argument against him, and its damning, is that he’s trying to use the language of the high church, or the high temple, to describe democratic responsibility, trying to reconcile a univocal God with a multivocal world. But the moral law of democracy says that meanings don’t come from God, or from above, but from below.
The aristocratic arts can’t represent or defend democracy any more than science can. Which is why in Europe unlike the US the aristocratic tradition still plays a role. The model of the intellectual as Bourgeois-Anti-Bourgeois or of the high and low against the middle, includes elements that are both radical and reactionary, and people are unafraid to criticize the banalities of democratic culture as they see it. This doesn’t happen so openly in the US and when it does, the superiority of the aristocrat, flaneur, or connoisseur is transformed into the snobbery of the technocrat and expert, even the expert in French theory. The insouciance of the boulevardier becomes the pedantry of middle management.
What is pure art according to the modern idea? It is the creation of an evocative magic, containing at once the object and the subject, the world external to the artist and the artist himself.

What is Philosophical Art according to the ideas of Chenavard and the German school? It is a plastic art which sets itself up in place of books, by which I mean as a rival to the printing press in the teaching of history, morals and philosophy.
Our works will not be judged for what we want from them but for what they appear be in others’ eyes. Numbers model but language represents. Formal structures can be tightly structured but their relation to the world is fluid. The authors of the Constitution understood that. Foucault understood that more than Derrida. The American intellectualism of bureaucracy, of theory and philosophy, of Social Text and Quine, doesn’t understand it at all.


Monets sell high at auction because they’re pretty not because they’re important, which is not to say that they aren’t both. Warhol sells for glamour not for terror, though their relation was his theme. That’s how the market for valuable commodities works. ...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ron Vawter on One Life to Live.
The Wooster Group
[Thanks Clay]

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Arguing with law professors comment removed
"Italian rules allowing candy makers including Nestle SA to label their products as “pure chocolate” breach European Union law, the region’s highest court said.

Permitting chocolate made from pure cocoa butter to be called “cioccolato puro,” or “pure chocolate,” clashes with EU-wide measures which allow chocolate laced with vegetable fats to be marketed as chocolate, the tribunal in Luxembourg said."
German roofers were under pressure from the EU a few years ago because in Germany you were not allowed to start your own company without 7 or 8 years of experience, and other countries were far less strict. But German roofers were considered the best in Europe. At the same time small batch cheese makers in Switzerland are under pressure now from industrial cheese manufacturers in Germany, who buy up all the milk.

Brad DeLong has come out in favor of cardboard tomatoes for the masses.
you have to either live in the countryside or live in the city and be really rich to say that rubber tomatoes suck. For those humans who live in the city and are not really rich, rubber tomatoes provide a welcome and tasty and affordable simulacrum of the tomato-eating experience.
The foundation of democracy is in citizens having and understanding conflicting interests: self-interest/fraternity, greed/pride, the obligations of a soldier/the obligations of a citizen [in a democracy those are opposed]. I know men who've sold for multiple millions to multimillionaires and billionaires, but who aren't more than millionaires themselves. For themselves, enough's enough. I was raised to know that there was greed in the world. I was raised to think of greed as vulgar and a waste of time. Realism is realism concerning others, yes?. Weren't you raised to hold yourself to a higher standard? Maybe not. Neoliberalism says there is no higher standard, that non-contradictory law/contract is all there needs to be. [see the definition of democracy above]

And since you're linking to a discussion on your own page: Rawls was an idiot. The essence of law in a democracy is the practice of adversarialism: public argument. There is no "truth" beyond process. Philosophy is not foundational it's parasitic. But philosophy is foundational to neoliberalism.

I hope that answers your questions. Maybe now we can talk about democracy in Egypt and US support for kings, dictators and Israel. Zionism is racism (and liberal Zionism is an oxymoron).
Simple logic.

Sunday, December 05, 2010


Iraqi officials view relations with Saudi Arabia as among their most problematic, although they are usually careful with U.S. officials to avoid overly harsh criticism, given our close relations with the Saudis.

... [D]onors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.

Other countries watching this exchange will marvel at Washington's weakness. A nominal U.S. ally that receives $1.5 billion in annual aid makes a mockery of democratic rights -- and is answered with mild and low-level expressions of regret and promises to do nothing other than "raise concerns where appropriate." The Obama administration appears to be thoroughly intimidated by Hosni Mubarak - when what it ought to be worried about is who or what will succeed him ."
The cognitive dissonance in the US press on foreign policy matches that on tax cuts and the deficit. Or maybe it's just that sham elections make it harder to ignore corruption. Or maybe it's just that sham elections are a sign of weakness, and weakness makes people nervous. People are impressed by the Saudis and by Republicans, and not afraid to show contempt for Mubarak and Democrats. The Darwinism of the schoolyard.
"The political men of Greece, who lived under popular government, did not know any other force capable of preserving it than virtue. Those of our own day speak to us of nothing but manufacturing, commerce, finance, wealth, and even luxury."

Montesquieu, On the Spirit of the Laws

Friday, December 03, 2010

Hitchcock. The Lodger, 1927
About ten years ago I received out of the blue an offprint of an article from the University Pennsylvania Law Review called Law, Music, and Other Performing Arts, by Professors Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas and Jack Balkin of Yale. It was ostensibly a review of Authenticity and Early Music a collection of essays edited by Nicholas Kenyon, then the editor of Early Music magazine, and published by Oxford University Press in 1988 to which I had contributed. I read it with fascination and gratitude, the latter simply because the authors had so well understood the position I had taken in the debates about what was then known as authentic performance practice. in music My musical and musicological colleagues seemed unable to hear what I was really saying when I said that their ideas of historical performance practice, on which the. claim of authenticity was based, derived from a selective reading of history in the service of a modern -or, more strongly, a modernist- ideology. They thought I was claiming that what they were doing was incorrect or misguided or deceitful; but what I meant to imply (and even said outright on occasion) was that their accomplishment was actually far more important and authentic than they claimed or even realized, since it made them the authentic voice of their time, which was our time.

…In their review Levinson and Balkin focused on the claim of privilege to which proponents of "authenticity" felt themselves entitled by virtue of their superior knowledge (or so they claimed) of composers' intentions. The law professors understood that my strictures were not addressed only to this particular claim of privilege but to any and all such claims that sought to circumvent the judgment and preferences of listeners-that is, those most immediately affected by performance decisions. They understood and endorsed my equation of the authenticists' claim to objective knowledge of history with the modernist claim to objective knowledge of musical structure, and my contentions, first, that no one's knowledge of cultural artifacts can be the product of anything other than interpretation; second, that all interpretations are to be judged on a continuum; and third, that the only proper judges are living listeners, not dead authorities, be they composers, theorists, or instrument builders.

All works of art. I argued (and they agreed), are subject to social mediation. It is, indeed, the price of living. Social mediation is what renders works of art intelligible, and it is what gives them continuing relevance, And social mediation inevitably changes whatever it mediates. There can be no appeal to a higher authority, I said (and they agreed), and any attempt at such an appeal is in fact a covert assertion of the appellant's own authority, I wanted to hug them when I read the sentence I am about to quote, which so succinctly encapsulated everything I had been trying to say. "His complaint is that authenticists, like other ideologues, try to discredit competing presentations as 'incorrect' or, indeed, incompetent, when the proper focus should be on whether the performances are more or less enjoyable and artistically effective." Yes indeed, and doesn't it seem obvious. Ought it to require a musicologist and a pair of legal scholars to come up with such a truism? Maybe not, but apparently it does.
We define the present according to our values. You can argue if you want that our values are determined by material reality and that "intention" is illusion, but you cannot argue that ignoring questions of value solves the problem. If it did than being a "moderate" in the present in the US would be no different than being a moderate in 1939 in Berlin.