Thursday, August 20, 2015

Carolyn A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses, 2005,  544 pages
Daston and Galison, Objectivity, 2007, 501 pages

Two door-stoppers, one written in scholarly but earnest and too informal prose, the other written in the language of scholarly romanticism; one the result -or maybe the cause- of a schoolmarmish crush on an arrogant and insecure former student, pointing out his errors, the other the product of two students' congratulatory self-love.  Jones refers to Galison and credits reading and talking to him as crucial to her understanding of logical positivism. Her book should stand as a blistering attack on everything he and Daston stand for, love, and indulge. It isn't. Everyone involved is much too polite, committed to the scholarly collaborative reason and to the bureaucracy of the church, the modern academy.
Objectivity is published by Zone.

Jones edited a book with Galison: Picturing Science, Producing Art
The first sentence of the blurb: "The boundaries between science and art will not hold."
The cognitive dissonance is beyond belief.
Still writing. Just picked up the book. It's a fucking obscenity.
You make an argument and then you realize you have another bigger target.
writing, rewriting, writing, rewriting
I’m not sure what you say to a historian of science who writes about The Vienna Circle and its relation to the Bauhaus. Peter Galison won a MacArthur fellowship six years after publishing “Aufbau/Bauhaus: Logical Positivism and Architectural Modernism”. By writing a history he’s undermined the arguments of the philosophers, but they did so themselves through their interest in art. And then by relating the art to the philosophy he’s undermining the art. I’ll return to Galison later with his more recent publications with Lorraine Daston -he’s made the same mistake throughout- but for now a brief response to his claims about the Bauhaus will do.

Very few people study the art of the Renaissance because they’re interested in furthering Catholic doctrine. In contemporary terminology, few people are interested in the Sistine Chapel as “illustration”. Works that interest us help us to understand the desires of the people who made them to the point that we understand them better than they understood themselves, and we can do so only because the record they’ve left us is so rich. Art is illusion and subtext, the description and observation (or analysis) of the sensibilities and desires of its makers. A description of a desire is not a desire; a desire for utopia is not utopia. Art has the relation to truth that walking around in a hair shirt is to proof that you’re predestined to salvation. It’s rhetoric. An actor playing a character screaming in pain is not in pain; he’s mimicking and making a reference to pain. The greatest examples of modernist architecture function in the world that exists while describing a desire for something more, as manifest in concrete and glass. If the buildings didn’t function as examples of anti-philosophical worldly sophistication they’d simply fail. If Tatlin’s monument were ever built it would have become a monument to kitsch. As a building it’s absurd. But as a model it’s still a dream each of us can build in our own minds.

The Bauhaus at its best was not a monument to science but to contradiction, to German academicism as ideal and as seen in von Sternberg’s Der blaue Engel. The image that best suits it would be Paul Klee painting his brilliant parti-colored doodles in a spotless lab coat. But we’d remember Klee if the Bauhaus had never existed. The Bauhaus itself is first and foremost in our memories as theater, as a theatrical performance of utopia in the years just before an actually existing hell on earth. Beyond that it’s furniture and dinnerware. The best art made there transcended it. It was better. The philosophers of the Vienna Circle would be unable to make the distinction between their model of the Bauhaus as illustration of a fantasy and its reality as a minor tragic episode in history, evidenced by the tchotchkes left behind.

How do we describe bureaucratic reason as poetry? “Design” as its come to be known is inseparable from aesthetics, which is again, an invention of the 18th century, and a theory that says theories come first. In the beginning was the Word; acts come after, the opposite of historian’s understanding that retrospective intelligence is key; and the opposite of art, that the act of making and the logic of craft is key. “The logic of craft” is the logic of Klee at work, making decisions based on what he thought was, right, proper, fitting, or appropriate, and changing them when he thought they were wrong, or inappropriate, according to a logic connecting his preoccupations with his materials. “Art” is the difference between Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, and the identical arguments under the same title, written by the famous logician, Norman Mailer. To a logician they might be the same book, but to a historian and the rest of us they’re very different, because we know that in both cases the author spent a good deal of effort choosing his words, in the same way Paul Klee chose paints. I’m not interested in Bertrand Russell’s intent or Mill’s. If I’m interested at all, I’m interested in the words on the page, which mean more than what they meant to the men who wrote them. Anyone following the ideas of the Vienna Circle knows that they opposed metaphysics. Anyone simply reading the words on the page knows that any idealism is metaphysics. I’ve said I would return later to Galison and I will, but it should be clear already that his definition of art is the Paris Salon, Greenbergian formalism, Madison Avenue, -the contemporary model of "creatives"- and the return to the Gothic unity of art and science that Panofsky, writing in 1939 called “a Middle Ages in reverse”.

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