Wednesday, December 28, 2005

An article in the Times today about an old roommate.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Flipping the dial and drinking a beer, I caught 5 seconds of the Kennedy Center event on CBS, long enough to watch the camera cut to GWB pumping his head back and forth -in and out- at the sight of Beyoncé Knowles strutting onto the stage.
What a pathetic little fuck our boy king is.
I also caught the end of "Boston Legal," which was hilarious.

The morality of otherwise amoral structural integrity vs. the false morality, and true hypocrisy, of moralism.

Captain Kirk and Junior sitting on a balcony smoking cigars, having just freed a sexy client -Heather Locklear in ironic mode- who has been vilified in the press as a golddigger and a 'black widow', accused of killing her husband.

Kirk: Did we get justice today?
Jr: [puff] I don't know.
Kirk: I like the pathological. Let's get another one like her.
Jr: [puff] My eyes, are peeled.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Edmund Wilson vs The Academy.

Pankaj Mishra
In 1955, Wilson would read The Last Puritan (1935) and remark on the resemblance between his friends at Princeton and Santayana’s hero, who struggles to reconcile his genteel idealism with the aggressively commercial culture of post–Civil War America. Wilson, who partly blamed this culture for the mental instability of his father, a distinguished lawyer, knew that Santayana in Europe was an exile from the new America, which he had left after an unsatisfactory academic career at Harvard, where he claimed President Eliot had turned education into preparation for “service in the world of business.”

But now the new America was, unexpectedly, the supreme power in the world; and meeting in a Europe ravaged by war, Wilson and Santayana inevitably discussed the changes within the United States. Sitting on a chaise longue in his bare, dark room, with a blanket over his legs, Santayana spoke of the “great role” in world affairs that America was called upon to play—a role he would regard with skepticism in his last book, Dominations and Powers (1952), the manuscript of which Wilson saw sitting on a table in Santayana’s room.

...Devoted to the life of the mind, Wilson couldn’t see it flourishing in the isolation of Axel’s Castle, the academic ivory tower, or the research laboratory. Instead he saw intellectual life as shaping and being shaped by the political and moral health of society at large. This belief and the related search for what Kazin called “a new spiritual order”—“a reaching not frantic or explicitly political, but based upon a deeply ingrown alienation from the culture and prizes of capitalism”—made Wilson more than a literary critic, although he wrote most often about literature.

...It was his engagement with the world beyond texts that gave Wilson’s criticism such clarity and narrative power—and this is what especially struck me when I first read his books in India in the late 1980s. For someone like myself, who knew little of the world apart from his own lowly position within it, and for whom books were primarily a mode of escape, Wilson’s insistence on relating literature to the urgent questions of life—how it has been lived, how it can or should be lived—came as a revelation and a surprise.
Gary Gutting (Philosophy, Notre Dame) has written a generous and informative review of my Future for Philosophy collection in which, towards the end, he considers the difference between "analytic" and "Continental" philosophy, which we had occasion to discuss a few weeks back (here and here) during the visit of the Stanley brothers.  Gutting writes:
I agree [with Leiter] that there is no fruitful analytic-Continental division in terms of substantive doctrines distinctively characteristic of the two sides. But it seems to me that we can still draw a significant distinction between analytic and Continental philosophy in terms of their conceptions of experience and reason as standards of evaluation. Typically, analytic philosophy reads experience in terms of common-sense intuitions (often along with their developments and transformations in science) and understands reason in terms of formal logic. Continental philosophy, by contrast, typically sees experience as penetrating beyond the veneer of common-sense and science, and regards reason as more a matter of intellectual imagination than deductive rigor. In these terms, Continental philosophy still exists as a significant challenge to the increasing hegemony of analytic thought and, as such, deserved a hearing in this volume.
A few paragraphs I was asked to add to an exhibition catalogue for an old friend. In the end it wasn't used.

Abstraction has always been anomalous in art, and pure abstraction even more so. It makes sense if you're an idealist to imagine ideal forms, but such philosophies are as rare as the cultures that encourage them. And even pure abstraction only represents purity; we only know the ideal through the illusion of its presence.

When I first saw Dan’s paintings they reminded me in a way of the early work of Michael Hurson. Hurson’s modernism is T.S. Eliot's: a formalism of secret meanings in which the forms and ideals, if perhaps morally necessary, are also merely theatrical facades. The beauty is in the desire for beauty artfully described, with the vulgar and the common, the impure source material, kept secreted away or exhibited and simultaneously denied. Eliot's references to popular culture seem intended almost to inoculate his poetry against it. The result is an idealism that isn’t: a paradoxical hybrid which Hurson treats with a wink and a nod, but which Eliot plays straight.

Dan's paintings were closer to Eliot than Hurson: you always felt that the metaphors were not supposed to be there, as if Dan were using a ruler that kept changing shape. You saw the paintings winking at you, but you knew looking at them that the maker didn't want them to. The work manifested a crisis, caught between action and intent.

In 7 Grays Dan found a way to escape this crisis, to make use of modernism, to give himself over to it even while denying it; and he did so in a way I didn’t expect and that I’d never seen before, though I’ve seen it a lot since. Dan didn’t mock or parody or empty modernism of "authority” as thousands of press releases have described works of art over the past 20 years. And he didn’t follow Olivier Mosset’s lead and theatricalize his paintings as the work of a Lone Rider, coming to town on a motorcycle or a jet, making a gesture towards pure visual poetry -empty but somehow acknowledging everything else, even politics, in its absence- and riding off again. Mosset is the only master of this; it’s a hard act to follow. What Dan did in 7 Grays was to write the biography of Modernism, to respond to the weight of history by turning a philosophy (and one that was after all, deeply anti-historical) into a history of that philosophy. Dan made a carnival, and a souk, full of all the stories of all the versions and ideologies of the last century. You could say it was a brilliant strategy but it wasn’t. If you love your parents you can’t simply strategize their defeat, even if it's the result of your actions. Besides, if you did, it wouldn’t be art.

Dan created in 7 Grays a poetic recapitulation of what had now finally become the past, celebrating it and closing the door on it at the same time. Like the story of the great Condottiere and the leaders of the town he had just helped to liberate, and to whom he was now as dangerous as he had been to their enemies. “What do we do?” they asked. To which one wag is thought to have replied: “ Let's kill him and make him our Patron Saint.”

Friday, December 23, 2005

File under miscellaneous:

There's a difference between the way the ad was produced and the way you are perceiving it. For the people who made it, who were involved in it after the idea was thought up, the ad is simply a thing they made, a work of technical- and literary/theatrical- craft. We've come to the point in advertising where pure invention has become the equal of intent (and Giotto made billboards for the Catholic Church.) This is the result in how capitalism is perceived by those who live in it: it is no longer a question of Capitalism as ideal but simply as fact.

Advertising has always been seen as an intellectual act, as certain forms of popular literature are seen by their fans primarily as intellectual or illustrative. 'Speculative' fiction and the like usually are nothing more than advertisements for ideas. As a philosophy of art they're basically Stalinist, though that's become the template for all theoretical activity. The academy has become Intellectual technocracy; it doesn't matter if you're talking about analytic philosophy or deconstruction: ideas take precedence over acts.

In describing this ad you're describing the opposite.
Congratulations, you've just discovered art.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Duncan Black:
There's a really weird class resentment going on. White collar workers "know" they deserve more money than blue collar workers. Some blue collar workers, ones in unions and skilled workers, can make decent money. Since a lot of white collar workers actually don't get paid very well, they resent the hell out of the fact that some uneducated lout gets to buy a nicer house than they do. And, thus, we get the out of touch media coverage of the NYC transit strike.
The italics are mine. I never expect to hear things like this from college-boy liberals. Atrios is a combination intellectual know-nothing, knee-jerk, middle-brow mainstream progressive: he used to refer to Clinton as Big Dog. But then he lobs off something casually radically good hearted and decent -and New Yorkers are backing the strikers more than they are the MTA (numbers including those college-boys and girls).

update: old habits die hard:

"The 90s were a delightfully wonky era when serious center-left political types spent lots of time debating lots of things."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

City by city
Fares as a Percent of Operating Expenditures

MTA Metro-North Commuter Railroad 54.8%
MTA New York City Transit 53.1%
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) 9.5%
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) 8.9%

State and Local General or Dedicated Funds as Percent of Operating Expenditures

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) 89.8%
MTA New York City Transit 44.9%
MTA Metro-North Commuter Railroad 41.6%
Working Life
Steve Vladeck @ PrawfsBlawg and Orin Kerr @ Volokh on Padilla. Judge Luttig, writing for the Fourth Circuit:
[A]s the government surely must understand, although the various facts it has asserted are not necessarily inconsistent or without basis, its actions have left not only the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even if justifiably, by mistake –- an impression we would have thought the government could ill afford to leave extant. They have left the impression that the government may even have come to the belief that the principle in reliance upon which it has detained Padilla for this time, that the President possesses the authority to detain enemy combatants who enter into this country for the purpose of attacking America and its citizens from within, can, in the end, yield to expediency with little or no cost to its conduct of the war against terror –- an impression we would have thought the government likewise could ill afford to leave extant. And these impressions have been left, we fear, at what may ultimately prove to be substantial cost to the government’s credibility before the courts, to whom it will one day need to argue again in support of a principle of assertedly like importance and necessity to the one that it seems to abandon today. While there could be an objective that could command such a price as all of this, it is difficult to imagine what that objective would be.
Marty Lederman and Kieran Healy on Posner, the man with no imagination. I guess he thinks that as a simple pragmatist he doesn't need one: he was willing to moralize about Clinton's behavior only because it wasn't important; and now he refuses to "moralize" about this because it is.

Posner's mind is terabytes of RAM and a 5 gig hard drive.
In response to a comment in the last post:
I had something up yesterday, just a sentence, or two but I took it down. Too many short posts in a row.

Never, never, accept a two tiered system: different wages and benefits for new employees.
But that was taken off the table and replaced by this.

How is the MTA funded? Compare it to the way such systems are funded in other cities.
Kalikow is scum; Bloomberg is being an ass; and you could never pay me enough to work in a subway tunnel.
Oh yes, and fuck the NY Daily News. This:

is bullshit.

For more, go here or here

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The definition of a pedant is a scientist discussing politics.
Brad DeLong's contempt for his readers: He makes bracketed [ ] but unsigned comments within the text of their replies, as if he were grading student work.

The arrogance of an economist: intelligence that knows no self-awareness.

Jon Carroll on Doug Bandow:
"Lapse? One column is a lapse, maybe; 24 columns is a lifestyle choice."
"semi-communistic ideology". I read it in the Times but I'd rather link to JB's commentary.

And here's another one for the archives of stupidity.
update: Laura Rozen has put up a link after recieving a note from one of those involved:
...Bob P. teaching a senior seminar this semester on, off all things, totalitarianism and fascism. He encouraged his students to try to get primary resources and one of them, a 21 year old senior, used Inter Library Loan to get the official version of Mao's Little Red Book not the abridged one found in our library and on-line (he requested it from Providence RI, Brown Univ. I believe). Of course to get the book you fill out a form which provides your SSN address, phone no. etc.

A couple of weeks later two Homeland Security officers showed up on a Sunday morning (in late November) at his parents house to interrogate him. They informed him that the fact he had lived abroad in South America (he is the son of missionary) and had requested a book that was on a watch list led to their visit. They asked him to explain just what he wanted the book for, where he had lived abroad and for how long, asked him to prove he was a student with several forms of documentation, and when it was over refused to provide him with the book and left things up in the air. He was scared to death needless to say. The student reported the incident to Bob who shared it with me.

As I have had the student myself in class and consider him to be one of our brightest I met with him myself to get the whole story. I have no doubts whatsoever to its veracity by the way. He insisted on remaining anonymous, did not want his name published, and was told by his parents to keep a low profile. His uncle who happens to be an FBI agent subsequently took him to Boston to the local HQ to explore the whole issue and eventually got the case against him dropped. From what I understand he waited in a room for several hours with people such as himself who had been similarly investigated.

I passed on the story to a reporter from the New Bedford Standard Times who called me at home to talk about President Bush's surveillance activities and I directed him to Bob P. Since then it has been picked up by US websites and even some in Europe and ABC, CBS etc. have asked for interviews. I have been inundated with emails from around the world telling me not to give in to pressure and to go ahead and teach my course on terrorism. I
am touched by some of them and would hardly have expected so many people to be interested in this issue (one list also noticed that Mao's Little Red Book shot up in sales on yesterday). ...
The fact that fundamentalism in any form, religious, legal or technocratic exists as a popular movement in a republic, goes to the failure of that republic to educate its citizens in the responsibilities of that form of government. Intellectual snobs have as much contempt for democracy as religious thugs, and they share as much of the blame, if not more.

But at least the monarchists are out of the closet.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Read Max.
More vulgarisms from CT.

I'd be inclined to say I'm on the losing side of these fights -since I get so pissed off so often- but I'm not. 'My' side will win - is winning. History repeats itself in more ways than it does not, and more people are aware of that fact now than 50 or even 20 years ago. It makes no sense to pretend to be outside of history looking in, as a scientist is outside or above an amoeba on a plate.
This is obvious to most of us.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The first sign of corruption is the belief that you can't become corrupted.

These fuckers were always corrupt.
I don't want anyone thinking I'm not a cynic about these things, but the White House has quite obviously crossed a line, and Keller et al. aided and abetted it.
Angry leftists will say the lines are technical: that the moral lines were crossed years ago, but moral lines without techinical ones don't matter. Cultures are boundaries.
But boundaries change.

Friday, December 16, 2005

From The Washington Post courtesy of Josh Marshall:

"The NSA activities were justified by a classified Justice Department legal opinion authored by John C. Yoo, a former deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel who argued that congressional approval of the war on al Qaeda gave broad authority to the president, according to the Times.
That legal argument was similar to another 2002 memo authored primarily by Yoo, which outlined an extremely narrow definition of torture. That opinion, which was signed by another Justice official, was formally disavowed after it was disclosed by the Washington Post."

Is John Yoo Catholic?

Is this where we're getting the new generation of right wing "intellectuals?" I asked that once before in polite company, and politely was refused an answer.
John Yoo, Francis Fukuyama. I followed a link a month or so from Balkin to another defender of Bush's torture policy, a young conservative professor of law at a Catholic university and another asian.
Update Jan 17/06: The link wasn't from J. Balkin but from Michael Froomkin and the lawyer in question is Julian Ku.
Bill Keller:
"We start with the premise that a newspaper's job is to publish information that is a matter of public interest. Clearly a secret policy reversal that gives an American intelligence agency discretion to monitor communications within the country is a matter of public interest. From the outset, the question was not why we would publish it, but why we would not.

"A year ago, when this information first became known to Times reporters, the administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country's security. Officials also assured senior editors of the Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions. As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time.
"...and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country's security."

The executive branch is not the government; and the executive branch broke the law.

More at the Left Coaster
I just heard Specter make some small squeaking noises in the response the reports about Bush and the NSA. He stumbled over his words, more hesitant than angry. From memory:

"We'll get to this soon... as soon... as we can... uh... when we come back, in January"

Senator Specter Calls for Hearings on U.S. Spy Program

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Parody and Privacy

Over two long years in the mid 80s I wrote and rewrote one article that I submitted, finally, to Arts Magazine (now defunct) in the summer of 1987. This is what gets me into Google Books, and Amazon, listed as a footnote in two books and an article by Thierry de Duve in October. The editor made me a plagiarist by removing quotation marks from one sentence, and in shortening an already short piece for publication rendered a few passages incomprehensible. I've fixed these but the rest is the same: the archness, the moralizing tone. I sweat bullets over every sentence as I wrote it and the result is a perfect example of what I was criticizing. It's almost airless, an argument for something other that itself, but in various ways I've been making the same arguments -concerning modernism and time, and narrative as a medium for communication- ever since. And since it's so easy these days, I'm adding images.


There's one more damned than all. He never gambols,
Nor crawls, nor roars, but, from the rest withdrawn,
Gladly of this whole earth would make a shambles
And swallow up existence with a yawn

The form of wood is altered if a table is made out of it. Nevertheless the table continues to be wood, an ordinary sensuous thing. But as soon as it emerges as a commodity, it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness.

It's usually argued that Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol turned art into philosophy. They are acknowledged for the cerebral nature of their work, which acts in a situational way as criticism. It is difficult for modernists to see them in any other way because it is the only way to see them in an idealist context. The German Expressionists have been incorporated in the same manner; the subjective and sometimes apolitical interests of both art and artists could be seen as secondary to their inherently political position, by critics or by the artists themselves, most explicitly in the case of Dada. Neither Duchamp nor Warhol came to terms with their work in this way, denying any obvious political implication. The fact that critics generally ignore this and put their work in a political context only proves how indigestible their works are to an idealist philosophy. Nor would it matter if it weren't for the fact that much recent work patterns itself on this same structure.

Marcel Duchamp's world was based on the illusion of disinterest. To accept involvement Is to give up the silence one surrounds oneself with in isolation, in Duchamp's case an isolation of fear, a parody of monastic humility.[1] As the collector of pubic hairs he was the ultimate miser, the miser of sex. His work revolved around images of mechanized sexuality. On the one hand eschewing involvement, he desired order almost for its own sake and invented a metaphysic of autoeroticism.[2] This has been ignored by American critics while it has been accepted in Europe, due in part to the sense of intellectual connoisseurship and dilettantism that produced Duchamp. Later heirs to Duchamp's form, if not his ideology, include Joseph Beuys, Mario Merz and the artists who make up the Arte Povera movement, and recently painters such as Anselm Kiefer and Enzo Cucchi. On the whole, however, we have learned from Duchamp what Europe has not, for we have accepted him on his own terms.

There's an interesting line between the early work of Robert Morris and Donald Judd. Judd's work is phenomenologically and intellectually abstract (musical) whereas Morris' is anthropomorphic and theatrical. He denied this at the time but as Carter Ratcliff has pointed out, that goes against the work itself. "The statement was taken at face value only by those with an unquenchable desire to believe in mid-'60s art world rhetoric." (Robert Morris: Prisoner of Modernism, Art in America, October 1979)

This change is a turning point in recent sculpture, not because of a transition to figuration but because of what viewers were asked to see as figurative, and why. Morris' purist shapes were transformed into impenetrable bodies, more social in implication than Judd's, yet deeply anti-social. Judd was interested in communication between object, viewer, and artist. Morris was assuming the failure of that attempt. By transforming objects into metaphorical entities that deny or refuse interpretation, he presented us with an other, a foreign body, and dared us to accept it on its own terms, something that his modernist audience could not accept. It is as if Picasso were given an African mask that he would be unable to use without accepting the mythologies it was made to represent. He would, of course, refuse the gift rather than forfeit his mastery over it, a mastery that arose by stripping the work of its history and context. This understanding is what produces the criticality of Morris' art, its cerebral intelligence. But when Morris takes on Modernism he does not outgrow it or leave It behind him. His work is not based on his intellect, but on his emotional response to it. With the assumption that to understand something foreign, to make it native to your own ways, is to dominate and control it, Morris accepts both sides, unable to choose, cleansing and purifying himself through a violent esthetic of unresolvable contradiction. "With full deliberateness, Morris pushes form, concept, and meaning," as Ratcliff says, "toward an ultimate "all-overness"-absolute equivalence, the entropic dead end." Morris has accepted the sadomasochistic 'Realm of the Carceral' (a series of his drawings bear that title) and the fascistic. This is In a very real sense, the same world as Duchamp. It is also the world of Warhol, Halley, Jeff Koons, and a range of so-called 'Neo-Geo'painters and sculptors from Philip Taaffe (Neo Op) to Richard Prince[3] This new work, like Minimalism, is concerned with the relation of object to viewer. Both have a cool, removed quality, one not of expression but of presentation. Yet while Judd's coolness is ascetic by nature (and without the darker subtext) the new work seems trapped by the attitude it maintains. The energy of these works is one of sexual containment, at the most extreme seeming like an order Hitchcock might create-that of character trapped within a descending spiral of isolation verging on if not becoming psychosis.

Various works seem a hybrid of Minimalism and Pop, grafting the imagery of the latter onto the structure of the former, so that the geometric superstructure of the piece becomes equated with its order or hierarchy, its mythological framework: that which contains the subjective experience of the figure within the painting or the object/idea of the sculpture. The geometry acts as a metaphor or as a map, or sign, not as an Independent formalist architecture. This is as true for David Salle's work as it is for Philip Taaffe's or Peter Halley's, the only difference being that in the abstraction the figure of the painting is the viewer, the map is taken on as his or her own. In "The Crisis In Geometry" (Arts Magazine, Summer, 1984), Halley states:
My own Two Cells with Conduit and Underground Chamber
emphasizes the role of the model within the simulacrum. Baudrillard states that "simulation is characterized by a precursion of the model, of all models around merest fact" The simulacrum is a place where "the real is confused with the model." It is a "total universe of the norm," a "digital space," a "luminous field of the code." In my work space is considered as just such a digitalfield in which are situated 'cells' with simulated stucco texture from which flow 'conduits.
Halley compares his spaces with those of video games, office towers, and microchips, all simulated space, models of "cellular space" and places "in which buildings are 'like columns in a statistical graph." His images act metaphorically, not formally in a modernist sense, and although he thus escapes the idealist materialism of Carl Andre's quote; "A brick is a brick" he needs to replace it with an order even more rigid to reaffirm his idealist intentions.

What is interesting about Halley's art is not its critical function but its subjective viewpoint. The paintings are the product of a perverse asceticism, impotent in the face of a physical reality that it can not accept, the perhaps willing prisoner of a world where meaning has atrophied; and where the leveling that has occurred of all forms to one measure. capital, has mirrored itself in the leveling of all forms to information. The work is an allegory of alienation. Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is an early precedent here as it is to all later artistic use of psychedelic imagery, images of the subconscious, Op-Art patterning or illustrations of drug-induced states. Pynchon uses similar terms, central to the American romance -what it has become- and its relations with the physical world and the psychosis of modern life. These are images of the loss of the self, unable to define its surroundings, to distinguish itself from them, and thus being relegated to passive observation.

In 1982 Jeff Koons first exhibited his New Sheldon Wet-Dry Triple Decker, consisting of a stack of three wet-dry vacuum cleaners of different models, each lit by a row of fluorescent lights, and each in its own Plexiglas case. The piece has been referred to as an implicit or explicit critique of Minimalism, but there is little reason to accept that argument. To say that it is a reference and therefore an answer to the stack pieces of Don Judd is a critical dead end. The observation may be correct but in the long run, it is of little interest. Judd assumes a sense of potency, attempting a successful act of benign communication within the basic form of modernism as defined earlier. Koons, like Duchamp and Warhol, is dealing with desire. While Judd creates order by juxtaposing abstract qualities, avoiding issues of power (for better or worse), Koons creates metaphorical objects of desire. Appropriating Duchamp's mechanized sexuality, the desire therefore is never fulfilled: objects cannot respond. This is how the works act as parody, to parody the type of painting that depicts women as objects of desire, and by taking the forms of advertising that limit art to forms of unsubtle manipulation. What is left is a cycle of attraction and repression. When dealing with an imagined ideal, reality can never be as perfect, and physicality itself withers in the mind, seeming flawed and dirty.

In Koons as in the others there is no attempt to face the physical sexual reality. Relations are sterile, and what is physical manifests itself as the object of an obsession with cleanliness and order. And there is no significant interest in leaving this cycle behind. As Ratcliff says of Morris: "[T]houghts of rehabilitation-or escape- are by internal necessity, unthinkable." As I will explain, this cycle is debased form of narrative.

The basis of Duchamp, Morris, Warhol, and Koons is their inability to adapt successfully to the idealist forms of modernism. Yet they are also unable to progress into the polymorphous narrative forms of postmodernism. In a sense, cinema could be consdered a way out, a visually narrative response. It's the nature of the parodist, however, to be unable to leave behind the object of his or her attacks. Most often, if the admitted order seen as bankrupt, the parodist lives on as an example of that emptiness. The emptiness becomes synonymous with its practitioner. Duchamp played the role of a 19th century man in the age of Freud the only way he could, as parody, and much like Alfred Jarry, he became his own Ubu.

If I want to say that Duchamp had limited interest even a distaste for the esthetics of time, I need to show that his works undermine a consideration of time as a process or form that communicates anything of value. If, as Annette Michelson says: "Working unlike Bunuel and Dali, in the spirit of 'the reconciliation of opposites,' he maintains that characteristic refusal of 'either/or' ..." then I must prove his acts of reconciliation are acts of banality, that the acts of refusal and denial result in this case in an esthetic of nihilism, that in Duchamp's case is produced by conflating, perhaps correctly, the conceits of the Victorian period with those of the modern one, and being unable to posit an alternative.
This seven-minute film consists of an anagrammatic title, followed by ten variant images of rotating spirals intercut with inscriptions. The spirals derive their forms from the vocabulary generated by the Demi-Sphere-Rotatative (Optique de Précision), of 1925, and its preparatory studies. The ten images, rotating about a central axis, present, in their optical impulsion toward and from the spectator, that shuttling oscillating movement which animates Duchamp's work, Iiterally, visually, conceptually, in all its major instances. Alternating with the spirals is a series of texts, alliterative and pun-filled white relief inscriptions, pasted on black cardboard and, like the images, organized in a circular form which rotates in turn, so that one must strain a bit to read them as they proceed in clockwise motion whose staccato quality contrasts with the serene undulation of the drawn spirals. ('Anemic Cinema': Reflections on an Emblematic Work, Artforum, October 1973)
Michelson goes on to describe the relation between the spirals and the "punning intertitles" as sexual as "aggressively sexual intimation[s] of thrust and recession."

The fact that Michelson doesn't offer translations of the texts tells us something of how we should read Duchamp. For it is not the meaning of the words themselves that matters, but the type of language used: cerebral, aware, ironic, perverse.
And language, of course, as Duchamp used it, existed in the context of visual form. I have already referred to effects that parallel those of the spirals of Anemic Cinema: the writings of Baudrillard as they are described in the work of Peter Halley, the idea of the Psychedelic as it appears in Hitchock, and the implications of transcendent psychedelic experience as it appears in the sculptures of Jeff Koons and the paintings of Philip Taaffe, David Salle and others. Given this, it is important to consider what both the spiral and psychedelia imply and how they act on the imagination. To put it simply, they do not act as conveyers of information, but as stimuli. What's fascinating about these forms is their directness. Certain patterns induce very specific emotional responses. Michelson quotes Bruno Bettelheim on the case of an autistic child who lived in a world of his own invention, and who had an intense fascination with an electric fan.
At that time [when the child was older and largely recovered] he told us what he had only guessed up to then, that to him, the very shape of those rotating objects suggested the circle he was helplessly caught in. They represented the vicious cycle of longing and fear, of wanting so much from others and of being mortally afraid to let his longing be known, either to them or to himself. (Bettelheim) finds again the overwhelming illusionist power of circling movement within a deep space, Anemic Cinema is a sort of visual machine made by a man who proclaimed his desire to rid painting of its sensuality and personality. (Michelson)
What Duchamp did was to equate narrative involvement with its most debased and disturbed form, that of mindless, tragic reception of stimuli of pleasure, like the reassurance a disturbed child receives by rocking back and forth. The same relation can be found in the films of Andy Warhol.

It is possible to say that Warhol worked within a modern context; that his simplicity was subtlety and that he was interested in the esthetics of real time cinema; that his films were 'cleansing and rejuvenating' (Jonas Mekas Appendix: The Independent Fllm Awards, Film Culture Reader, P. Adams Sitney, ed.). I do not think this is the case. For Mekas and Stan Brakhage to sit through two complete viewings (in a row) of Warhol's Empire is another example of modernism's ability to take a text out of context and adopt it as its own. For them, the film was about light and time, for Warhol it was also about boredom. The dialogue in his films is between time as form and as the destroyer of form, between time as a medium for art making and its opposite: proof of the vanity of man, of the inevitability of decay. In the same way as it was for Duchamp, time for Warhol is the opposite of art: making all form, in its pretension of permanence, vanity, surface, and ideology. Time stands as witness to entropy, something moderrnism can not and does not recognize.

This Is of course easier to see in Warhol's other work. The multiplication of images, of reality, is one of the most terrifying aspects of photography, specifically to any idealist belief revolving around the idea of an essence or an aura. In the same sense photography is antithetical to any unified truth, antithetical to the Catholicism that produced both Warhol and Duchamp, a Catholicism known as much for the nature of its fallen as for that of its adherents. Ideology reproduces itself even In its opposite.

It is possible to say that Duchamp and Warhol are protonarrative. They do not accept idealist order, nor do they transcend It. The art of high modernism is idealist, monotheistic, and Apollonian. To change this, or to adapt to change, both could have moved toward a more polymorphous form. They chose not to, instead adopting a strange hybrid of idealist structure, an anti-idealism or antitheology (a perversion), and, simultaneously, a warped objectivity toward their chosen form. This is the cerebral mentality that produced Warhol, Duchamp, and Morris, and the esthetic that has produced Halley, Koons, Peter Nagy, Richard Prince, and others. In its purest form, in the work of Koons, it relates itself to an almost fascist purism: that of the absolute denial of the physical world through the physical world, the pureness of de Sade. Of the young artists, only Koons makes his interests explicit His is the most fully rounded because it is the most personal, the most internalized, and that identification with paradox has produced the miraculous. The sensuality of the commodity has transcended itself through itself. That which is most impure has become most pure, that most unclean, most clean. He and his work are one, spiralling deeper and deeper into the privacy of autism.


1. Consider Joseph Buys' statement from the early sixties: "Duchamp's silence is overrated" as a response to the elder artists denial of social involvement that was not miserly.
2. In this and other ways my article parallels Robert Morris' article Quartet published in Art in America.
3. The work of those who use appropriation as a method varies widely. Desire for control vs. desire for memory of/or experience separates the art along gender lines. The men desire a power that once seemed viable, while the women remember a power that they never had. It is a quieter nostalgia from a longer distance.
4. Jill Johnston covers similar ground in a recent article on Robert Wilson. (Family Spectacles, Art in America, Dec. 1986) Although she does not take it quite as far as I have, she nonetheless is aware of the implications. Wilson grew up in a strict world that he has internalized. The obsession in his work with 'wounded' figures and 'great men' (Joseph Stalin, Frederick the Great, the Shah of Iran); his early denial/refusal of the narrative of theater and his interest in autism, is layed out very clearly. All of this relates him closely to Duchamp, Warhol, Morris, and Koons.

For the continuation and extension of this paper, written off and on over the past 25 years, see the link on the right side of this page.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Atrios links to this but misses the most important point.
"As with many conflicts, particularly the manufactured kind, dishonesty, greed and ignorance are the culprits behind Fox News Channel's so-called “War on Christmas.” But their enabler, as Dr. Phil might call it, is that well-intended but wholly misguided scourge of society -- political correctness. Rather than promoting tolerance, inclusion and understanding, as advertised, p/c has had the opposite effect. It has made us not a freer society, but one of timid, tongue-tied slaves to convention who substitute glib code words for the more difficult task of actually treating each other with respect. [italics mine] It’s the kind of shortcut that sooner or later circles back to bite you."
What don't we know already about Fox? But yes, political correctness is liberal guilt as a band-aid to cover liberal inaction.

On that note, Ford will now continue tailoring ads for Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles to the desires of the most reactionary and cynical snobs on the face of the god damned planet. Hooray We won!
Subtlety in argument - and the truth can take care of itself.

Ezra Klein @ Tapped
Watch the dodge. The question isn't whether Froomkin pays secret homage to Karl Marx, but whether an undefined but nevertheless "great many" people think he does. This, of course, is the logical end point for our press corps. Charges of bias require no substantiation whatsoever -- they merely have to be seconded enough times and they become, ipso facto, truth-esque. And once they're truth-esque, they simply must be addressed, lest the credibility of the whole organization be questioned by a "great many" people, none of whom are acting out of bad faith, none of whom can be dismissed as cranks or ideologues.
So now truth is popularity. And real liberals want truth as what, science? As defined by what? Neutrality is as much an illusion- as much of a dodge- as 'Separate but Equal.' Klein is defending something that he wants to exist but never has and never will. Are educated liberals immune to self-interest? Ask an educated liberal woman about the presumptions of her boyfriend or husband, an educated liberal black man... gay man/woman... and on down the list. The presumption of one's own, what: sincerity? Sincerity is as meaningless as intention.
What I and others like me presume are flaws, my own and others. And my response is not to deny them but to live them as my human right, but not as truth. My interest is in honing my craft; the truth can take care of itself.

"Democracy is a dualism celebrating both the defense of one's right to his or her own opinion and simultaneously that which is most popular. There is a conflict in this. When every man becomes a politician, democracy is weakened."

If my lawyer ever told me that the search for truth was her primary interest I'd fire her!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Interesting how many 'lefty' American bloggers are squeamish about their opposition to the death penalty. Max speaks, I paraphrase: "Really! We're just plain folk."

Tookie Williams himself was not the issue and he lacked something as a poster-boy, I'm not going to argue the point, but the macho posturing is stupid. Capital punishment is a childish response to crime; and since I'm not a politician I don't care what anyone else thinks. Democracy is a dualism celebrating both the defense of one's right to his or her own opinion and simultaneously that which is most popular. There is a conflict in this. When every man becomes a politician, democracy is weakened.
Dumbing yourself down in the name of democracy is stupid.

We all agree however, that this is worse.

Update: I owe Max an apology. He's made it clear more than once that in many ways he is 'Just plain folk.'
He's more a populist than I am, and snobbery is one of my bad habits. Max has his own.
He's still wrong on this one of course.

Monday, December 12, 2005

MediaGuardian UK
Fox News was ordered to alter its coverage of the riots in France after a Saudi prince with shares in its parent company News Corporation complained to Rupert Murdoch.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul aziz Al-Saud told a conference in Dubai he had telephoned Mr Murdoch after seeing a strapline on the news channel describing the disturbances as "Muslim riots".

"I picked up the phone and called Murdoch and said that I was speaking not as a shareholder, but as a viewer of Fox. I said that these are not Muslim riots, they are riots," Campaign Middle East magazine quoted the prince as saying.

"He investigated the matter and called Fox and within half an hour it was changed from 'Muslim riots' to 'civil riots'."

The prince said his intervention had been an example of how Muslim people can change the portrayal of their religion in the western media - although few Fox viewers will have his contacts.
It is not the first time he has admitted to trying to influence Mr Murdoch's coverage of sensitive issues.
In a recent Financial Times interview he said he did not wish to "intrude" into the management of companies in which he holds shares.
But he said he did talk to Mr Murdoch and Richard Parsons, the chief executive of AOL Time Warner, about where he believed the media had got things wrong.
"My job is to open their eyes to things they may not have seen," he said.
Last month's rioting marked France's worst unrest since the student riots of May 1968. Thousands of cars were set alight following the death of two teenage boys who were allegedly being pursued by police.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Wade, Wilkes and Bad Iraq Intelligence?

And the US press spent so much time on the UN the oil for food scandal...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"Save me"
From common sense?
More here.
I'm not convinced. Or rather I'm not convinced that the US can have any role at this point in limiting Iranian desire for an active nuc-u-lar program. The motives of Matthew Yglesias and Bruce Jentleson, or those they ascribe to themselves*, are irrelevent to the Iranian people. Our motives are assumed by this point: our president has taken care of that for us.
On the other hand this will do nothing good.

* Why the condescending tone? Europe gets swiped at and then patted on the back -absurd as that sounds- but the rest of the world doesn't warrant even that. Israel is the only country that is treated as our full moral equal.
And Matthew Yglesias and Bruce Jentleson are nationalists pretending -on and off- to be neutral.

I read everything first as if I were reading a passage in a novel: I look first for cadence and tone, and only after that for subject.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Naomi Klein states the obvious, in a foreign newspaper
This is interesting
some context

And Ahmadinejad has a sense of humor

"Edenbaum... That's a German name isn't it?"
"Some of us were holding out for the Rhineland"
The end of wingnut philosemitism as we know it?

(oh... goody)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The science of manipulating people as opposed to educating them. The immoral result of moral passivity (pathetic little fucker).

The snobbery of low expectations.

I'm not opposed to the scientfic study of human behavior. I'm opposed to the scientific study of human behavior by people who can't see themselves in their subjects. Arrogance always gets in the way.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

One from '97. After 3 months editing video, and no studio work for over a year, I want to do something hands on again.
The more I try to come to terms, with shit like this, the more aware I am of the persistent inability of many people to understand and to accept their limitations, not those set by nonexistent deities but by those things which both enable all communication and defeat any perfection in its use.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I’m still struck by the degree to which the humanities have been overtaken by the ghetto sensibility of the hard sciences. If I didn’t know better I’d blame it on Sputnik and leave it at that.

A nominally intelligent but well trained chemist can be a “productive” scientist, engaged in research, if not leading it. That’s not so simple in the humanities, where originality is the point. 50 years ago it would have been enough to have a Ph.D in English Lit and teach. But these days people pretend the rules have changed. I’m in favor of anything that limits the number of publications from mediocre but desperate minds with advanced degrees.

Science knows no qualitative idea of craftmanship. There is no ‘added value,’ to number, none of any moral or philosophical meaning or use. Taste is meaningless pleasure gone nicy-nice

Other people, and I’m one, value the articulate description of things because description is the only way know the world. Perception without description, asocial, is inarticulate emptiness, and what is social, intersubjective, gets sloppy. Art, as opposed to science, is description before prescription: always tentative. Good literature therefore is the literature of specifics, not ideas; just as a lawyer defends her client first, and professional ethics take precedence for her over abstract morality and ‘truth’. Her tradecraft comes first. Craft allows us to concentrate not on what we want to think but how we do so. An appreciation of the result need not devolve into irrationalism any more than logic need devolve into pedantry, but the last century had plenty of both.

It doesn’t bother me that TS Eliot was an anti Semitic reactionary, not because his poetic genius makes such things irrelevant but because he described so well what it was to be in his position: modern and anti-modern; American and European (and anti-American); arrogant and weak; confused and confident; impotent, or fearful of it; a brilliantly articulate closeted twirp. If the ideas are contradictory it doesn’t matter. I don’t read Eliot for the ideas that ‘belong to him’ but for the ideas in the work itself. And they’re not the same thing.

When engineering is no longer the template for intellectual study in the humanities, the academy will become an interesting place again. The upside is that Intellectual life outside the academy is much more interesting than it used to be.