Saturday, August 30, 2008

Your Gold Teeth II, 1997, oil on canvas, 78"x 93"

Friday, August 29, 2008

More on Bad Acting

Franz Boas

Jay Sosa at Savage Minds "It’s always fun display anthropologists looking ridiculous and going native."

I pointed out in comments that this was both a misunderstanding and offensive. Odd that I had to point this out to an anthropologist. Boas looks as out of place as a college professor at a rave: no more, no less. His foolishness is the byproduct of his sincerity.

Brian Leiter says he's in the habit of calling Hillary Clinton "fake". He's right, she's a bad actor; but where in his philosophy is there any place for such a mode of judgement?

Poetry isn't like getting drunk—isn't the "sincere" expression of drunkenness—it's the description of that sensation to others. If art were about sincerity being in love would get you laid. Lon Chaney answering a question about the response of moviegoers to his tortured characters: "I don't feel my characters' emotions, it's my job to make you feel them."

The documentation of passion is not passion. The passion for documentation is the passion of the schoolman, and schoolmen are lousy actors. From being lousy actors it's a short step to discounting he importance of theater and mediation in communicative action. This is the tension between artists and critics that rationalism refuses to see as productive. Leiter discounts theater but then refers to it without thinking.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An awareness of the risks of narcissism.

What makes a good actor?

The chicken or the egg? Watch his hands, while he's talking about hers. He uses them because he thinks he should, as he thinks she should, not because he knows how to do it well. His performance is funny because it's incompetent -at the very least overdetermined- and because he's unaware.
News is a shallow business and always has been. Sensationalism is broad brushes and vulgarity. Bill Clinton played to that and won.
Ads: when there's a copy on youtube I'll get rid of this one.

The Panofskys [Look at the book links on the right.]
Mantegna (whose favorite saying is reported to have been "virtuti semper adversatur ignorantia") as well as Rosso [Fiorentino] tried to express the -fundamentally unchristian- idea that ignorance rather than wickedness, not knowing what is right rather than not willing what is right, is the cause of all evil: No one sins willingly, as Socrates is believed to have said.
Pandora's Box. The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol. It's good to be reminded again that the origin of rationalism is in religious argument. The history of religion is the history of fictional absolutes nudged into compliance -by elision: smoke, mirrors, poetry- with material and social fact. The history of Christian iconography is the history of the humanization of god, of bringing god literally down to earth. No theologian worth his weight, in any period, would admit to being a part of this process- admit to being a point on a predetermined route- but denials change nothing.
Nothing undermines ideology more and better than the act of putting it in context: the historian's job. Nothing undermines theology more than the study of history. Nothing undermines contemporary American liberalism, academia, and the rest, more and better than the history of what preceded them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

JERUSALEM, Aug 25 (Reuters) - The United States says Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank threaten any peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- yet it also encourages Americans to help support settlers by offering tax breaks on donations.

As Condoleezza Rice flew in on Monday for another round of peace talks, Israeli and American supporters of settlements defended the tax incentives, which benefit West Bank enclaves deemed illegal by the World Court and which the U.S. secretary of state has said are an obstacle to Palestinian statehood.

Pro-settler groups say they are entitled to the tax breaks because their work is "humanitarian", not political, and reject any comparison to Palestinian charities, some of which face U.S. sanctions over suspected links to Islamist groups like Hamas.

The full extent of tax-exempt U.S. funding for settlements is unclear because so many groups are involved and their spending practices are not always transparent.

But a review by Reuters of U.S. tax records found 13 tax-exempt organisations openly linked to settlements that have raised more than $35 million in the last five years alone.
Related to the last post.
At this point the parallels between the Clintons, their spokesmen and followers and Nader are obvious. If the republicans represent politics as policy, the democrats' position -to be fair not always by choice- as the party of abstraction means they run the risk of conflating themselves with their goals, something that occasionally results in a level of narcissism republicans don't often match.

Republicans are ideological simpletons but political realists. Liberal intellectuals can afford to be intellectual idealists, but many of those who would life to vote for them can't afford to be idealists at all.
Neotenization and the American Liberal.
Two from Duncan Black [scroll down for the second]
CNN is informing that Hillary Clinton has to do 15 things simultaneously with her speech, and wise Soledad finally remarked that some of these things may be contradictory.
Our discourse is so stupid.
Back in 2004 the media were obsessed with the idea that if the Dems showed any negativity about Bush they'd be doooooooooooooooomed.
Now they're obsessed with the idea that the Dems aren't showing enough negativity.
I've said this too many times: "Serious" American liberals come from the ranks of those who've never understood why they didn't get laid in high school. They know this and are proud of it, wearing it as a badge of their own superiority. 'We were the smart ones."
Watching American politics at the national level is like watching a pick-up game between a crew of locals and prep-school boys who always end up whining about being fouled. Earnest and well-meaning sons of privilege angry and confused at the petty Darwinism of daily life; I'm All Right Jack, with John Kerry standing in for Ian Carmichael.
It's not that I have a particular fondness for determinism, it's just that nobody's come up with a better description of how the world works. Rationalism and wishing don't make it so.

"Our discourse is so stupid" Here as everywhere. But the inability to deal with that as a matter simply of getting things done is a peculiarly American stupidity. We're a nation of pedants, con-men and drunks.
"There are no grown-ups." And more importantly in an intellectual climate where sophistication is deemed sophistry even by the educated, no one who aspires to becoming one.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Friday, August 22, 2008

Links and comments.

"Why Obama–Biden Could Mean More of the Same (Or Maybe Something Worse)"
It'll be removed:
Privatization, Finlandization, spheres of influence, and Israel
Israel warned tonight that an attempt by peace activists to sail two boats to the Gaza Strip was a “provocation” and said it would consider “all options” to prevent them reaching their destination. 
A group of 46 activists set sail this morning from Cyprus and were hoping to reach Gaza tomorrow to challenge the economic blockade Israel has imposed on the territory, as well as delivering a cargo of 200 hearing aids for a deaf school and 5,000 balloons. 
Among those on board is Lauren Booth, Tony Blair’s sister-in-law. “I’ve been nervous, but today I’m excited,” said Booth, 41, shortly before the boats sailed. “It’s not about our fear, it’s about the people waiting in Gaza. You can’t think about anything else.” 
Israel has already warned the two boats not to undertake the journey and tonight Aviv Shiron, the spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, said the journey was a “provocation” and that “all options” were under consideration to prevent the boats reaching Gaza.
No need to go into discussion of Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

“[Clinton] tried to convince Boris Yeltsin that if Russia developed in a democratic direction…”
read: non threatening to the west, militarily or economically

The weakening of international law and its supplanting by private actors... In the context of the world community the US is a private actor and US sponsored security operations are those of a private police force. “Trust us” But NATO is not the rule of law any more than George Soros is the UN. And Henry can’t help but see himself in the best light, and with the best intentions.
The post is sleazy.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Material Language

I rewrite extensively sometimes. If it's anything topical I don't hide anything. Still working on this one. All notes.

What offended me about the original post at Savage Minds was that those for whom a sophisticated understanding of language is supposedly part of their job -for whom language is a tool- would find it necessary to study a minor decorative art to gain an understanding of craft. From the draft of an article linked in the post [PDF]
Through understanding imagination as a generative force in practice, we can reconsider the role it has been scripted in theories of culture. Practice is not that through which we imagine, the cockfight is not a theatre of expression and display of what the Balinese men might imagine themselves to be, as Clifford Geertz argues. Imagination is an imperative of practice itself. The more deeply you imagine, the more deeply you practice – and, conversely, the deeper the practice, the deeper the imagination. Practical imagination, material imagination, the imaginative substance of practice complete with all in which the practice itself is engaged, embedded, intertwined, as a constituent element of practice itself is constitutive, not expressive, of culture- imagination, the lungs of culture. "
The author's mistake is in forgetting that language is material

Posted elsewhere but rewritten, and expanded (and expanding)
Art and criticism are joined in a fruitful antagonism, and historians and biographers are in a similar relation to those they study. But while artists may hate critics and biographers may dream secretly of supplanting their subjects in authority, only Theory as presently constituted is seen by its adherents as preceding and superior to practice.

What place do arguments from a "naturalized" epistemology have in artmaking? What place have they had in theories of Modernism and of modernist culture-making?
The foundation of theory is in its analogical relation to the sciences. Intellectual design is intellectual engineering, words replacing numbers. Theory reverses the connoisseur's placement of cause and effect, not in defense of a preferred moral truth but of a proposed logical one, and doing so attempts to undermine the role of historical/retrospective knowledge.

Theory has its origin in the prerogatives of Modern criticism, and in a very specific variant of Modernism. My experience, and here I'm publicly treading private ground, is with what I've come to think of as something post-Talmudic. "In the beginning was the word." If the first man was a believer, the second was a critic. The artist was at worst a maker of graven images, at best no more than secondary. Combined with the Modern telos of progress we get the myth of the critic as "social" scientist and not as describer but prescriber.

If art is defined as a free imagination at play, it is defended because that freedom is assumed to perform an important function in society. Action and exegesis are divided not absolutely but unevenly between artist and critic as between history and historian. Theory argues against this division of labor in both cases: history is secondary and a free imagination is unnecessary (often leading to irrationalism.) Art under theory, as culture under neoliberalism, is illustration, advertising, or indulgence.

I want to write something on Yi Yi as pattern making -invention- and observation. Good art as good empiricism always defeats theory.

As a general comment for those who are having trouble following along:
The best art in the romantic tradition, and I'm using this example only because it would otherwise seem to contradict my point, is the art that best describes romantic desire to those who would otherwise have no interest. The art that has come down to us as the most sincerely romantic has also come down to us as minor, at most secondary. That includes bad Beethoven.
Got me?

The last generation has marked the ascendency of technics in the social sciences. In the past few years I've run into a lot of melancholy if not openly miserable technicians. What am I supposed to say, I told you so?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Flag, 2001-8, sewn and appliquéd in white nylon, 72"x48"

I made one—had one made—in 2001. It's in a box somewhere in Germany. I've toyed with the idea of doing the entire UN.

Years later, through a mutual friend,  I gave this one to David Hammons. As a one-off it fits his work more than mine; it's almost an imitation. I told her to tell him he could use it any way he wanted. I gave up all rights to it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

From a few days ago, a bit rewritten (in both places)
Craftsmanship manifests self-awareness. Experience is private, but the communication of experience through a common medium -the definition of craft- re-situates us and returns us to the public world.
Art is less expression than description:
"Try writing a dialogue where the implications of each speaker’s words undermine the stated intent... try writing a dialogue [for two] that’s also a quartet."
Attention to craft can reverse-engineer an understanding of the complexities of experience, can make evident how much we craft our relations otherwise without thinking, how much we construct patterns in response to pattern, as reflex. Again this returns to the difference, and tension, between invention and observation. I almost want to say that con men are empiricists and marks are unfailingly rationalist.
The inability to experience language -communication- as polyphonic. The inability to read or listen at two or more levels, of tone and implication. And the inability to recognize that you yourself communicate in this way without even thinking.
Anyone who refers to "content" is missing the point.

"Although my embodied knowledge mostly comes from the performing arts (where my only ‘tool’ is my body)"
It devolved pretty quickly

The difference between invention and observation. And "creativity" is defined as inventiveness. My grandfather was inventive. Before that he was observant.

Fordism is now foundational.
In US public discourse, Finlandization is generally seen as a form of humiliating appeasement, and something to be avoided at even a very high cost. (Strange, then, that these same westerners have consistently been urging the Palestinians to accept a deal from Israel that gives them terms considerably less favorable than what Finland won from Moscow?)
Read the comments as well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Statements of the the obvious [] And another one, []  less obvious
And we should not kid ourselves that we will find Democratic allies in Congress or the Obama campaign that are going to argue that our policy has been all wrong all along. That will never happen. If this conflict becomes a matter of debate in the presidential campaign, it will not be over the wisdom of the overall policy. Obama would be abandoned by the foreign policy Establishment in a New York Minute.
Reading around more, I'm now not so sure that's true. There's a real fight going on. Here are Anatol Lieven [Dead-available through a library-see image below] and Scott Horton. [] But Henry Farrell is a very specific kind of idiot.
"But this also implies that Steve’s suggestion – that Western powers should have traded off Kosovan independence for recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – would have been an even worse option. It would have been tantamount to an effective recognition of spheres of influence,"
Farrell is incapable of seeing anything through an imagination other than his own. He has the best intentions—I won't argue—but he also assumes his own impartiality. And he seems unable to tell the difference between his moral right to state as a private citizen that there should be no spheres of influence and his responsibility in arguments concerning the behavior of state actors who act on the knowledge that they exist. Moral seriousness is not moral responsibility. Manners are not actions. The US supports democracy when it's seen to suit our leaders' definition of American interests but otherwise is happy not to. Pakistan is only today's example. All this ties into my annoyed but sloppy comment here. Craftsmanship manifests self-awareness. Experience is private, but the communication of experience through a common medium -the definition of craft- re-situates us and returns us to the public world. Art is less expression than description:
"Try writing a dialogue where the implications of each speaker’s words undermine the stated intent... try writing a dialogue [for two] that’s also a quartet."
Attention to craft can reverse-engineer an understanding of the complexities of experience, can make evident how much we craft our relations otherwise without thinking, how much we construct patterns in response to pattern, as reflex. Again this returns to the difference, and tension, between invention and observation. I almost want to say that con men are empiricists and marks are unfailingly rationalist. --- * Cognitive dissonance two days later
Maureen Dowd doesn't root for Democrats. She uses her column to mock Democrats, drive wedges between Democrats, and to reinforce negative stereotypes about Democrats.
I guess the point is not that she's always wrong but that she's insulting and frivolous.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Clark refers often to the origins of Modernism in the striving of the petty bourgeoisie, caught in the push-pull antagonism of individual and community. By the end of the book we find him celebrating the lyrical overreach of Adolph Gottlieb.

If successful Modernism is overreach laced with irony, then the next step is to admit that Modernism was from the beginning caught in a dance of or to the death with Kitsch. Modernism at it's best was nothing more than a formally subtle (rigorously beautiful) argument for the efficacy of kitsch desire: an intensely, desperately, mediated dithyramb against mediation. And Fascism was nothing less than Modernist desire, replacing the formal argument with the fist in the face.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Irrational Exuberance or "Military Advantage in History"

Russian troops and tanks pour into South Ossetia
I'm rewriting this in response to an idiot commenter elsewhere; and I wasn't happy with it.
It would have been far wiser for the US to encourage a continued "Eastern Bloc," even if it wouldn't have been immediately as democratic as reformers would wish. Eastern European countries who wanted to join NATO should have been told instead to work with one another. The expansion of NATO has always read like a victory lap, and the reaction of an isolated Russia was predictable. It's logical to think that a less threatened Russia would have become a less threatening one.

October 2007: "Russian President Vladimir Putin has compared US plans for a missile shield in Europe to the Cuban missile crisis"

July 2008: "U.S. general warns against Russian bombers in Cuba"

It's all been remarkably short sighted, and frankly stupid. Self-interest and false idealism or irrational exuberance, won out. The long term interests of the US would have been best served by strengthening others and strengthening the UN. Instead an overconfident US already at the end of its economic dominance did the reverse.
There's a direct connection to the previous post, notes taken from comments now removed at Crooked Timber.

Also related
In the summer of 2002, the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment (ONA) published an 85-page monograph called "Military Advantage in History". Unusual for an office that is headed by Andrew Marshall, the Pentagon's "futurist in chief," the study looks back to the past—way back. It examines four empires, or "pivotal hegemonic powers in history," to draw lessons about how the United States "should think about maintaining military advantage in the 21st century." Though unclassified, the study was held close to the vest; a stamp on the cover limits its dissemination without permission. Mother Jones obtained it only through a Freedom of Information Act request. Though the report is far from revelatory, it provides a window into a mindset that unselfconsciously envisions the United States as the successor to some of history's most powerful empires.
“Engagement” is not success, and efficiency limits engagement by focusing on ends rather than means: product rather than process.

At 11d:
“In fact, we seem even more unhappy about the rugrats than we did in the past. Some point to the increasing difficulties of mixing work and family.”
People no longer see self-sacrifice as a form of engagement: a form of pleasure. Individualism makes for lousy parenting. [see the second link here]

Inventiveness is now called “creativity.” Observation, the basis of art, is considered secondary, and reflection (an uneconomic activity), a waste of time.
I thought this stuff was covered in Freshman Comp if not 9th grade English class.

There’s no secularism without absurdity, though some people seem unaware of that.
A little serendipity for you.

“I’m guessing that there’s already a ton of papers…”
Most literature ever written, in any language. But now I’m reduced to quoting Talking Heads lyrics. It’s shameful.
I’m ashamed.

Heaven is a place
A place where nothing
Nothing ever happens.

I used to like that song because it encapsulated the intellectual curiosity of early adolescence.

“Does this desire to participate in the institution of competitive soccer amount to a vision of the good life? If so, would a really rational person be willing to transcend the principles of this institution when reason demanded that?"

Does this desire to participate in the institution of the law amount to a vision of the good life? If so, would a really rational person be willing to transcend the principles of this institution when the guilty go free?

This post and many of the comments have to represent some sort of low point in the history of human life.

John Quiggin 08.08.08 at 5:45 am
Seth, if you had even once, in your long history here, contributed anything valuable, or even coherent, I might be inclined to pay some attention to your assessment. As it is, I can only invite you to take yourself elsewhere. Whatever others here may decide, I’ve certainly had enough of you. Consider yourself banned from commenting on my posts.

Chris Bertram 08.08.08 at 6:59 am
John, I’ve now removed all SE’s comments from this thread by marking them as spam. He’s banned from my threads too.
And then he spends a half hour reading my site.
"-as if I have taken flight, leaving gravity behind. It is almost like sloughing off mortality."
And I'm supposed to respond to this fantasy life how? With respect? With deference?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

August 6th 1945

Mirroring by Spectrum Coatings
John Wayne in The Searchers. John Ford, 1956
Barnett Newman, Vir Heroicus Sublimis, 1950-51, Oil on canvas, 7' 11 3/8" x 17' 9 1/4"
On the one hand the comparison is obvious to the point of banality; on the other it's a secret, hidden in plain sight. The image of John Wayne in the doorway has become iconic but has to be seen as synecdochic. A movie frame is not a movie. It is by definition a mediocre photograph, incomplete. Films are built in overlapping images of action and out of a variety of perspectives and contexts. Time is the primary constitutive element.

Both images above are arguments for something, but Newman's is less argument than statement or aphorism. Not predicated on context itself it nonetheless requires one to be understood. Claiming to stand alone, it doesn't. By comparison, and this is dangerously glib, The Searchers is about the claim itself. Both works may come to the same conclusions but only one is loaded with caveats and doubts. One is made to be iconic, and the other is a description of how that same icon is constructed

It all ended up in the manuscript.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Klub Kid Kollectivity: I'm alone, I'm everyone

2003: Chris Bertram hearts Colin McGinn.
Sometimes, when I’m reading or listening to a paper which excites me with its novelty and brilliance, perhaps because it contains some really elegant move, a mental image comes into my head of Steve McManaman running with the ball, circa 1996. Colin McGinn, writing in the latest Prospect about how he became a philosopher, would see the parallel
The metaphor that best captures my experience with both philosophy and sport is soaring: pole vaulting, gymnastics and windsurfing clearly demonstrate it, but the intellectual highwire act involved in full-throttle philosophical thinking gives me a similar sensation – as if I have taken flight, leaving gravity behind. It is almost like sloughing off mortality. (Plato indeed thought that acquiring abstract knowledge is a return to the prenatal state of the immortal soul.) There is also an impressiveness to these physical and mental skills that appeals to me – they evoke the “wow” reflex. Showing off is an integral part of their exercise; but as I said earlier, I don’t have any objection to showing off. In any case, there is not, for me, the discontinuity between sports and intellectual activities that is often assumed. It is not that you must either be a nerd or a jock; you can be both. It has never surprised me that the ancient Greeks combined a reverence for the mind with a love of sports: both involve an appreciation of the beauties of technique skilfully applied. And both place a high premium on getting it right – exactly right.
2008: Henry Farrell hearts My Bloody Valentine

...not even as a guilty pleasure. Atomization, isolation and the illusion of absolute community. The low buzz and hum—the violence and warmth—of neurological overload. Henry Farrell as rationalist, rational actor, and club kid.

Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)1950, National Gallery of Art

T.J. Clark on Jackson Pollock [Farewell to an Idea, Chapter 6] makes arguments for Pollock's Modernism rather than concerning it.  When he refers to "the nightmare of Modernism" his Modernism is the dreamer, not the dream. The nightmare is that Cecil Beaton was right.

Cecil Beaton for Vogue, The New Soft Look, 1951
The nightmare for Colin McGinn is that My Bloody Valentine is right, that they will be seen as his rightful descendants, and they are. Cecil Beaton was right.

It's not a question of indifference or even opposition to the raw pleasures of experience—to ecstasy of one sort or another—but of a necessary return to a questioning or doubting empiricism, even regarding the self. I have memories of a childhood ecstasy that the closest I'm come to seeing described in print was a paragraph from a woman's remembrance of the onset of childhood schizophrenia. Soon is basically one sonic image of the dance of death as led by the skipping children, "unkillable infants," of a laughing god. It works on those attuned to it first and foremost as reflex, and awareness of that does as much damage to its dream as Chris Farley's radical recontextualizations of Goth Talk. And isn't that also what Beaton does to Pollock?

In the arts it's not a question of philosophical truth. The central mistake of Modernism was to imagine that questions of right and wrong, or correct and incorrect, could apply to art even more strictly than to politics, and both of course were subject to overdetermined logic. But art is always no more or less then a record of our preoccupations, whatever they are. Most things end that way, as history, but art accepts its fate. At it's best it exists, after the fact of its making, as both the most honest and most intimate description of ourselves and our failures. Preoccupations are not truths except to admit that we have them. The question for Pollock, or My Bloody Valentine, or Cecil Beaton is whether they are giving us a rich description. I would say Beaton undermines Pollock without offering us anything better. What that would be, and who would supply it?
Update, January 12, 2009. Continued here
Much longer discussion in an essay. A passage below on Pollock, referring to an exchange between Alfred Brendel and Charles Rosen on Beethoven.
The experience of the sex act is social, formal, communicative, and if the world is seen as the social realm, world-creating. The moment of orgasm as reflex is aformal, asocial (isolate), ecstatic and if the world is seen as social, world destructive. Sex as performance is a form of communication, orgasm is artless. The pretense of an 'art' of orgasm is vulgar. The popular understanding of Pollock’s work is as an ‘act’ of ‘expression,’ as orgasm not structure. Mondrian saw structure. Duchamp thought nothing about cutting off a few inches of Mural (1943) because it was too big for Peggy Guggenheim’s wall. And Pollock didn’t complain. The what and how of communication for Pollock’s work are complex - as complex in their way as the question of orgasm in Beethoven.
The manuscript, Working Title: Avant-Garde is Kitsch, is here, and here
It's worth remembering Farrell's interviewer in 2008 was Norman Geras