Saturday, May 28, 2011

The continuing turn to narrative, and the emerging acknowledgment of the subsidiary role of the fine arts. Two weeks ago an art critic in the NY Times reviewed a show of dresses by a recently deceased fashion designer and another now defends filmmaking
But it is also hard not to feel impatient and to wish Mr. Weerasethakul would go the extra miles to give his vision the kind of narrative and metaphorical coherence of his more conventional but also more captivating “Uncle Boonmee.”

This is an old problem. The defender of the avant garde will argue that breaking with tradition enables the emergence of new forms of consciousness that the kitschy conventions of popular entertainment usually block. Be that as it may, Mr. Weerasethakul’s fragmenting, multiscreen approach is conventional in its own way. It focuses attention as much on how we experience projected moving imagery and puzzle together narrative in our own minds as it does on its ostensible subject matter. In that respect, its appeal is academic. But it doesn’t do anything much more advanced than Mr. Weerasethakul’s experimentalist heroes did back in the 1960s.

What is more disappointing is that in its self-consciously anti-stylish style, it muffles its own heartbeat: the story of young men caught in the unpredictable flux of history trying to imagine a better future.
"The defender of the avant garde will argue that breaking with tradition enables the emergence of new forms of consciousness"

Philosophers of course are still committed avant-gardists but there's no record of vanguardists of any stripe living up to that claim, at least in any way that they should be happy about. To say otherwise is to argue that Bill Ayers and the Weathermen are more important to the history of the U.S. in the 1960's than Martin Luther King and the SCLC. The best the cultural avant-garde could claim once is to have humanized its present. And to understand the intellectual vanguard now is to recognize that academic philosophers want to be called scientists for the same reasons investment managers want to be called financial "engineers."

The Fine Arts section of the Times has been shrinking for years. It's half the size it was even 10 years ago.

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