Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The last few posts are updated a bit. I'm back at the megillah
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Baroque art is the art of perception, the space between what is,in an ideal sense, and what we experience. Velázquez is a the first painter to paint the world and as it appears to the eye; the other way to put it is to say he was the first painter of illusions.  Jonathan Brown on the portrait of the bufón, jester and actor,  Pablo de Valladolid 
The figure, clad in a black velvet suit an wrapped in a cloak, stands with both feet planted firmly on the ground, his right arm dramatically thrust into space. The marvelous economy of the pose is intensified by the handling of the surrounding space. Pablo is set against a light-colored ground, which is almost completely undefined except in the upper right corner, where the color turns darker, and the shadow at his feet, trails inconsequentially off to the right. The juncture between floor and wall, the key to imparting a sense of space, has simply been omitted. And the figure does not float or appear to be unduly flat. Indeed, the absence distracting elements of any kind brings the jester to life with startling directness. Implicit in this painting is a remarkable challenge to the rules and procedures of Renaissance painting. Through the exercise of his powerful creative mind, Velázquez appears to arrived at a conclusion which, to us, seems obvious – conventional rules of painting produce conventional pictures of the world. Put another way, Velázquez had come to understand that paintings executed by following the classical produced a view different from what the eye sees.  Works of art governed by rules were almost by definition a mental fiction, and Velázquez was interested in perceptible fact. Pablo de Valladolidis based on a simple optical phenomenon—it is impossible for the eye to focus simultaneously on different planes of depth. Thus, the background of a portrait can be treated almost as a blur without any loss of verisimilitude, if one or two cognitive accents are given the viewer. In fact, the illusion of reality gains immeasurably from but far-reaching change of approach. In Pablo de Valladolid, as in the Portrait of Philip IV in Brown and Silver, Velazquez begins to experiment with a novel approach to the art of representation which would eventually redefine the relationship between art and nature.[i]
What’s ignored is that Velázquez is a loyal and committed servant of the most reactionary, absolutist monarchy in Europe,  and has given his king a life sized image (the painting itself is 209 x123 cm) of another, lower, servant represented in a fully realized psychologically astute portrait of another human being, a picture that at the same time has a hieratic classicism, almost the distancing of a still life. Manet called to it “possibly the most extraordinary piece of painting that has ever been done.”[ii] To us it’s almost Brechtian. 
There’s no inherent contradiction between political absolutism and the materiality in Titian’s paintings, in the literary classicism of Poussin and Claude or the physical grace of Baroque sculpture. Tensions are resolved one way or another, or awkward subjects are avoided. Velázquez’ paintings are defined by paradox. To sense this fully you need to look at -and ideally of course to stand in front of- the portraits of the people he served, his superiors, not his equals or below. Here's  Brown's description of  Philip IV in Brown and Silver.
[I]t is here the first time that see the remarkable and original technique which sets Velazquez apart from almost every other artist of his day. In this portrait, Philip wears a costume comprised of a tunic and breeches decorated with silver brocade, under which is an ornate blouse of silvery white and black. On his shoulders there is a black cape also embroidered with silver thread. The challenge of depicting an ornate costume of this kind lies in reproducing the dazzling play of light on the surface without sacrificing the intricacy of the design. The artist who concentrates on the pattern is inevitably forced to imitate the dull geometry of needlework, as dozens of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century court portraits show. But Velazquez’ approach, which aims at capturing the fleeting effects of light as it glances off the silver threads, is not only difficult, but runs the risk of minimizing the intricate workmanship of the garment and thus displeasing the wearer [a note shows that a portrait had been rejected for this reason]. His solution to the dilemma is a brushstroke of genius. Realizing that a high degree of finish was fatal to rendering  spontaneous effects, he resorted to using a sketch-like technique in a formal, official work of art. 
From our perspective, this seems like a logical and not especially innovative idea. But in the context of the seventeenth century, it was virtually unprecedented. A sketchy technique is of course not unknown in the work of other great seventeenth-century painters, but there is a difference of degree which is crucial. In the Portrait of Philip in Brown and Silver, Velazquez abandons the fluid technique of sketching in oil used, for example, by Rubens, and instead utilizes short, succinct, impastoed strokes of infinite shape and size which are applied so that they appear to hover above the brown ground. Seen at close range*this busy tangle of brushwork appears almost random and formless, But at a distance, it reproduces the glittering surface of a richly brocaded costume with remarkable fidelity.[iii]
The passage is confused. There’s no reason to think that Velazquez, once the issue became clear, was ever not interested in the duality that’s visible in the painting here. After all he had begun with solidity, not the reverse. The question more likely is how much practice it took get the result he wanted: light implying structure. And Brown is confused again writing about Las Meninas, or rather he refuses to accept the contradictions that lay behind in.
 Las Meninas is the culmination of  a lifelong examination of the relationship between art and  nature. Velázquez seems to have tried to create art without apparent artifice and thus to reduce the gap between what the eye sees in nature and what the eye sees in art. The desire to attain greater naturalism in painting was widely felt in the seventeenth century,  but no one went further in achieving it than Velázquez. The proof of his success is Las Meninas, a painting in which his new type of artistry is used to produce an intense encounter with reality. 
In planning the calculated approximation of art to nature, Velazquez had to redefine the traditional relationship between painting and reality. 64 Renaissance theory placed the intellect at the center of artistic activity; the painter's mind was required to mediate between the haphazard world of appearances and the ordered, harmonious world of art. If the idea of beauty changed according to time and circumstances, the value of an accepted canon of beauty was never challenged. Works of painting which merely recorded natural appearances, such as still life and portraiture, were assigned a lower place in the hierarchy of art than were those which aspired to express universal truths about man, nature, and the divine in an ideal style. In Las Meninas, however, the illusion, not the improvement, of everyday reality is given primacy. For whatever the picture may be, it is a brilliant tour de force of illusionistic painting.
“…to create art without apparent artifice” . “…the illusion, not the improvement, of everyday reality is given primacy. “…a brilliant tour de force of illusionistic painting”  But the artifice is apparent; illusion has replaced the ideal, and all this is in an art made to celebrate Catholic absolutism. You can see why Brown’s head is spinning.
Velazquez’ job was to project to the world the authority of the Spanish throne, to proclaim the divine right of kings, but as he matured he became a master of  tricks and illusion. Physical solidity gives way to flickers of light and the mere perception of solidity.  He painted people of every rank with emotional directness and honesty, so we see weak and melancholy kings and proud dwarfs. He was a loyal both to the king and to his own perceptions, and for the first time in Christian art we’re presented not with an embodiment of ideal truth but images suffused with the need to believe.  Velazquez was the first artist to depict the monarchy, and maybe even god, as a noble lie. 
In the inventory of his fine library one finds very few books of devotion in comparison to what was usual among people of good breeding and social position. There were, however, numerous books on mathematics, architecture, history, and Spanish and Italian poetry. If one excepts the years of Velázquez's youth in Seville, when as merely one more of the artists of his generation, he had to work for ecclesiastical patrons, religious themes occupy an insignificant position in his works and are always the response (Christ on the Cross, The Coronation o the Virgin, Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Paul the Hermit) to specific royal assignments. Of course we cannot think of Velázquez as a religious skeptic (an attitude inconceivable and obviously unconfessable in the Spain of the time). In contrast to his contemporaries, however, he distanced himself from conventional religiosity; this absence of the religious is nevertheless accompanied by a dignified and serious tone of mercy toward all creatures, by a "modern" and lay humanism, that makes him unique. [iv]
Panofsky dismisses the story of  The Holy Roman Emperor picking a paintbrush off the floor, but the same story is told about Philip IV. Velazquez’ royal portraits are tragic; they show the weaknesses of an insecure man, yet they show him great respect.  Stripped of the obligatory pomp, it’s the same respect Velazquez showed Pablo de Valladolid.  Brown ends his book writing that  Velazquez “…discovered a new way to transmute images of kings and queens and princes and princesses into a new form of art which continues to grow in power long after the memory of his protectors has faded nearly into oblivion.”  Brown, the defender of progress and art for art’s sake, stripped of its full depth of meaning, can’t see the obvious. Velazquez’s “new way” and “new form of art” describe the end of monarchy. The maturation of his technique, the curiosity that drove it, and the obligations of his calling diverged, but the form of his obligation changed as well. The glorification of a master became the sympathy for a friend, in ways that neither king nor servant could ever admit. We’re back to Baudelaire, and Renoir, von Rauffenstein, and de Boeldieu, the originating tragedy, later played as kitsch, (as farce).

[i]  Brown, p.101
[ii]  Svetlana Alpers The Vexations of Art: Velázquez and Others,Yale 2007 p. 232
[iii] Brown, p.85
[iv]Perez Sanchez, p.22

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Aristotle and Montesquieu on virtue ethics. 
Aristotle:
The distribution of offices according to merit is a special characteristic of aristocracy, for the principle of an aristocracy is virtue, as wealth is of an oligarchy, and freedom of a democracy.[i] 
Montesquieu:
We have just seen that the laws of education should have a relation to the principle of each government. It is the same for the laws the legislator gives to the society as a whole. This relation between the laws and the principle tightens all the springs of the government, and the principle in turn receives a new force from the laws. Thus, in physical motion, an action is always followed by a reaction. We shall examine this relation in each government, and we shall begin with the republican state, which has virtue for its principle.[ii]
The Baroque period was seen for a long time as decadent, and Mannerism justifiably still is. The Baroque is stylish without fear of condemnation, sensuous but no longer prurient.  In the most common art historical definition, this refers to the Rome of Borromini and Bernini, but also Rubens, and the Flemish Baroque. In the broader sense that Panofsky uses it refers also to Cervantes and Shakespeare. In both the central theme is the experience of time. For Bernini as for Leibniz,  time is abstract and material. As Vesely says “Leibniz's understanding of the senses is still based on the integrity of the scholastic world in which the sensible or visible is a manifestation of the universal order. This manifestation is also our main encounter with beauty, in which the perfection of the order is revealed.”The unity is stretched, twisted, folded; our experience changes as we move around it but the unity does not.  This is the birth of what became the secularized idea of aesthetics,  je ne sais quoi,  and also of what we now call glamour, a mode of aristocratic individual performance, judged not just by how closely it hews to custom, but how well, how gracefully, with how much charm or style. But who judges the performance? That’s the unresolved question at the heart of the Baroque in its standard definition, as a renewed but vibrant Catholic conservatism. Beauty as such, a new ideal no longer in a direct relation to justice or truth, is a byproduct of the rise of science, as Vesely puts it in a new age of divided representation.The Baroque is a flowering, and flowers mark an end, not a beginning.  The wider age of the Baroque is the age of theater and literature, the age of the comedians and ironists who mock scholastics and philosophers, as Aristophanes had. It’s the rise, or return, to democracy, the idea of virtue ethics according to Montesquieu, and only briefly of  virtue ethics as defined by Aristotle. 
There’s another Baroque, another form of the final flowering of aristocratic art, not as dynamic, but visceral and more purely visual in its realism and use of illusion, that’s more conflicted. The Spanish Baroque comes down to us as the source for Warhol, through Manet and Degas, through the photography of Nadar, to the French discovery only after Napoleon’s looting of Spain, of Velázquez and the Spanish Golden Age. The Italian Baroque of Caravaggio and Bernini was the product of a new understanding of time and individual experience, focusing on idealized figures as actors in motion. The emotionalism is the controlled emotionalism of performance. Spanish painting by comparison, was static or florid.  El Greco rendered that floridity substantial, with a toughness that made it more than eccentric, more than mannerist. But the new ambiguities largely lay elsewhere. The central figure of course is Velázquez.
Velázquez’s early life made him an anomaly in Spain. He grew up in a literate household; his family claimed descent from minor nobility, but his father wasn’t put out by the thought of apprenticing his son to a tradesman.
Unlike in Italy, where by 1600 the connection between the arts and letters had become well established, in Spain the two had never been joined. The consequences of this failure were profound, because it was through the identification of painting with poetry that the former gained the status of a liberal art, as opposed to a craft. In practical terms, this meant that painters were regarded by the ruling class of Spanish society as the social equals of blacksmiths, coopers, and carpenters. The reasons for the existence of this attitude are complex, but there can be no doubt that the most important was the deeply-ingrained aristocratic prejudice against commerce and manual labor. Painting in Spain was considered to be a handicraft and painters were therefore artisans whose work was essentially characterized by physical rather than mental activity. [iii]
His master Francisco Pacheco was an anomaly as well; orphaned and put in the care of an uncle, he’d grown up in a community of humanists and had joined his uncle in  an informal academy founded by Juan de Mal Lara,a playwright and poet and follower, and cribber, of Erasmus. Other than being Velázquez’ teacher and father-in-law, Pacheco is remembered now mostly as the author of  a treatise and defense of painting, Arte de la pintura,, including biographies of Spanish artists. He spent more than 40 years on it and it was only published posthumously. It’s the first major source we have on Velázquez. 
Pacheco was the supreme embodiment of a type common during the Spanish Counter-Reformation: a faithful servant of a Church defending itself against Protestant reform with closed and intransigent dogmatism, but also a person who, with a bow to moral allegory, demonstrated an evident familiarity with classical tradition and the gods and goddesses of pagan Olympus.[iv]
Pacheco was the official censor for Seville’s Inquisition. Mal Lara had been arrested and detained in 1561 on rumours he’d written anti-clerical poetry, but later anti-clerical elements in his Filosofia vulgar(Common Philosophy) were ignored, or maybe the examiners didn’t even bother to read them.[v]In 1566 he moved to Madrid to join the court of Philip II. This is the confusion where Velázquez begins in Spain and even more, in provincial Seville. 
The professional horizons that lay before the twenty-year-old Velázquez, the possibilities for work that awaited him, were no different from those his father-in-law had known or from those open to Zurbaran, his contemporary: religious painting, devotional canvases, monastic cycles and portraits, and an occasional ruggedly intense portrait or rigidly arranged still life.[vi]
Panofsky describes Titian’s relation with Charles V “extending to his whole family and entourage… [as] almost unique in the annals of art”.  He dismisses the story that Charles, “to the pained surprise of his courtiers” once stooped down to pick up Titian’s dropped brush, but says he treated Titian as “an equal in spirit if not in rank… their correspondence occasionally reads like that of two great and equal powers.”[vii]He also writes about Titian’s “best friend”, Pietro Aretino “the scourge of princes”, blackmailer, and pornographer.  With Aretino and Jacopo Sansovino “Titian contracted, almost immediately, a life-long friendship. A formidable alliance of the "Three Arts of Design" with literature, this "Triumvirate" wielded an enormous influence and its members were united by genuine affection as well as self-interest.”  Sansovino immortalized the three of them on the doors of the Sacristy of St. Mark's. Aretino died in 1556
…allegedly at a dinner party in his own house: when one of the guests had told a particularly funny and indecent story, it was said, Aretino roared with laughter and threw himself back in his chair with such violence that the chair tipped over and he broke his head. There is no shred of evidence for this story… but it throws light on Aretino's reputation — a reputation summarized in a famous "epitaph"… 
"Questo è Pietro Aretino, poeta Tosco, 
Che d'ogni un disse male, eccetto the di Dio;
Scusandosi con dir 'non lo conosco’ "
 ("Here Aretino lies, a Tuscan poet; Evil he spoke of all, except of God; When questioned why, he said 'Him I don't know' “)…

Aretino was perhaps the first publicist to make a living by misrepresentation and extortion; and — in return for praise or, no less often, for silence — he received honors, presents and huge sums of money from nearly all the princes of his time — including the two eternal adversaries, Charles V and Francis I of France. He led a loose life. He wrote indecent sonnets and equally indecent, often extremely amusing comedies while posing as a fervent believer and even aspiring to a Cardinal's hat….

It was indeed only in Venice, governed with an extraordinary combination of discipline and permissiveness… where life was strictly regulated in theory but very free in practice, and where political action was rigorously controlled while the liberty of thought, the liberty of speech and the liberty of the press were protected even against the Inquisition, that a man like Aretino could flourish. [viii]

Jonathan Brown writes that “the itinerant style of kingship practiced by Charles V gave his court an international scope and allowed him to choose his artists from an exceptional range of talent in Italy and Flanders.”[ix]It also means he dealt willingly with a wide range of characters. Panofsky notes his “wry sense of humor”.  When he renounced his crown in 1555, retiring to a monastery he took nine of Titian’s paintings with him, including the monumental ‘Triumph of Faith”, La Gloria”, “and he is said to have looked at it in his dying days with such persistence and intensity of feeling that his doctors took fright.” [x]
Charles V was a polyglot and European ruler. Philip II had been raised and thought of himself as a Spaniard. Titian worked for the son as he had for the father, but though Philip requested that he come to Madrid he never did. Veronese and Tintoretto turned him down as well.[xi] Philip created massive projects, and brought new and major works and more and minor artists, but even they brought new ideas. This was the beginning of the process that produced the great art in the Spanish 17thcentury.  But after all this I’m still only interested in one artist, and not because he’s the best of them, but why; because his work is the perfect illustration  (and that’s the word for my purposes) as Bernini’s is, of a moment and a place, in the wider culture and politics of its time. I can’t separate my love of art from my interest in culture. I can’t separate sadness from the blues, or art from politics. If philosophy doesn’t interest me as anything more than a kind of literature, a kind of art, then art has to match it. Leibniz outside of mathematics is no more important than Bernini, no more or less of a product of his time, no more or less a brilliant mind. So what’s Velázquez? 

[i]Aristotle, Politics, Book IV. trans. Jowett
[ii]Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, eds. Cohler,MillerStone, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, Cambridge , 1989,Book 5, Chapter 1
[iii]Jonathan Brown, Velázquez: Painter and Courtier, Yale University Press, 1988) p.2
[iv]  Alfonso E. Perez Sanchez“Velázquez and his Art”,  in Velázquez,  Antonio Dominguez Ortiz, Alfonso E. Perez Sanchez, Julian Gallego , Metropolitan Museum, 1989,  p 24
[v]  Patricia Manning, Voicing Dissent in Seventeenth-Century Spain. Brill 2009, p. 34 
[vi]  Perez Sanchez p. 26
[vii]Panofsky, Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic. NYU 1969, p.7
[viii]ibid. p.11
[ix]Brown, p.4
[x]Panofsky, Titian, p 64
[xi]  Robert Goodwin,  Spain: The Centre of the World 1519-1682Bloomsbury, 2015,  p. 140

Monday, December 17, 2018

One of Brassai’s most famous photographs of 1930s Paris is of Violette Morris, later a Nazi collaborator and torturer for the Gestapo. Sometimes the demimonde understands, like Liebling’s wounded pimp, sometimes not. But Americans like to live their dreams. Edward Mendelson in 1981, reviewing After the Wake: An Essay on the Contemporary Avant-Garde, by Christopher Butler.
The basic claim made by every avant-garde movement – that its artists offer real innovations, that they surpass the limits accepted by their predecessors – is central to Butler’s advocacy. ‘My plan,’ he writes, ‘has been to argue that in the 1950s radically new conventions for the language of art were developed by writers, musicians and painters who wished to break away from modernism.’ This argument faces difficulties at the start, since the avant-garde has been proclaiming its radical newness longer than anyone can remember. The most time-honoured convention of the manifesto-writers is innovation: the formula for newness is handed down unchanged from generation to generation. Butler quotes an artist who wants nothing to do with ‘all the structures, values, feelings, of the whole European tradition. It suits me fine if that’s all down the drain.’ This happens to be Frank Judd speaking in the late 1960s, but all that distinguishes it from Futurist manifestos of fifty years before is its tone of lumpen disgruntlement. Allen Ginsberg, quoted in one of Butler’s epigraphs, says: ‘there is nothing to be learned from history any more. We’re in science fiction now.’ This remark, differing only in vocabulary from claims made early in this century for the new machine age, is proof in itself that Ginsberg’s ignorance of history does not exempt him from repeating it.
A more vivid proof, not mentioned by Butler, may be found in Ginsberg’s recent echoes of the totalitarian apologetics offered by some of the Modernists of the 1920s and 1930s. Ginsberg has placed his spiritual life in the care of a Tibetan guru (one consciously avoided by the Dalai Lama), the autocrat of a spiritual retreat and poetry workshop near Boulder, Colorado. Among the guru’s activities are punching recalcitrant visiting faculty in the face and having them stripped naked by his goon squad. Ginsberg defends the guru’s methods as an “experiment in monarchy”, and insists that he must not be judged by the standards of lesser mortals.[i]
“Frank” Judd is Donald, and the quote is from, “Questions to Stella and Judd”, an interview from 1966.[ii] Read in full it’s as dated as the fragment Mendelson includes. But in 2015 it was reposted on the webpage of the magazine where it first appeared, and called prescient, because the same debates are repeating, in an even smaller subculture.[iii] Mendelson is wrong though to say that  Ginsberg, Judd and Stella didn’t know history, at least as fact. They were still trying to escape it; they each saw ideologies and made their own in response, another schism in the church, another splinter group. But art succeeds if it transcends intent, if it’s more interesting than the chatter that surrounds it, and if the chatter and the art aren’t in conflict, generally speaking it’s the art that makes the chatter interesting, unless the chatter is interesting on its own. The interview is worth reading to understand how much has changed, from the 20s to the 60s and to now.
GLASER: Why do you want to avoid compositional effects? 
JUDD: Well, those effects tend to carry with them all the structures, values, feelings of the whole European tradition. It suits me fine if that’s all down the drain. When Vasarely has optical effects within the squares, they’re never enough, and he has to have at least three or four squares, slanted, tilted inside each other, and all arranged. That is about five times more composition and juggling than he needs. 
GLASER: It s too busy? 
JUDD: It is in terms of somebody like Larry Poons. Vasarely’s composition has the effect of order and quality that traditional European painting had, which I find pretty objectionable.... The objection is not that Vasarely’s busy, but that in his multiplicity there’s a certain structure that has qualities I don’t like. 
GLASER: What qualities?

JUDD: The qualities of European art so far. They’re innumerable and complex, but the main way of saying it is that they’re linked up with a philosophy—rationalism, rationalistic philosophy.

GLASER: Descartes?

JUDD: Yes. 
GLASER: And you mean to say that your work is apart from rationalism?

JUDD: Yes. All that art is based on systems built beforehand, a priori systems; they express a certain type of thinking and logic that is pretty much discredited now as a way of finding out what the world’s like. 
GLASER: Discredited by whom? By empiricists?

JUDD: Scientists, both philosophers and scientists.

GLASER: What is the alternative to a rationalistic system in your method? It’s often said that your work is preconceived, that you plan it out before you do it. Isn’t that a rationalistic method?

JUDD: Not necessarily. That’s much smaller. When you think it out as you work on it, or you think it out beforehand, it’s a much smaller problem than the nature of the work. What you want to express is a much bigger thing than how you may go at it. Larry Poons works out the dots somewhat as he goes along; he figures out a scheme beforehand and also makes changes as he goes along. Obviously I can’t make many changes, though I do what I can when I get stuck.

GLASER: In other words, you might be referring to an antirationalist position before you actually start making the work of art.

JUDD: I’m making it for a quality that I think is interesting and more or less true. And the quality involved in Vasarely’s kind of composition isn’t true to me.

GLASER: Could you be specific about how your own work reflects an antirationalistic point of view?

JUDD: The parts are unrelational.

GLASER: If there’s nothing to relate, then you can’t be rational about it because it’s just there?
JUDD: Yes.

GLASER: Then it’s almost an abdication of logical thinking. 
JUDD: I don’t have anything against using some sort of logic. That’s simple. But when you start relating parts, in the first place, you’re assuming you have a vague whole—the rectangle of the canvas— and definite parts, which is all screwed up, because you should have a definite whole and maybe no parts, or very few. The parts are always more important than the whole. 
GLASER: And you want the whole to be more important than the parts?

JUDD: Yes. The whole’s it. The big problem is to maintain the sense of the whole thing. 
GLASER: Isn’t it that there’s no gestation, that there’s just an idea?

JUDD: I do think about it, I’ll change it if I can. I just want it to exist as a whole thing. And that’s not especially unusual. Painting’s been going toward that for a long time. A lot of people, like Oldenburg for instance, have a “whole” effect to their work. 

Judd is talking about moral imperatives, founded in theological argument. He wants to see things, not arrangements, facts, not chatter. A woman I knew, who’d gone to grad school at Yale, and imbibed all the theory and whose own work was “transgressive’ had always associated Judd with the “Enlightenment values” and art for bank lobbies. And then she met him, and realized that nominally an atheist he was a still a self-punishing Calvinist. She’d seen kink behind the Puritan morality and now she loved the work. 
Michael Fried was right to say that the focus on objects, qua objects, as things which displace air or water and which change in our perceptions as we move around them brings us to the point of theater. 
…I want to make a claim that I cannot hope to prove or substantiate but that I believe nevertheless to be true: viz., that theatre and theatricality are at war today, not simply with modernist painting (or modernist painting and sculpture), but with art as such - and to the extent that the different arts can be described as modernist, with modernist sensibility as such. This claim can be broken down into three propositions or theses: 
1. The success, even the survival, of the arts has come increasingly to depend on their ability to defeat theatre. …
2. Art degenerates as it approaches the condition of theatre. …
3. The concepts of quality and value-and to the extent that these are central to art, the concept of art itself-are meaningful, or wholly meaningful, only within the individual artsWhat lies between the arts is theatre
Remember Panofsky’s description of the Florentine intermedio… “where the conclusion of Plato’s Republic appeared on the stage”, and the nobleman who wrote “that it was very beautiful but nobody could understand what it was all about.” “Performance art” in the 16th century and the 20thdeveloped for the same reasons: the need to reconcile mandated idealism, eternal, deathless, with growing worldliness, economic and intellectual, and engagement with life as experienced in time.  Performance art was a way for artists raised on idealism to come to terms with relativism, using what they knew to make formalist abstract forms of narrative. Fried was right to say that it was “the negation of art“ as he defined it. Theater is the death of art only for those who associate art and philosophy, with “truth” and not fiction. Minimalism maintained Modernist idealism about itself, as materialism, but not about experience. Fried quotes Greenberg on its beginnings.
Objecthood has also become an issue for modernist sculpture. This is true despite the fact that sculpture, being three-dimensional, resembles both ordinary objects and literalist work in a way that painting does not. Almost ten years ago Clement Greenberg summed up what he saw as the emergence of a new sculptural 'style,' whose master is undoubtedly David Smith, in the following terms: 
To render substance entirely optical, and form, whether pictorial, sculptural, or architectural, as an integral part of ambient space - this brings anti-illusionism full circle. Instead of the illusion of things, we are not offered the illusion of modalities: namely, that matter is incorporeal, weightless, and exists only optically like a mirage. 
Fried tries to pull back from the implications, resisting the change that Smith’s work described. Smith’s sculptures aren’t modernist, they’re Baroque. The Minimalists were faced with the dilemma of  object-makers in a world where interrelations are more important than things; to be loyal to their calling and limit it to what it could do best they became puritans. 
Panofsky called the Baroque a return to the openness of the Renaissance, but transposed. The Counter-Reformation had faded. Late Mannerism had been seen in the forms and facial expressions of sitters for Bronzino. “It is as though the life of these people had gone frozen, or hides itself behind a motionless mask, melancholy and cool, shy and supercilious at the same time.”[iv]That imagery of curdled utopianism is ubiquitous; nihilism is everywhere.  But all these things are mixed, especially now: openness and authoritarian dystopia, humanism and anti-humanism. The Reagan years were floods of human warmth compared to now; the decadence of the 70s is looked back on with nostalgia as an age of innocence. 
In the 80s Stella managed to turn what had devolved into formalist kitsch into something American and grand: the grandeur of the American landscape meeting the formalism of the pedantic American imagination. He rationalized his way over decades and made the result into a baroque amalgam of Walt Disney and Herman Melville, and he made it work. 
Moby Dick, or the White Whale.
A hunt. The last great hunt.
For what ?
For Moby Dick, the huge white sperm whale: who is old, hoary, monstrous, and swims alone; who is unspeakably terrible in his wrath, having so often been attacked; and snow- white.
Of course he is a symbol.
Of what ?
I doubt if even Melville knew exactly. That's the best of it.[v]

I quoted Lawrence earlier not just as someone critical of America but as a great critic of American art. His essay on Moby Dick is brilliant
At first you are put off by the style. It reads like journalism. It seems spurious. You feel Melville is trying to put something over you. It won't do.
And Melville really is a bit sententious: aware of himself, self-conscious, putting something over even himself. But then it's not easy to get into the swing of a piece of deep mysticism when you just set out with a story.
Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville, even in a great book like Moby Dick. He preaches and holds forth because he's not sure of himself And he holds forth, often, so amateurishly.
The artist was so much greater than the man. The man is rather a tiresome New Englander of the ethical mystical- transcendentalist sort: Emerson, Longfellow, Hawthorne, etc. So unrelieved, the solemn ass even in humour. So hopelessly au grand serieux, you feel like saying: Good God, what does it matter? If life is a tragedy, or a farce, or a disaster, or any- thing else, what do I care! Let life be what it likes. Give me a drink, that's what I want just now.
For my part, life is so many things I don't care what it is. It's not my affair to sum it up. Just now it's a cup of tea. This morning it was wormwood and gall. Hand me the sugar.
One wearies of the grand serieux. There's something false about it. And that's Melville. Oh dear, when the solemn ass brays! brays! brays!
But he was a deep, great artist, even if he was rather a sententious man. He was a real American in that he always felt his audience in front of him. But when he ceases to be American, when he forgets all audience, and gives us his sheer apprehension of the world, then he is wonderful, his book commands a stillness in the soul, an awe.
The one mistake is to say that Melville ceases to be an American when he lets go, but without the repression you can’t have the escape. But I’m not going to go off on an excursus on Stella. He’s succeeded in making complex things, bright and dark, pop and sophisticated; with an optimism suited for the era of Reagan and Thatcher. I’m not going to quibble about politics. The baroque is conservative; it’s big money without guilt; it ignores things. 
The 80’s was the beginnings of art’s move into commercial culture, not the use of its imagery, but the desire to be part of it. 80’s art is full of people who wanted to make movies, who were trying to escape the contempt for film, and for pictorialism, that they were raised with. It’s hard to explain the hold of Greenberg’s moralizing puritanism on the imaginations of people in that world, of Greenberg’s formalism but also the moralizing and intellectual snobbery of conceptualism. I’ll deal in a later section with the artists from what’s now called “The Pictures Generation”, artists torn between jealousy and snobbish contempt for film, a few of whom later after they were successful as artists tried and bombed in Hollywood. Stella found a way out. In 1983 he was asked to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard. His subject was Caravaggio and the future of painting. Working Space[vi]is a testament to the results of years of rationalization and slow transformation. Stella the fundamentalist worked through all the logical arguments he’d grown up with and while still claiming the same faith, he ended up a liberal. If Stella were a brilliant writer it would be a brilliant book. But Stella is one of the most important artists of the post war era; the book is ancillary, doing awkwardly what the work describes brilliantly.  
Deleuze claimed that philosophers create concepts. They don't. To repeat what I wrote above: “By the time anything becomes known as an idea, it’s been around for awhile. Concepts come late to the game. Sensibilities predate their clear articulation.” Nihilism came with Modernism, De Sade is a creature of the Enlightenment, negative idealism that scoffed at but couldn’t escape mirroring utopian claptrap. To rationalists the first answer to rationalism is irrationalism. But then slowly they begin to adapt.  From Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production, by the architectural historian Dalibor Vesely. 
The critical turning point in the formation of modern aesthetics was the contribution of Leibniz, who opposed the Cartesian autonomy of clear and distinct ideas that deprived human senses of any claim to understanding and truth. He firmly believed that our senses do, in their own way, reveal the nature and truth of the world. Unlike ideas, however, the senses are not clear and distinct but only clear and confused, and for that reason inferior. Somewhat poetically he compares them to the murmur of the sea: 
"Although our senses relate to everything, it is not possible for our soul to attend to all individually, and that is why our confused sensations are the result of a variety, altogether infinite, of perceptions. It is almost like the confused murmur heard by those approaching the shores of the sea that arises from the accumulation of the reverberations of the innumerable waves." Leibniz's understanding of the senses is still based on the integrity of the scholastic world in which the sensible or visible is a manifestation of the universal order. This manifestation is also our main encounter with beauty, in which the perfection of the order is revealed. What is new in Leibniz is the shift toward individualizing such experiences, which coincides with his notion of the individual soul as monad. As he sees it, 
the beauty of the universe could be learned in each soul, could one unravel all its folds which develop perceptibly only with time. But as each distinct perception of the soul includes an infinity of confused perceptions which embrace all the universe, the soul itself does not know the things which it perceives, except in so far as it has perceptions of them which are distinct and heightened and it has perceptions in proportion to its distinct form. Each soul knows the infinite, knows everything, but confusedly.
Such confusion arose, Leibniz and his contemporaries thought, because perceptions could not account for their own reason, because their origins and meaning remained hidden. For Leibniz himself and others who believed in providence, this obscurity was not a significant problem, because the unknown, inexplicable, and mysterious was seen as part of the divine plan of things. However, for those who believed in the transparency of the world, in reason, the inexplicable was very troubling. It was difficult to accept that whole areas of reality, such as works of art or the landscape, stirred strong feelings and a sense of beauty that could not be ignored yet could not be explained. This experience was described already in the seventeenth century as the "je ne sais quoi—I know not what."
Dominique Bouhours, who devoted a whole treatise to the issue, declares: "One can say with certainty that 'je ne sais quoi' is one of the greatest wonders and one of the greatest mysteries of nature." Montesquieu, some eighty years later, writes: "There is something in people and in things, an invisible charm, a natural grace, which cannot be defined and which one is forced to name je ne sais quoi.' It seems to me that this is an effect based primarily on surprise." The self-sufficiency of the Leibnizian monad was what brought the inexplicable into the domain of subjectivity, "each mind being as it were a little divinity in its own department."
With Leibniz, we stand on the threshold of a new epoch, in which the harmony and beauty of the world, revealed gradually in a dialectical process, became a field of aesthetic experience dependent on the cultivation of taste and on the role of the genius. The new experience created a distance from things and events, thereby contributing to the formation of modern aestheticism and historicism. Aestheticization itself is closely linked with the relativity of taste and the formalization of experience. [vii]
The translator of Deleuze’ book on Leibniz and the Baroque is a philologist. A history of rationalism is an act of empiricism. Philosophers don’t create concepts any than the first man, or woman, to say "je ne sais quoi” was the first to smile in appreciation. Aesthetics begins when things in the world no longer give a direct relation to universals, when objects as thingsbecome the experience of  things. Experience is individual, a danger to authority. It’s a danger to eternal truths, and thus to the King, as history is a danger to philosophy. Leibniz and Deleuze, as philosophers and conservatives, struggle to reconcile the multiform with the ideal. They’re creatures of their time, no more or less than Caravaggio and Stella. 
Stella defends a spatial formalism, including illusion, in effect defending what is now a cinematic eye, cinematic rather than photographic because the eye is moving. The lectures and book caused a ruckus at the time, but what struck me was less the discovery of Caravaggio than the denial of the worldliness that came with it. This was the 80’s of Schnabel and Salle, the rise of big money in big art, the time when the darkness of Warhol became the common theme. It was a time of crisis, a crisis that only faded because the fights in any real sense were given up. But Stella cruised along unfazed, now like a Hollywood filmmaker who’d never bucked the system to make the work he wanted to make. He was successful young; he’d never had to. He never claimed to be a leftist, a maker of “radical art”. He was only a painter who’d rationalized himself into a corner when he was young and rationalized himself out of it as he grew older. There’s honesty to that.  
Heinrich Wölfflin’s Principles of Art History is one of the founding texts of the field. It’s a brilliant book. When I read it, a bit late, I thought of Stella and it made me laugh. It was all there, even the evasion of the political in favor of the formal. And then more recently I found the paper quoted below and it made me laugh again. Irving Lavin was a friend of Panofsky, the editor of the  book of Panofsky’s essays that I’ve quoted, and his successor at the Institute of Advanced Study. This was presented at a symposium at the University of Jena to coincide with an Stella exhibition.  
Wölfflin defined five categories of human perception between the extreme poles of which all artistic development must inevitably oscillate. He illustrated his principles by the contrast between the historical periods of the Renaissance and Baroque, but the categories have been also been applied to French painting of the nineteenth century and to the development from Classical to Hellenistic in ancient Greece. And, mirabile dictu, Wölfflin’s categories fit Frank Stella’s development like a finely tailored Italian suit of clothes: linear to painterly, planarity to spatiality, closed to open form, multiplicity to unity, clarity to unclarity  …Consider even the subcategories Wölfflin includes under Closed versus Open Form: Geometric versus Organic structure, Symmetry versus Asymmetry; frame controls composition versus “accidental” relationship between composition and frame. The “flat,” rectilinear, parallel lines of the early stripe paintings reappear in the recent “smoke ring” motifs, transformed into looping skeins that remain parallel but now define intricate, looping, transparent planes. The graphic system uncannily recalls that of Mellan, except that Mellan models form by varying the thickness of the line, whereas Stella’s computer-generated filaments are uniform and modulate space by expansions and contractions of the intervening distances. You would think that Stella had read Wölfflin; I never asked him, and I don’t want to know. 
The only problem with this is that it reduces Stella’s work to formalism. Later in the essay Lavin falls back into the hyperbole of the artist as a god-like creator of worlds, boilerplate that works only if you add that it means good artists are great liars, and that great artists tell lies so well they affect you against your will. Lies are formal constructions; their forms are the manifestation of an ethos, a “value system”, and we read and interpret them in relation to each other. Donald Judd’s “unrelational” objects
 exist in relation to their environments and also, obviously, since he says so specifically, to art and ideas that he thought were wrong or “messed up”.  Stella’s best works are bright and poppy, graceful and blunt, dark and violent. It’s worth thinking about, and with, and through.  You can use them to think about the late 20th century, about America, about “art”, about the individual and society, about capitalism, about Caravaggio and Disney World, Clement Greenberg, Herman Melville and Steven Spielberg.  Like all philosophy, his is best read for context
Stella interviewed in 1969 
I wrote my thesis on Celtic, Carolingian and Ottoman manuscript illumination. And it was ostensibly involved with historical problems, about problems in kingship and political issues, and how the ideas of the political leaders of the time were represented by the representations of the God or king figures in the manuscript illumination. But more than a third of it is devoted to a kind of pseudo-aesthetic appreciation of the problems of sort of[sic] interweave and interlace mainly in Celtic work, with a long aside which  should have been a footnote. But since I had to pad the thesis to make
it acceptable I actually included it in the thing on Pollock and the basic problem of decoration and what actually constitutes decoration and how decoration becomes art and when it ceases to be just decoration. And my argument essentially was that both Pollock and Celtic illumination were both art. One happened to be painting and one was manuscript illumination, but they both reached the category of art and left the lower category of simple repetitive design or pedestrian decoration far behind. It doesn't sound very radical in a way. [viii]
1983
The question we must ask ourselves is: Can we find a mode of pictorial expression that will do for abstraction now what Caravaggio's pictorial genius did for sixteenth-century naturalism and its magnificent successors? The expectation is that the answer is yes, but first we have to try to understand what Caravaggio actually did in order to see if his accomplishment can help us. …

But, after all, the aim of art is to create space — space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space in which the subjects of painting can live. This is what painting has always been about. Sadly, however, the current prospects for abstraction seem terribly narrowed; its sense of space appears shallow and constricted. This seems ironic when we remember that painting had to work so hard to create its own space, or perhaps more accurately, had to work so hard to free itself from architecture. [ix]

Neither Stella nor Judd began with the Enlightenment; neither began with humanism. Stella changed. Judd stayed loyal to his original preoccupations. He collaborated with dancers; he let choreographers supply an organic element; Stella does it all himself.  You see how the ambiguities build. But both are in the space between philosophical absolutes and relativism,  relativism which can also mean no more than the description of subjective experience, as in theater, literature, film.  For Judd and Stella, that’s still not enough.  


[i]  Edward Mendelson. “Post-Modern Vanguard”, London Review of Books,  September 3 1981
https://www.lrb.co.uk/v03/n16/edward-mendelson/post-modern-vanguard
[ii]Bruce Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd”, interview edited by Lucy R. Lippard, Art News, September 1966, in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock, University of California Press, 1995
[iii]http://www.artnews.com/2015/07/10/what-you-see-is-what-you-see-donald-judd-and-frank-stella-on-the-end-of-painting-in-1966/
[iv]  Panofsky, “What  is Baroque”
[v] Lawrence, “Herman Melville’s Moby Dick”  
[vi]  Frank Stella, Working Space, Harvard University Press, 1986
[vii]Dalibor Vesely, Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production, MIT, 2006
[viii]Sidney Tillim, “Oral history interview with Frank Stella”, 1969. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
[ix]Stella, Working Space

Friday, December 14, 2018


Whatever Greenwich Village may once have been or may now be supposed to have been, anyone who has recently strayed down MacDougal Street on a Saturday night knows that now it is a playground. What Coney Island was once to the honest workingman, Greenwich Village is now to the unmarried or ex-married young professional. The Village streets, pads, coffee houses, and bars are jammed with people who look a million times more sensitive, artistic, and "interesting" than William Faulkner or Igor Stravinsky, but who live by teaching economics, analyzing public opinion, writing advertising copy, practicing psychoanalysis, or "doing research" for political candidates. They are not intellectuals, but occasionally dream that they will be. That is their secret ambition. Meanwhile, being young and frisky, they are not yet the "managers" in our highly organized technical society. But they have the skills someday to become managers. Just now they don't want power any more than they want marriage. They want a good time, and a good time is what they go to the Village for, and a good time in the Village is what they get. [i]
“The Village Today: or The Music the Money Makes” Alfred Kazin, in 1960 reviewing a book of Village Voice columns by Bill Manville.  Kazin like MacDonald, a writer from the older tradition, not an academic, a reader of literature not strictly newspapers and social science, a friend of Arendt, still a humanist, a reader for subtext, of the words on the page and not only the arguments they’re claimed to make. “They are not intellectuals, but occasionally dream that they will be. That is their secret ambition.”.  My mother divorced her first husband, she said, because he didn’t understand the tragedy of life. He was an optimist.  He went on work in the White House flacking the Great Society and the Vietnam war. And now almost 60 years later a college graduate with the same optimism can designate himself a “public intellectual” and people will take him at his word. 
Mad Men is a flat screen Disney World for people who grew up on reruns, made by suburban infants of the 60s for an audience of the suburban infants in the 70s and 80s. It’s dirty and sterile. Todd Haynes’ films, the older highbrow version of this are a mashup of Douglas Sirk and Ozzie and Harriet, second hand history and fetishist misogyny. The real subject of course is always the present, but the present is embalmed too, and that specifically is notthe subject. There’s so much art, meaning artifice, there’s no room to breathe, and darkness is twisted through technical mastery that the end is not less observation than projection. Haynes' films are worse than a bad Coen brothers film, crueler, because no strained attempt at comedy, just Americans finding ways to avoid responsibility while watching other people fuck up. But there are also good Coen brothers films, and The Wire and Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, and like Warhol, those are black as pitch.   
“Mailer was a left conservative.”[ii]Didion was a Goldwater Girl. MacDonald mocked his own past as a Trotskyite. Liebling, Herr and Page lived through extremes, You can indulge as a craftsman and admit that you’re indulging; you can fight so much to deny something that it shows up in everything you do, but art doesn’t work as symptom. It needs to be made so that someone without the fixations can feel their pull. Works can be  popular when they’re made because the tastes, desires and fears, are common. That doesn’t mean the work will last.  Haynes and Matthew Weiner are like Talese and Wolfe. The perversity is as clear as the desperation to avoid the subject. The problem isn’t the kink; it’s the dishonesty. Didion indulges journalistic sleaze. She’s a voyeur, passive, condescending, but she’s cruel to herself too. That’s enough to keep your sympathy. Art is conservative, or it’s reactionary.

[i]Alfred Kazin, “The Village Today: or The Music the Money Makes”, in Contemporaries, Atlantic-Little Brown, 1962
[ii]  Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night, Penguin, 1995 

Sunday, December 09, 2018

I'm still writing this, elsewhere
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Journalism at its best is art without the label, because art is not the thing you set out to do. It’s never great and doesn’t try to be. It’s a genre. Sportswriters were famous as the best writers on newspapers because they we the last to become self-important. For Americans it also helps to get out of town. Below is A.J. Liebling on  the irregulars, French, Muslim, Jewish,  and anyone else, fighting in North Africa in 1945.

…in a hospital tent at the clearing station I came across a man with a French flag wrapped around his waist; the medics discovered it when they cut his shirt away. He was a hard-looking, blondish chap with a mouthful of gold teeth and a face adorned by a cross-shaped knife scar—the croix de vachewith which procurers sometimes mark business rivals. An interesting collection of obscene tattooing showed on the parts of him that the flag did not cover. Outwardly he was not a sentimental type. 
"Where are you from?" I asked him. 
"Belleville," he said. Belleville is a part of Paris not distinguished for its elegance. 
"What did you do in civilian life?" I inquired. 
That made him grin. "I lived on my income," he said. 
"Why did you choose the Corps Franc?" 
"Because I understood," he said. [i]            

You can sense that writing has devolved into the labeling of facts by a professional. Worldliness in America is street-smarts, so Liebling is still an observer of the street, engaged with whatever comes his way, including a career criminal who knows that fascism is beyond the pale. There are bits that read like Michael Herr’s Dispatches, on Vietnam twenty years later. Liebling wrote for the New Yorker; Herr wrote for Esquire; he ended up writing for Francis Ford Coppola and Kubrick; reportage turned into romanticism. The famous passage quoting the photographer Tim Page after Page had been approached by a publisher to write a book, “whose purpose would be to once and for all ‘take the glamour out of war.’”

“Take the glamour out of war! I mean how the bloody hell can you do that? Go take the glamour out of a Huey, go take the glamour out of a Sheridan … Can you take the glamour out of a Cobra, or getting stoned on China Beach? It’s like taking the glamour out of an M-79, taking the glamour out of Flynn … you can’t take the glamour out of that. It’s like trying to take the glamour out of sex, trying to take the glamour out of the Rolling Stones.” [ii]

At about the same time as Dispatches came out, Phillip Knightley published The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker from the Crimea to Vietnam. I’ve always remembered one sentence from the dust-jacket of my parents’ copy, and the reviewer for the CIA noted it as well. 
Before going into any further detail it should be noted that Knightley’s competence on the subject of both war correspondents and the horrors or war is qualified by the dust-jacket statement that “He has never heard a shot fired in anger, and hopes he never will.” [iii]
Worldly observation split into sensibilities too close and too far. But both books are important. Knightley was an Australian writing in England, following a model the New Yorker writers copied. Tom Wolfe credited Liebling with the beginnings of his style.[iv], but Liebling wasn’t a fop. “New Journalism” was a way to turn writing for a deadline into a self-consciously American art, adding a label to what could have more simply been a conscious effort to write well. Whatever will last of it will outlast the name, or already has.  And it seems to go unnoticed that the bitterest attack on Wolfe came not from straight journalists but Dwight MacDonald, defending The New Yorker, (which he wrote for while famously calling it “midcult”). It’s a war between fathers and sons. But it would be unfair to MacDonald to say it was only the narcissism of minor differences; for all his indulgences MacDonald was a serious critic. But as the author of an early, and brilliant,  attack on what’s now called “data culture” , The Triumph of the Fact, in 1957,  he might have done better only 8 years later than simply call out “a bastard form, having it both ways, exploiting the factual authority of journalism and the atmospheric license of fiction”.[v] All of this documents the struggle for the individual and community, for communication, in the world of rising instrumentalism and atomization. The best of the writers of new journalism were writers who wrote for money, not journalists who wanted to be writers and to call what they wrote art. 
Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel—only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.[vi]
Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. Although now, some years later, I marvel that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor, I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes. It was a matter of misplaced self-respect.[vii]
There’s no line in mimetic form between focus on self or object. The distinction between art and illustration is the perception in the audience that the world common to craftsman and audience is given or allowed a weight and depth outside the craftsman’s imagination, but not so much as to render craft superfluous.  Journalism is illustration by name and trade, but good journalists are writers within its limitations. Leibling wrote about others, trying to do justice to them and to  himself. Gay Talese writing about Sinatra is giving himself and his readers the opportunity to indulge their shared sense of superiority towards the object of their jealousy and worship.  Joan Didion in her first published piece begins with herself. Reading it you can spend a lot of time talking about nothing but cadence, phrasing and timing, style not as stylishness but as inseparable from what my mother disparaged rightfully as “content”. It’s bright clear, cold stuff. It belongs with Pinter. With Talese and Wolfe the style comes and goes with the suit; with Didion it’s in her bones. But again, Herr and Wolfe and Talese all wrote for Esquire. “On Self-Respect” was published in Vogue. The question is not high, low and middle, except for the obvious and forgotten sense that it’s all the bourgeoisie talking to itself, about itself and its relations to the world. 

[i] A.J. Liebling. “A Quest for Mollie”,  The New Yorker, May-26th-June 2nd, 1945, reprinted in  Just Enough LIebling, North Point Press, 2005
[ii] Michael Herr, Dispatches, Vintage Reprint Edition, 1991
[iii] https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol20no1/pdf/v20i1a05p.pdf
[iv] Allen Berra, “Not Quite Enough A.J Liebling”, Salon, September 23, 2004  https://www.salon.com/2004/09/23/liebling/
[v] Dwight MacDonald, “Parajournalism, or Tom Wolfe & His Magic Writing Machine”, New York Review of Books,  August 26th1965
[vi] Gay Talese, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, EsquireApril 1966, 
in The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters, Bloomsbury 2003
[vii] Joan Didion, “On Self-Respect”, Vogue, June 1961, in Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1990 

Monday, November 26, 2018

New tag for de Maistre

I'd found a reference I'd forgotten about, from years ago. Very useful now.

Monday, November 19, 2018

You can't get there from here

The Letter and the Spirit: A Unified Theory of Originalism
Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 107, No. 1, 2018
56 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2017 Last revised: 17 Nov 2018
Randy E. Barnett
Georgetown University Law Center
Evan D. Bernick
Georgetown University Law Center
Date Written: November 17, 2018

Abstract
The concept of constitutional construction is of central importance to originalist theory but is both underdeveloped and controversial among originalists....
It just doesn't stop.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

repeat, from 2009
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This was covered here
It’s called post-humanism, or pre-humanism redux.
What Salmon is referring to is the boy at Starbucks with a coffee bean tattooed on his forearm, a member of the "Barista tribe." 
As I wrote on his page:
It’s the public proclamation of loyalty to a subculture; documenting the need to belong; atomization and the rise of pathologically over-determined imagined communities etc.
 etc. etc. It’s the sociality of baroque individualism.

We now have food geeks as well as science geeks, all with the moral philosophy of Asperger’s patients: so fixated on their mania for [tube amps/Pouilly-Fuissé/Ducati two-stroke engines] that you’d be a fool not to hire them for your [high-end audio store/restaurant/Soho motorcycle salon]. Why be a well rounded adult when you can be an eternal [pre]adolescent and expert, and a happy cog and servant?
"If the anthropocentric civilization of the Renaissance is headed, as it seems to be, for a 'Middle Ages in reverse'... "
Panofsky (1955)
---

"They enjoy their anomie as long as they can claim that it's vicarious."
Or they mourn the losses their own logic brought about.