Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Writing, rewriting. Rougher, still not done. Some of the sources aren't footnoted. All in the manuscript.

And since it includes Warhol and Hitchcock
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Continuing from here, and here.  I haven't put Babbitt into the manuscript, but I will.
Earlier mention of Sharits here.


There are other examples both more extreme than Frampton’s, and less.  Paul Sharits’ T,O,U,C,H,N,G restages Duchamp’s demispheres and Anemic Cinema, as desperation. The flickering image of a man with his tongue sticking out between the blades of a pair of scissors is such an obvious image of castration that it renders anything else secondary. Add to that the voice repeating the word “destroy-destroy-destroy-destroy…”  –the auditory equivalent of a flicker– and you get an art of symptom described by the artist and appreciative critics as “structuralism”.  

I wish to abandon imitation and illusion and enter directly into the higher drama of: celluloid two  dimensional strips; individual rectangular frames;  the nature of sprockets and emulsion; projector  operations; the three dimensional reflective screen surface; the retinal screen; optic nerve and individual psycho-physical subjectivities of consciousness.  In this cinematic drama, light is energy rather than a tool for the representation of non-filmic objects; light  as energy is released to create its own objects,  shapes and textures. Given the fact of retinal inertia  and the flickering shutter mechanism of film projection, one may generate virtual forms. create actual  motion (rather than illustrate it), build actual color- space (rather than picture it). and be involved in  actual time (immediate presence).[i]

This is  the denial of representation in the presence of representation in its most blunt form. It’s not the elision and denial of Eliot or James; it’s exhibitionism and denial, more absurd than the earnest description of Mapplethorpe photographs, if only because Mapplethorpe himself didn’t write them. T,O,U,C,H,N,G, like so much 20thcentury art –Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, like all philosophy is the theological literature of rationalism – is about the desire and refusal of  contact, wanting and refusing to be touched. It didn’t shock me or offend me the first time I saw it. I saw the antecedents. I’d never go out of my way to argue that it was ‘bad’. But I was shocked to hear the film described as formal and not pathology and ritual. 

…Paul went to the piano and he sat down at the piano and he had a wine glass and he was out of his mind and he beat the wine glass on the piano and then he beat his hands on the glass until he was just bleeding and numb and dizzy. He started to get up and I happened to be at his elbow and I said “Whoa, whoa, Paul, wait, whoa wait a minute,” because he was gushing blood everywhere, and I said, “Is anyone a doctor here? Is anyone a doctor?” And the place was completely packed shoulder to shoulder at this party, so one of the people near by was a doctor. Paul was just in a daze and I said, “Look at this—is this life-threatening?” And he said, “No, it’s not life-threatening, it’s O.K.,” and I said “Paul, go for it, just hold your hands up and walk around.”  And Paul went around bleeding out of his hands with his hands held in front of him, almost like Frankenstein and created a swath of horror in front of him. It was a very startling moment, and there were other episodes that people will happily relate to you, in which Paul wrecks a car or climbs up on top of a roof and drops off and breaks his this or that. Paul went through a series of things where he acted out and finally what I began to notice about these things is that Paul would never hurt anybody else. He may have once or twice actually done something that was importune, but only secondarily, and it was mainly something that hurt Paul somehow, and always in a very flamboyant situation. He liked to live dangerously. Paul liked life. He seemed like he needed this kind of way of doing things. He really did. 

He lived on a special plane somehow that normal people can’t touch.[ii]

Sharits behavior is less unnerving than the equally pathological response of his friend and fellow avant-gardist Tony Conrad. This is the hip, underground, American Modernist version of the American straight-world, Time-Life­–CBS view of Warhol as a celebrant of style. But glamour is vanity. Warhol's Jackies and Marilyns and Disasters and Electric Chairs were all equally memento mori. He watched people who were out of control and let them be, as Callie Angell put it, out of a Catholic understanding of free will, while Conrad is a voyeur blind to his own desires.  The American has got to destroy. It is his destiny. 

“Paul, go for it, just hold your hands up and walk around.”  A medical professional would call this enabling.
But Hawthorne and Lawrence, and Tarantino, Spielberg and Pynchon, novelists and filmmakers, are not ‘artists’, and Frampton and Sharits are. Their work is shown only in the context of the contemporary art world as defined by Arthur Danto. And American philosophy is optimistic.

It’s telling that Fried makes an exception for film, which he refers as “the movies”,  ignoring the vanguardists entirely.     

It is the overcoming of theatre that modernist sensibility finds most exalting and that it experiences as the hallmark of high art in our time. There is, however, one art that, by its very nature, escapes theatre entirely—the movies.* This helps explain why movies in general, including frankly appalling ones, are acceptable to modernist sensibility whereas all but the most successful painting, sculpture, music, and poetry is not. Because cinema escapes theatre— automatically, as it were—it provides a welcome and absorbing refuge to sensibilities at war with theatre and theatricality. At the same time, the automatic, guaranteed character of the refuge—more accurately, the fact that what is provided is a refuge from theatre and not a triumph over it, absorption not conviction—means that the cinema, even at its most experimental, is not a modernist art.


*Exactly how the movies escape theatre is a beautiful question, and there is no doubt but that a phenomenology of the cinema that concentrated on the similarities and differences between it and the theatre—eg., that in the movies the actors are mot physically present, the film itself is projected away from us, the screen is mot experienced as a kind of object existing, so to speak, in a specific physical relation to us, etc. –would be extremely rewarding.  Cavell, again, has called attention, in conversation, to the sort of remembering that goes into giving an account of a movie, and more generally to the nature of the difficulties that are involved in giving such an account.[iii]

The footnote is taken from the essay as published in Artforum and later in Battcock's anthology. Reprinted in 1998, beautifulis replaced with difficultrewarding has been stripped on its modifier, and the last sentence with the reference to Cavell and memory has been removed.[iv]  

The last paragraph 

This essay will be read as an attack on certain artists (and critics) and as a defense of others. And of course it is true that the desire to distinguish between what is to me the authentic art of our time and other work, which, whatever the dedication, passion, and intelligence of its creators, seems to me to share certain characteristics associated here with the concepts of literalism and theatre,' has largely motivated what I have written. In these last sentences, how ever, I want to call attention to the utter pervasiveness—the virtual universality—of the sensibility or mode of being that I have characterized as corrupted or perverted by theatre. We are all literalists most or all of our lives. Presentness is grace. 

The final sentence almost makes me laugh­… Sharits’ “immediate presence”.

In 2004 MIT press published Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s.  Chronophobia: the fear of time. The author calls it a neologism, but it isn’t. It’s also at the core to the author’s own writing. Pamela M Lee, now at Yale has the tile “historian and theorist of contemporary art”.  Forgetting the Art World, came out in 2012,  48 years after Danto named it. Her most recent book is  The Glen Park Library:A Fairy Tale of Disruption,  “How Silicon Valley, the dark net, and digital culture have affected our relationship to knowledge, history, language, aesthetics, reading, and truth.” 

Art historian Pamela Lee reads this event as a fairy tale of disruption rather than an isolated episode in the history of the dark net, Silicon Valley, and the relationship between public libraries and digital culture. Lee argues that the notion of “disruptive” technology in contemporary culture has radically affected our relationship to knowledge, history, language, aesthetics, reading, and truth. Against the backdrop of her account of Ulbricht and his exploits, Lee provides original readings of five women artists—Gretchen Bender, Cecile B. Evans, Josephine Pryde, Carissa Rodriguez, and Martine Syms—who weigh in, either explicitly or inadvertently, on the nature of contemporary media and technology. Written as a work of experimental art criticism, The Glen Park Library is both a homage to the Bay Area and an excoriation of the ethos of Silicon Valley. As with all fairy tales, the book's ultimate subjects are much greater, however, and Lee casts a critical eye on collisions between privacy and publicity, knowledge and information, and the past and future that are enabled by the technocratic worldview.

The foreword is written by a curator at MoMA. Again it’s the aestheticization of politics, and the aesthetic shared by philosophy and luxury commodities, but also now an almost explicit combination of (ersatz) moralism andtechnocratic decadence. No longer even sincere hypocrisy or earnest contradiction; it’s a blank obliviousness, the innocence of the children of the conflicted and hypocritical who’ve never had to even pretend to face real politics. 

Chronophobia isn’t wrong about the 60s any more than the curators of the Duchamp exhibition were wrong to mention David Lynch. But they ignored Hitchcock, and so does Lee. There’s plenty of discussion here of “nuclear apocalypse and entertainment”; there’s an interesting chapter on Tinguely and Homage to New York, but no mention of Kubrick and Strangelove. There’s discussion of the Jonathan Edwards and Fried’s earnest academic moralism –hard to ignore since Fried begins and ends with him– but none of the deeper because visceral Puritanism in the work of  Judd or Andre. 

Lee ignores Hitchcock, but so does Barbara Rose. Lee has a chapter on Bridget Riley. Op art and visuality, describing an art not of communication but  effect. The connections by now should be clear.

To what extent do we see this painting? In what lies its retinal appeal? To what extent do we not so much see it but feel it, experience the picture less as an abstraction than as a woozy sense of gravity visited on the body—a body endlessly subjected to the vagaries of time? Stand a little longer, look a little harder, and then what happens? In time, the surface begins to flicker, like a stroboscope; or wave, like a lenticular screen. Look longer still, and surprising colors—psychedelic phantoms—emanate from between the lines. Spangles of gold, pink, and green burst and flash, lining the eyelids, rattling the skull. The eye is enervated while the body feels something else: nausea, perhaps, or even a blinding headache. 

…Op’s virtual fetish of visuality occasions a reading of the body under the conditions of a shifting technological culture and, more to the point, how the time of that body speaks to the repressive consequences of a burgeoning technocracy. The body, I want to argue, is the blind spot to Op’s obsession with the technological; and it is its temporality that gives the lie to this. The body performs what Op’s supporters insistently failed to see. More often than not, this body is
a specifically gendered body, feminized and thus deemed impotent. 

Lee, following the logic of the academic culture that made her, she’s now an editor at October, both condescends to Riley and defends her: critics description of  passivity and impotence is merely the dismissing of the female. We’re back to another version of the art of the index, an art that can be read as an art of ideas, of intention, whether admitted or not. Somehow or other, art has to have a core of optimism.

This notion is critical to the deepening suspicion, even paranoia, about Op. Nevertheless, Op was considered user-friendly stuff in spite of the aggression attributed to it, its eye-hurting glare, virtually hypnotic powers, and nausea-inducing effects. As Barbara Rose put it cynically: “Op is absolutely gratifying in this respect because you know that you have gotten the message once nausea or vertigo set in.” 

The title of  Rose’s review is “Beyond Vertigo: Optical Art At The Modern”.  Lee makes one reference to Hitchcock elsewhere, mentioning him in his connection Saul Bass—“the graphic designer best known for his title sequences to Alfred Hitchcock”, but no mention of their most famous collaboration.  I dealt with this more than 30 years ago. 

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


The language is stilted, but it makes the point.  The illustration –graphic stimulus– of immediate sensorial effect is experience without effort, passive. Much of the art of the 1960s describes that experience.  Lee quotes a newspaper editorial responding to the exhibition. 

And what is the point of this, someone will ask? Well the point is this, that art is the expression of the age. The pressures and upheavals of our time have the same effect on our observers: Now you see it, now you don’t. Now the facts are clear, now the facts are muddled grey. The distortion of old values, and the crowding of new cultures, presents a peculiar aspect to the eye. It is painful.
Who is to tell what are the facts in Viet Nam, for instance? The government of one day is not the government of the next; the actions of our own officials there are deliberately distorted, and friend slips into foe and back again. The alliances with Europe are not what they seem, and the image of the Communist world clashes with reality. . . . It is all painful. 

Lee adds, “One might forgive the authorless editorial its tired clichés about art (‘art is the expression of the age’)" .
And what else is it?  And what else is she?  Lee is roughly my age. After undergraduate years at Yale she went on to The Whitney Independent Study Program. We have mutual acquaintances if not friends –on my part– in common, the people I refer to when I say I was told I couldn’t be a leftist because I worked with my hands, the equivalent of telling a writer that someone else should do the work of writing. They dealt with ideas and concepts, the idea of art and the idea of politics, neither of which are synonyms for the things themselves. Their politics was the politics of  design.

The weakness of Chronophobia becomes clear once you realize she needs to take “Art and Objecthood” seriously as anything more than a relic, her belief that it must be more than a product of its age, because it was written by an academic, about art. 

This book takes the oblique view of technology and art in the 1960s and it does so with a concept introduced at the outset: the matter of time. Time and technology, I want to argue, are twinned phenomena in that decade; and works of art provide special insight into this relationship as much as they model that relationship in turn. Time, we shall see, plays no small role in the richly diverse practices that constitute sixties art making. From performance to painting to sculpture to “new media,” time becomes both a thematic and structural fixture, an obsession, for critics, artists, and audiences of that moment. It will come to signal something about technological change.

The “richly diverse practices that constitute sixties art making”  include literature, music, and film: Pynchon, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Coltrane, Kubrick and Godard, Tarkovsky, Varda, Mailer, Bitches BrewCatch 22, Playtime, Alphaville and Woodstock. Lee makes references to Slaughterhouse Five and an article by Pynchon from 1984 but as with her discussion of C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures,... 


[i]  Paul Sharits, "Notes on Films/1966-1968”, Film Culture 47(Summer 1969) p.13.
[ii]  Tony Conrad, “On Paul Sharits: An Excerpt from ‘I Was a Flawed Modernist’”, The Brooklyn Rail, April 1 2017,
https://brooklynrail.org/2017/04/film/On-Paul-Sharits-An-Excerpt-from-I-Was-a-Flawed-Modernist
[iii]Fried 
[iv]  Jonathan T. D. Neil, “’Structural Film,’ as Technique of History”, 2004 unpublished http://jonathantdneil.com/pdfs/StructuralFilmAsTechniqueOfHistory.pdf

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