Thursday, July 06, 2023

'See you later, Max.'

Ryan Ruby: oh, but it makes perfect sense: the criticism of a work of art is implicitly a criticism of a way of life. this is what gives criticism its stakes. people's resentment towards critics is both an acknowledgment of its importance and the highest compliment that can be paid to them.

Corey Robin: Kind of reminds me of what George Steiner said about the KGB: that no one took literature more seriously than they did.

Ruby: Perhaps it's self-flattery, but I've always been sympathetic to this observation--and have from time to time wondered if the most perfect form of censorship is paradoxically that people should be free to say whatever they like because language itself does not matter.

Robin: Don't tell anyone I said this, but I kind of agree.

Ruby: your secret is safe with me (and the internet)

Robin: That and similar arguments of his produced this epic conversation on British television between him, Mary McCarthy, and Joseph Brodsky. One of those things you stumble across on YouTube late at night, when you can't sleep. 
Ruby: never seen this! luckily, I expect to be facing a night when I can't sleep in the very near future. (also: al alvarez: there's a name you don't hear too often any more.)


Kant, What is Enlightenment

Thus we observe here as elsewhere in human affairs, in which almost everything is paradoxical, a surprising and unexpected course of events: a large degree of civic freedom appears to be of advantage to the intellectual freedom of the people, yet at the same time it establishes insurmountable barriers. A lesser degree of civic freedom, however, creates room to let that free spirit expand to the limits of its capacity. 

de Maistre

Everything that constrains a man, strengthens him.
"This guy was out here, one of the head honchos, and he was upset -- what was it? -- oh, yeah -- because Billy Al Bengston was racing motorcycles at the time. This critic just dismissed that out of hand as a superficial, suicidal self-indulgence. And I said you can't do that. We got going and ended up arguing about folk art. He was one of those Marxist critics who like to think they're real involved with the people, making great gestures and so forth, but they're hardly in the world at all. Anyway, he was talking about pot-making and weaving and everything, and my feeling was that that was all historical art but not folk art. As far as I'm concerned, a folk art is when you take a utilitarian object, something you use everyday, and you give it overlays of your own personality, what it is you feel and so forth. You enhance it with your life. And a folk art in the current period of time would more appropriately be in the area of something like a motorcycle. I mean, a motorcycle can be a lot more than just a machine that runs along; it can be a whole description of a personality and an aesthetic.

"Anyway, so I looked in the paper, and I found this ad of a guy who was selling a hot rod and a motorcycle. And I took the critic out to this place. It was really fortunate, because it was exactly what I wanted. We arrived at this place in the Valley, in the middle of nowhere, and here's this kid: he's selling a hot rod and he's got another he's working on. He's selling a '32 coupe, and he's got a '29 roadster in the garage. The '32 he was getting rid of was an absolute cherry. But what was more interesting, and which I was able to show this critic, was that here was this '29, absolutely dismantled, I mean, completely apart, and the kid was making decisions about the frame, whether or not he was going to cad plate certain bolts or whether he was going to buff grind them, or whether he was going to leave them raw as they were. He was insulating and soundproofing doors, all kinds of things that no one would ever know or see unless they were truly a sophisticate in the area. But, I mean, real aesthetic decisions, truly aesthetic decisions. Here was a fifteen-year-old kid who wouldn't know art from schmart, but you couldn't talk about a more real aesthetic activity than what he was doing, how he was carefully weighing: what was the attitude of this whole thing? What exactly? How should it look? What was the relationship in terms of its machinery, its social bearing, everything? I mean, all these things were being weighed in terms of the aesthetics of how the thing should look. It was a perfect example.
"The critic simply denied it. Simply denied it: not important, unreal, untrue, doesn't happen, doesn't exist. See, he comes from a world in New York where the automobile . . . I mean, automobiles are 'What? Automobile? Nothing.' Right? I mean, no awareness, no sensitivity, no involvement. So he simply denied it: 'It doesn't exist.' Like that: 'Not an issue.' Which we argued about a little on the way back over the Sepulveda pass.

"I said, 'How can you deny it? You may not be interested, but how can you deny it? I mean, there it is, full blown, right in front of you, and it's obviously a folk art!'

"Anyway, he, 'No, no.'

"So I finally just stopped the car and made him get out. I just flat left him there by the road, man, and just drove off. Said, 'See you later, Max.'"

The Sharjah Biennial is less art than style sold on money and lies. Without either there'd be only a smaller regional audience, and who knows what you'd find under the surface.  Film festivals in Iran are more serious, because more local, and because films, like books, aren't luxury commodities, so conspicuous consumption is effect not cause.


David Drake is a flabby white suburbanite out of the Simpsons, now in Brooklyn, who writes about hip hop. The black teenagers who invented it didn't need a critics's permission, and neither did their friends.  The relation of artists to critics is adversarial, but critics are a byproduct not a cause. And it's not news that culture is richest where repression leaves room or is giving way. 

repeats. Steiner, Panofsky and Benjamin,  Steiner and Robin, and Farrell and Scialabba. Steiner is obviously conflicted, or he separates art from its audience: the people who make it represent freedom; their audience, including critics, are seduced, "and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room."  Steiner could have been referring to himself; he had a fraternal bond with fragile bookworms, reactionary romantics of the library.

An artist has no necessary obligation to "what is best", only to the truth of experience, including the experience of lying, cheating and killing. And when the interview was first shown Alvarez had just published The Biggest Game in Town. I had no idea a British literary critic is responsible for the rise of Poker. Serendipity/The Ghost of Panofsky: Robert Irwin—above, explaining art to an art critic—made a living as a gambler before he made one as an artist.

Art wasn't invented by pretentious college students, white fans of the blues, critics, philosophers, moralists, priests, or librarians with fantasies of what art is supposed to be.
The most fascinating point of all applies more broadly than to Godard; it reaches out to anyone who believes that film is more important than the world. Maybe film is not the great new language of engagement with the world that Bazin hoped it would be. Perhaps it is, instead, a vehicle more suited to dreaming, sensationalism and not wanting to grow up.
repeats. Ryan Ruby and Matthew Sitman defend snobbery.

And remember that Robin is famous for lumping Edmund Burke with the Republican du jour. He's changed the reference in the subhead from Palin to Trump. What next, The Reactionary Mind: An Autobiography?

Robin, back in the day:

I think people have lots of different interests, and I think an elitist project like conservatism actually offers non-elites certain opportunities for power (though power that is always allied/hitched to subjection), which is one of the reasons non-elites support it.

And now he's come out of the closet, and my response hasn't changed. 

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