Thanksgiving 2014

Jean Honore Fragonard. "Aurora" 1755.

Jean Honore Fragonard.
“Aurora” 1755.

“A logic of displacement (or obsolescence) is conjoined with a broadening and diversifying of the processes and flows to which an individual becomes effectively linked. Any apparent technological novelty is also a qualitative dilation of one’s accommodation to and dependence on 24/7 routines; it is also part of an expansion in the number of points at which an individual is made into an application of new control systems and enterprises.”
Jonathan Crary

“Very early in my advertising career, it became clear to me that I was being paid to stop you from doing or thinking whatever else you might want to do or think, and instead get you to focus on the piece of information that was of interest to my client. All advertising is an attempt by one party to dominate the other.”
Jerry Mander

“Blondel describes cases of insanity where the patients seem incomprehensible to others as well as to themselves., where the doctor really has the impression of dealing with another mental structure.; he seeks the explanation for this in the impossible situation where these patients translate the data of their cenesthesia into the concepts of normal language. It is impossible for the physician, starting from the accounts of sick men, to understand the experience lived by the sick man, for what sick men express in ordinary concepts is not directly their experience by the interpretation of an experience for which they have been deprived of adequate concepts.”
Georges Canguilhem

I am more and more aware of just how manipulative American culture has become. Europe, the U.K. in particular, share some similarities, but it pales, really, in comparison with the U.S. Manipulation is a lie, and it is domination by means of that lie.

Today, 60 percent of Americans think Lee Harvey Oswald killed John Kennedy. Thirty percent of that sixty percent think others were involved. The leading guess (13%) was the Mafia, and right behind that was an unspecified part of the U.S. government. Forty percent of Americans dont think Oswald killed the President. These are curious numbers in a way, but what is more interesting in all this is that today more Americans (albeit a small number more) believe Oswald acted alone in the assassination than fifty years ago. In 1963 there was more skepticism. I think what is happening today is that the simple mechanism of ridicule, the uses of terms like conspiracy theory, and decades of TV propaganda has more shaped how people think than ever before. But its more than that, it is also the increased weight that shaming takes on in white middle class (sic) society today. Even in polls, notoriously unreliable in certain areas, this effect is probably significant. Cass Sunstein, the husband of Obama U.N. ghoul Samantha Power, is a good example of an architect of public trolling, tainting oppositional voices and dissent with calculated knee jerk smears. He oversaw regulation at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and wrote the book “Conspiracy Theories”.. Its interesting that Lance DeHaven Smith, in his book on the CIA, claims the term “conspiracy theory” was minted by Langley to shame and embarrass and discredit those who saw something wrong with the Book Depository story, circa 1963. Sunstein is a leading candidate for the Supreme Court, but also wrote a paper worth noting, in which he advocated *cognitive infiltration* of all potentially subversive groups in the U.S. Never mind this is illegal, firstly, but it is also rather Orwellian in construction. This is the sort of thinking that goes on in the corridors of power these days.

Elger Esser, photography. "Egypt 2011".

Elger Esser, photography.
“Egypt 2011″.


Now, my point here is that propaganda is effective. From the Kennedy assassination (by the way almost certainly some branch of the CIA in conjunction with various other off campus influences) to 9/11, there has been a creeping fear in many Americans to openly express doubt. I’m not sure which is more absurd by the way, Lee Harvey making that shot(s) or Saudis with box cutters, and the plane that disappeared as it supposedly hit the Pentagon. But even many leftists try to avoid what might potentially be labled “conspiracy theory”. Certainly 9/11 has cast a long shadow, but even in analysing that shadow, I hear surprisingly few voices taking note of the absurdity of the cover story. Same with the recent Boston Marathon (and leave it to Aaron Sorkin to come down favorable to the police on his staggeringly reactionary new show The Newsroom…but I digress). The Boston Marathon bombing narrative is full of anomalies. So much so, that it’s a bit like trying to piece together a really incoherent plot on a bad TV show. If reading it, one has to stop and just reach for the popcorn, and move on. It does not add up. But the propaganda machine (and Sorkin is part of that) is already shaping the story that people are meant to internalize on some level. But the key here is the shaming and ridicule. Calling people conspiracy theorist is akin to calling them genocide denier. That is the other smear du jour these days. Of course the fact that there are screeching nut cases like Alex Jones out there doesnt help in engaging with this master narrative. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to be associated with Jones — which leads me to suspect he’s actually a CIA plant (get Cass Sunstein on the phone….).

James Earl Ray, circa 1969

James Earl Ray, circa 1969

I happen to believe that actually a fair number of people in the U.S. today know full well that Oswald didn’t kill Kennedy. They know well that 9/11 as a narrative told by media makes no sense, and that things like building 7 or the plane & Pentagon story don’t hold up. They know that COINTELPRO was real, they know Gary Webb was right and they know Michael Hastings was almost certainly murdered. But they don’t say this stuff aloud very often. They know, often, of Freeway Rick Ross, they know Martin Luther King was assassinated, and not by James Earl Ray. They know that Iran Contra was hardly an isolated incident, and that in those corridors of power weasily little men like Cass Sunstein, and his wife Samantha Power, and Alberto Gonzalez and John Yoo, and Dave Addington, and Monica Goodling, and Eric Holder, and Victoria Nuland, and on and on keep each other’s company. They attend fundraisers for the museum or the new wing of the hospital or countless charities together. They summer (and usually use *summer* as a verb) in mostly the same places, and they know the same realtors, the same fund managers, they all come from about five different Universities. So, running through all this is an expensive education and connections. There is nothing special in any of these people. None of them. They are not the best and brightest. They are not the embodiment of some cosmic meritocracy; they are connected, schmooz skilled, and they are amendable to being bought, that is all. There is not an iota of moral integrity in that entire list, and I could expand that list considerably. They see the world, their social arena of the world, in terms of success and failure. Success is having a good paying job, a stock portfolio, a house in an accepted zip code, and eventually a wife or husband and children. And those children will be groomed for success in exactly the same way. Success is luxury amenities, vacations, but more than that it is a social ease that allows social climbing, it is influence. More than anything, in whatever way, it is influence. They believe they should, even if in small ways, shape the world. Big ways to shape the world is of course better.

But I want to link this sense of hyper manipulation with the state of the arts, and with culture. The structure of mass culture is predicated upon the same class divisions as Washington D.C., and Hollywood and New York are not greatly different from each other. It is important to look at the fact the what is often referred to as the *culture industry* (per Horkheimer and Adorno) was firstly a condemnation of the intellectual gatekeepers of society. Today, there has been a sort of shift that suggests an elitism in Adorno, and this is wrong. But its likely the result of defensiveness on the part of the very gatekeepers he was examining and criticizing. The mass entertainment industry likes to have audiences stupid, uneducated, and conformist. It is more profitable to make North Woods Law, or Judge Judy, than it is to make The Divide. Hence, perhaps the one actually non reactionary drama on TV last year was cancelled. The cheap easy to make reality based court shows have metastasized. If cultural production is aimed at furthering rote identification with products, with established values (authoritarianism), then demanding and difficult art is going to be banished.

Michael Hasting's car burning after crash.

Michael Hasting’s car burning after crash.

Today’s response, among University educated MFA students, when the culture industry is brought up, or any cultural criticism, is to retreat (without their even knowing it, I find) into realms of technological mystification. Art is spoken of, usually, as a sub heading. But more often its about the inward looking narcissism of the various subject positions and how they relate to a very narrow sort of oppression, or stigmatizing, or often, there is a sense of art as a self help tool in realizing *agency* (which I take to be synonymous with self determination). But the very last thing ever discussed is the spiritual, and the political. And of course these are the FIRST two things that *should* be discussed. Subjective confessional faux-critiques end up almost by their nature, being reactionary and supportive of this same idea of success. I read a good deal about young artists kept from *success* by this or that problem. The truth for young artists is that of creating an effective brand. Creating work that reproduces well in a glossy format, and most of all, knowing the right professors who can introduce you to the right galleries. But there is a paradox in this confessional or hyper subjective critical writing for at the same time this is a culture in which people are increasingly atomized and isolated. In which their very attention is a commodity, and in which social intercourse is becoming something experienced as menacing. The discomfort is adjusted, though, through identifications with group, and with a sort of new cyber-shopper tribalism.

Sergej Jensen

Sergej Jensen


Janet Malcolm wrote of psychoanalysis that is was like water poured through a sieve; “The moisture that remains on the surface of the mesh is the benefit of the analysis.” It is no accident that psychoanalysis, especially Freudian, is under siege these days. Part of the problem is what happened to the discipline when it arrived on North American shores. Its co-opting as a self help ego based adjustment procedure. But more than that, it is simply part of the whittling away of all things demanding. In psychoanalysis, one must be able to talk.

I bring this up because the power of stories is undiminished, only the number of real stories has shrunk.

Conrad Marca-Relli

Conrad Marca-Relli


The role of art is, in a sense, the opposite of manipulation. Its de-manipulating, and trying to heal the effects of manipulation. And the fact that many today would argue this, speaks to just how synonymous art and advertising have become.

“The whole notion of sanity may be an attempt to medicalize morality…Modern Western childhood has never recovered from, or been recovered from, the redemptive myths of Christianity. To be sane is to be saved.”
Adam Phillips

Today, children are targeted as soon as they can sit and stare at a screen. They are cued by advertisers in how to desire. After that they are manipulated about what to desire. But first they must learn *how* to want something. This is obviously too complex to really address properly in an abridged form; but the fact that primary narcissism being what it is, the child, the infant and toddler, certainly have a sensual relationship to the body of the mother. I think that what happens when childhood’s natural maturation (which is fucked up enough, frankly) gets interrupted by advertising, is that desire, that which is so directly joined with the breast, with food, and the touch of the mother, becomes deformed — and a new gap appears between the self and the process and expression of desiring. The filter is an ‘other’ who inserts advertising, coaching the child toward one or another satisfaction-giving commodity. Deep down I don’t doubt that the child senses this other, the new screen presence, the sound of stranger’s voices, as an intruder. Advertising as intruder.

Adrian Johnson quotes Alan Vanier (on Lacan):
“…’a third party is needed to name the image and thereby confer it on the subject… there has to be symbolic mediation if the subject is to assume this identification’. In other words, without some version of the Symbolic big Other—the example always given is the mother standing behind the young child, perhaps holding it up to the mirror, while saying ‘That’s you there!'”

Krass Clement, photography.

Krass Clement, photography.


However much wants to buy into Lacanian psychoanalysis, it is very interesting to read the mirror-phase, and then read Lacan on psychotics. For whatever happens when children begin to learn language, something of a rupture occurs between this new symbolic order and the child’s relationship to this new identity. Lacan (I paraphrase) said the psychotic is a prisoner to the literal. I suspect the culture of mass media, of the bombardment of information and data on people unprecedented in history, has severed the remaining links to nature and the physical world. At least those links that guided the imagination. In other words, the fact that people sleep less, and that life carries on twenty four hours a day, and often people never leave their screens to check on the weather or the stars (those places where one can even see the stars anymore) has meant that early childhood development occurs, in the advanced West, at least the more affluent classes, in ways that intensify that primary rupture; the rules of language and the symbolic are more fragile and the symbolic is mediated by technology — probably accounting for a culture without affect. The indifference to depictions of violence, the loss of compassion, all of this it would seem can be traced back to a society in which productive labor is less rational, more oppressed, and workers more anxious and insecure. The child is born into a society, now, where their parents are a generation already formed by screen image and narrative.

Jerry Mander wrote, in 2012, in Monthly Review:

“Ours is the first generation in history to have essentially moved its consciousness inside media, to have increasingly replaced direct contact with other people, other communities, other sources of knowledge, and the natural world —which is anyway getting harder and harder to find —with simulated, re-created, or edited versions of events and experiences.”

and then adds: “In many ways, television has become the culture, and by this, I do not mean so-called “popular culture,” which sounds somehow democratic. Television is not democratic. Viewers at home do not make television; they receive it. Television does not express culture; it expresses corporate culture.”

Ulrich Lamsfuss

Ulrich Lamsfuss


It expresses, additionally, the values of the white ruling class, and this is important to remember. And children sit in front of the TV, listening, not speaking, almost twice as much as they sit in conversation with their parents or friends.

Part of the role of irritating jingles is to stick in your brain so that a subconscious recognition occurs when you hear it again. Oh, there is that irritating chewing gum jingle again. Today, narratives, in comedy or drama, operate increasingly like commercials. Narratives don’t raise questions, because questions are not good for business. They are the wrong kind of disruptive. Narratives promote agreement by recycling the most basic group think bromides. But that’s not right, either. Its not really agreement, it doesn’t even reach the that cognitive level. They promote a kind of acceptance. And I suspect that that particular form of acceptance is far more reactive when challenged than is disagreeing with an argument. And this is, I think anyway, because it’s all operating on a semi-conscious level. It’s a deep sense of identification with the provider of the *acceptance*.

Those deep reservoirs of resentment and anger; some learned, some just the residue of our psychic development in this unequal and punitive Puritan society, all of that is coming to the surface now. With the Ferguson police execution of Michael Brown, with Trayvon Martin before him, with Kimani Grey and Oscar Grant, with increased home foreclosures, there is now a backdrop of social trauma domestically, as there had been during Viet Nam, and it is of course part of the larger U.S. footprint, Imperialist footprint, globally. So, things are going to come up. Memories, long buried, feelings long buried, and more than either, a long suppressed panic. The panic of abandonment, of being un-moored, un-tethered, of that childhood emotional catastrophe that everyone experiences in some way, and such panic as this leaves, or really, it causes an emotional hole in people. Being wrenched from primary narcissism and into a world with *others*. A world without community, without those just basic protections against this gnawing sense of being alone. That is why this is a society of morbid obesity, of anti depressants and mood elevators, and of an increasingly strident racism and bigotry. People shop for frozen micro-wave fish and chips, and corn syrup sodas and tainted factory farmed beef or chicken.

Brian Ulrich, photography.

Brian Ulrich, photography.

They shop for toxic carcinogenic plastic toys made by slaves in faraway lands, with darker skins or funny customs, and these toys are given to these prematurally overweight children to throw away and further pollute the planet. Then they gorge on white sugar and corn syrup and play surrogate war games with each other. Normal sexuality is repressed and adults usually beat it out their children because of their own fears of sexual desire. Pornography remains the second largest industry in the world behind defense. The largest consumers, statistically speaking, of pornography are conservative white men.

My son has two daughters. My grandaughters. They attend a progressive (sic) school in an upmarket very gentrified neighborhood of Los Angeles. The youngest is in pre-school. And when my son, her father, went to the Thanksgiving party he was shocked to see the kids in sort of arts & crafts “Indian” costumes as part of the ‘Pilgrims and Indians’ narrative in this celebration about Thanksgiving. When he sent an email to the school, suggesting some workshops about racism and tolerance (which is part of the work he does, in addition to anti death penalty lobbying), it was met with dismissive hostility. A subsequent meeting went even worse. The reason I mention this is because this is a rich white kids school, a liberal school. These are people who vote Democrat. They support same sex marriage, and think of themselves as progressive and very far from racist. Why this gigantic blind spot then? The entire selling of this holiday didnt happen until after WW1 really. And more, like many things, until after WW2. The original idea for this holiday belongs to Sara Josepha Hale (author, oddly, or not, of Mary Had a Little Lamb) who sold the idea to President Lincoln. Lincoln signed the Thanksgiving proclamation the same year the Civil War ended, and right before the mass hanging of 38 Dakota Indians for murder, in an uprising in Mankato, Minnesota. The starving tribe had attacked white settlers the summer before in the Santee Sioux uprising. Lincoln never executed a single confederate soldier. Not for anything. But then they were white. This was the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

I digress…slightly.

Viet Cong . 1973. Photographer unknown.

Viet Cong . 1973. Photographer unknown.

The infiltration of mass culture means the infiltration of the ownership class, the values of white wealth. What is becoming interesting is the growth of this new service class, a specific service to the wealthy class, and with it, the internalizing of the values of the wealthy and an identification with the rich, a sense that the unattainable lifestyles of the rich and famous (sic) can at least be shared via mass media and culture, or by serving them. Reality shows with the not really wealthy celebrities of music and film is a sort of threadbare approximation of this longing, and it probably speaks to the success of shows like Downton Abby, a sort of valentine to the dignity of being a fucking servant. Its an odious program, actually, for there is never a hint that this idea of waiting hand and foot on the master might actually have pissed off the help a bit. Such shows might ask how revolutions take place exactly? If the Romanovs were so much fun, and the Bourbons and Ortenburgs and Spencers and Furstenbergs and the rest of the hereditary Royal Houses of Europe, one might wonder at why they aren’t still running things. The answer is of course, that in a sense they are, except for those inconvenient uprisings; but its almost like a counter transference at the level of peerage or something. The new rulers of the deep state are bankers and defense contractors but then, that old money and structure is still there, and still has extraordinary influence and power. I often wonder why in the world ‘Royal’ families still exist. Why do people go around calling themselves Baron or Marquis or Duchess, or Sir…and while Sir Paul McCartney and the like are parodies of this, something clearly stimulates an archaic node in the reptilian brain, in which trace memory currents are triggered. This is the ambivalence of hierarchical social formations.

Pan African Congress, 1919, Paris.

Pan African Congress, 1919, Paris.


The United States is the sole remaining Imperialist power. With that comes, trailing behind the flagrant militarism, a surplus of psychic wounds and pain and resentment. I doubt there has ever been a society so steeped in resentment as the U.S. If language is what keeps humans from the resentment free world of animals, then perhaps this is the tragic destiny of mankind. And the final reckoning is to be the forgetting of language, the forgetting of that which in a sense has been the origin of trauma. This is not to say I don’t believe people can live in joy and wonder, but that for that to happen one must remember and not forget. For one cannot forget the anxiety of death anyway. Freud saw renunciation of instinct as the basic sublimation of humans, and Lacan saw that renunciation as built into language itself. The repression of the death drive, for Freud, was the basis of civilization, but that repression returns, again and again. And it returns as aggression. Maybe all those nods to Royalty are, in fact, the submission to the father, and the father is in some way the gatekeeper of the symbolic. That is the Lacanian model, and it is interesting to look at Benjamin’s ideas on language, on the language that speaks itself (in a sense). For this is no doubt linked to all aesthetic production. However one modifies Freud, one is always going to be left with some sense of gap, of a distance we pursue, and that feels like the Ouroboros, for in a way we consume ourselves in this chase. The pursuit of something that we cant remember properly, which feels as if it has just left. Narrative I think works that way. Theatre is basically the chasing of what has just this instant left. The BBC has a very good mini series on right now, The Missing. Written by brothers Harry and Jack Williams (previously comedy writers, quite oddly) and directed by Tom Shankland (with John Nesbitt and Tchéky Karyo) it is the story of an unsolved child abduction. There is almost no violence depicted (well, very little) and no guns whatsoever. It is a disturbing narrative because it is about the chase after an absence. The son who has gone missing has left only a drawing on a wall. The French policeman (Karyo, who is just superb) says in an offhanded way, on the father’s return six years later, to the site of the abduction, “My wife told me to take up a hobby when I retired. I took up beekeeping. It has, perhaps, become something more”. No elaboration. The obvious damage to this provincial policeman is clear, and now he pursues something else. The mystery of the bees. Such narratives touch on the basic impossibility of existence. We cannot find what we search for, so why do we search?
The Missing (2014) BBC 1, Ted Shankland dr.

The Missing (2014), BBC 1, Ted Shankland dr.


There is nothing in this show that creates false tension. The narrative is told in flashback and flashforward, and in that space of the missing six years is the enigmatic hollow feeling of loss. It is a singularly haunting bit of television. But this is a hopeful sign I suppose, amid the general sadism of Empire, the constant sound of guns and screams. Here the pain is from characters who cannot fully articulate what they feel, for they cannot really understand their own motivations.

Thanksgiving is now simply another national day of shopping, the one that precedes Black Friday. There is a kind of stark visible insanity running through American society, now. Plenty of people scoff with snark at the lumpen masses storming the doors of Wal-Mart or Circuit City, but really, they have only switched to *hipper* versions of the same thing. Under the surface is desperation, and guilt and fear. And children now approach the holidays with acute anxiety. They sense the parental panic, the lack of money, they know, too, the fetishized class markers in all this gift giving. The holidays are now brutal ruthless national days of amnesia and denial. Even the rich are disfigured psychically by their money. Even when they have no anxiety about lack of money, they feel anxiety.

“Here, too, I saw a nation of lost souls,
far more than were above: they strained their
chests against enormous weights, and with mad howls
rolled them at one another. Then in haste
they rolled them back, one party shouting out:
“Why do you hoard?” and the other: “Why do you waste?”
“Hoarding and squandering wasted all their light
and brought them screaming to this brawl of wraiths.
You need no words of mine to grasp their plight.”

Dante (Ciardi trans.)

Nicolas Poussin, "Echo and Narcissus". 1629

Nicolas Poussin, “Echo and Narcissus”. 1629


One of the first things I noticed about ex-cons was that they almost all kept their shoes clean and polished. The rich don’t polish their shoes. They have a casual contempt for their expensive possessions. The rich have, what today might be *diagnosed* as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s really the flip side of the traditional anti-social personality. The true narcissist is, I find, one born into privilege. I have found, consistently, a higher self esteem among convicts than among the very rich. There are a host of contradictions in all this; those who inherit their money tend to be the most obsessive about keeping it, and, feel the most inadequate. This anxiety is compensated for by witholding of emotions, especially compassion. The rich show contempt for the poor, but this hatred is born of envy. I have never met a rich man (this is gendered to be sure) who didn’t feel anxiety about his masculinity. Being rich, contrary to Hollywood, is not sexy. Well, in fact, the truth of this does sneak into Hollywood film, but it’s usually sub-textual. The need for Hollywood stars to play *authentic* lower working class characters. The guy who is part of the kitchen staff, washing dishes is almost always sexier than the guy with the Gold Visa card. The dishwasher organizing secret union meetings is sexier, still. The very rich do not experience intimacy. They posses people. And they fear those they possess.

The white patriarchy shapes narratives, including Thanksgiving. The head of the family carving the Turkey. Wielding the symbolic knife. The sacrifice to the Gods, appeasement. But this is another empty anxiety filled ritual. The steroid filled monstrosity that is today’s industrial raised Turkey is fake. It’s not hunted. The sacrifice is hollow, for the only real sacrifice is human. Part of the transhistorical sense of war is that of sacrifice; but today the leaders do not engage in battle. Often the soldiers don’t either. The sacrifice has no signifier. It is the end game for planned industrial death, that which began in that form in WW1. Anonymous death. Factory raised chickens, millions, the unwanted ground into mush for dog food. The human version is napalmed, struck with depleted uranium, or just vaporized.

Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the Tsesarevich.  Saloon car of Imperial train. Apprx. 1903.

Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the Tsesarevich.
Saloon car of Imperial train. Apprx. 1903.


The Pilgrims stole and murdered the indigenous peoples of New England. They didn’t share, or see them as friends. They came to create wealth. They came to horde and dominate, accumulate property, and to rule. The shell of human society that is the United States today is the logical outcome of a system based on profit. Marx said Capital Accumulation was the generation of wealth in the form of *capital*; meaning capital was used to create profit and not for social uses; it was the further expansion of capital, and meant exchange value, not use value. Lenin saw the logic of this leading to rivalry between capitalist/Imperialist powers over the control of the periphery. The commodity form, in both use and exchange value is expressed by money. The capitalist is a sick man. The bourgeoisie are sick. It cannot be otherwise. Freud saw hoarding as a fixation at the anal stage. Money is shit.

Norman O. Brown said: “All currency is neurotic currency.”

Advertisement, American Apparel, 2013.

Advertisement, American Apparel, 2013.

That Thanksgiving turkey that the patriarch will carve is the carving of a mask. The mask never changes. The mask of the patriarch is his curse, his fixed destiny. Wealth is sickness. It is shit. In mass culture today, the constant creation of artificial tension, of suspense, is just the masochist’s excitement and anticipation. The manipulations of mass culture, of advertising, are and have interrupted the dreams of childhood. They have created a psychic prison that is attached at the linguistic level. The child is born into language, but its a language that has lost meaning. The history of police abuse goes as far back as the founding of the Nation. Whether it’s Pinkerton cops, or private security today, or just city police ruthlessly controlling and murdering the poor, especially the black poor, the story has remained largely unchanged. The turkey is fat, deformed by genetically modified breeding, it has no taste, it is as useless as the Father who is clumsily carving it up. On TV is football, in which the healthiest young men of the poor collide in a physics of brain trauma, but which represents symbolic battle and war, a drama of, again, the rich sacrificing the poor. It is a surrogate heroism, and those tackles and cornerbacks will end up much like the holiday turkey. It is the Roman circus. Money is anality, filthy lucre, it is holding onto your own excrement. Royalty, Ceasars, Emporers, Generals and CEOs; the sacrifice is always based on hatred. Hatred for not finding others that desire you. Its possible to look at the practice of pre-nuptial agreements as a sort of epitaph for the toxicity of the ruling class. The lynching in Ferguson is the stain that marks the Holidays of 2014. It will not be the last stain.
Yves Klein. "Gold".

Yves Klein. “Gold”.

Nothing is Art

Grant Wood

Grant Wood

Imperialism is nothing other than the totality of the economic, political, and military means mobilized to produce the submission of the peripheries, today as yesterday.”
Samir Amin

“It was a street-show that had an ideology of conformity at its heart; to consumerism, commodified emotion and a shared experience of pre-chewed sentimentalised joylessness disguised with a perfect-toothed smile. Individually, the images are what they are. Photographers have to make a living. Collectively, this spittling drizzle of photographic normality and drab betrayed the fear, dishonesty and essential conservatism that lies at the heart of so much photography, art direction and buying; every one of these pictures was a lie. Not deep down a lie, but on the surface a lie… These are photographs that are numb, with no emotion, no opinion and no value.”
Colin Pantall
On Photographic Muzak

“The evaluation of audience desires, and the creation of content to meet those desires, has increasingly been ceded to machines and their algorithms. This has been done in an attempt to sand down some of the rough, unpredictable edges that in the past would nonetheless appear under the regime of commercial culture. Few cultural projects are now undertaken without seeking to model away all of the risk involved using the tools afforded by algorithms and the ability to quickly survey a large audience.”
Michael Pepi, William O’ Hara, and Dan Monaco

“Something of art has ended. The debate is not about the fact, but about its significance.”
J. M. Bernstein

There has been a reasonable amount of media coverage of the art auctions in New York this last month. Fifteen billion dollars changed hands. When you examine the work, what is most clear is that almost all of this stuff is branded. Roy Lichtenstein is a very effective brand, almost an ur-brand. Warhol, too, of course. But others, Alex Israel, or Richard Prince, as almost random examples, are mostly pure brand, too. Dead artists of course are in another class almost. Death is like re-branding. But the point is, amid this financial orgy of Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions and sales were terrific artworks. Still, the branding is what people remember, and the context in which an artwork, lets say a painting, is experienced is so mediated by Capital, by financialization, by marketing and art dealers that it leads to very contradictory and complex emotions. And one by-product of this is the inevitable snark of a generation for whom art is essentially business. This leads me to another thought, which has to do with the near absolute failure of today’s audience for art overall, but especially (not surprisingly) for film and TV, to escape the confines of their own self authorized amnesiac present. A present in which they gobble up stuff, issue empty edicts and opinions, and move along to consume more, shop more, and forget more. Snark youth, compulsive middle aged shopper, both are feeding at the same polluted trough.

Karen Borghouts, photography.

Karen Borghouts, photography.


So I will begin with a long digression. I happened to screen Kiss Me Deadly this week for some students. A friend of mine, Joe Nava wrote something about it, having watched it himself again. And what he said, which was very smart, reminded me of how empty and shallow are most discussions of film today. There are three films (I could probably find three others, in fact, but these work well for the purposes here) that share a common thread, and also are marked in very specific ways by the times in which they were made. Criss Cross (Robert Siodmak, 1949), Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955) and Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967). But one has to go back further, I think, before talking about each film. Back at least to the 19th century novel. The expanded narratives of Dostoyevski, Melville, Flaubert, Eliot, Tolstoy, Conrad, Stendhal, Dickens, and Turgenev, were distillations of the bourgeois life, as well as negations of it, or partly so. By the 20th century perhaps only Kafka matters at all among novelists. If that’s even what he was. The avant garde(s) of the early 20th century had, almost of necessity, rejected this form, or least rejected and recuperated, and reinstated in partial ways, the idea of the novel. But mostly there were anti-novels. Bernhard and Broch, and Beckett and Genet and Burroughs and Rulfo. Brilliant, but difficult. And therein lies another topic…and more on that below. But film, photography, and radio were changing the ways people, the audience, engaged with artworks, with narrative in particular. And it was to film, I think, that the novel migrated. At the same time, there were massive forced migrations of humanity. Never before in history had so many people been driven from there homes. The front edge of this of course began with the slave trade that peaked a century and a half before. The figure of the exile looms very large by the end of WW1. And with the exile, an idea of homesickness. Of loneliness as well, and of place. Or rather, those without a home, without a place. The vast majority of forced migrations were of people without a voice, or at least not one heard in the European world — and by extension then, the U.S. But those unheard voices did rise up like a psychic ground water, and they became the ghosts that haunted the storytelling of the first world. In the movie industry, there were exile directors, German Jewish emigres mostly, who came to Hollywood steeped in a Vienesse psychoanalytic culture, with a Germanic sensibility and art history. Robert Siodmak was one of them, with his brother Curtis. Criss Cross, his best film (though Phantom Lady is close, as is the rarely screened File on Thelma Jordan), is about a man (Burt Lancaster) returning to his old neighborhood. As it happens, Bunker Hill in Los Angeles. It is 1949. The war has been over five years.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Don Siegal, dr.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Don Siegal, dr.

The film is told in flashback, as is appropriate for a film that is looking back at a world fast receding in the rear view mirror. The audience has no idea where Lancaster has been. There is a signature scene early on in which Lancaster shows up at his old favorite bar. He asks the bartender (Percy Helton, who as it happens played the mortuary director in Kiss Me Deadly six years later) where the old crowd is. The barkeep mockingly responds that it depends on what you mean by *old*. It is almost the echo of Ionesco or Beckett, the absurdist repetitions a reminder that images in that rear view mirror may not actually be as large as they look (sic). Kiss Me Deadly (also filmed in and around Bunker Hill) which is both noir, and part *A bomb* radioactive science fiction, was above all else an expression of McCarthy era paranoia. In a sense it is the perfect companion piece to Don Siegal’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When Meeker is finally told by the cop, Paul Stewart, that he has to listen to just three words; Los Alamos, Manhattan, and Trinity, Meeker says “I didn’t know” and Stewart repeats, again mockingly, “You didn’t know”. And that echo is there again. You didnt know. It is a mini HUAC hearing. But the world nostalgically re-imagined in Criss Cross is gone. Aldrich was a disowned banking heir, exiled to Hollywood. But his exile was built more on cynicism and a full frontal sense of lust and desire. In Point Blank (by now Bunker Hill had been destroyed), the scene that echos the first two Ive mentioned is one between Lee Marvin and Carroll O’Connor. Toward the end of the film, Marvin confronts the gangster to demand his money. O’Connor says, but there is no money, this is a corporation. We have reached nihilism.
Barnett Newman and unidentified woman in Newman's studio, 1958.

Barnett Newman and unidentified woman in Newman’s studio, 1958.

In each, the protagonist is a man out of time. A man who cannot read the signs in front of him. Lancaster dreams of a romantic past with his ex wife, Meeker’s Mike Hammer cannot follow the cold war plot, and Marvin, fresh from a decade in prison, cannot imagine a world where his money does not exist. Time has passed all of them. Their exile is both literal and figurative.

The sense of loss, of homesickness, is palpable in almost all of the classic noirs from the 40s. The figure of the private eye, though in truth perhaps only half — if that — of 1940s noirs featured P.I.s, was the Knight Errant, the seeker of truth. This also, of course, dissolved in the glare of the garish technicolor films of the mid 50s, and in the cynicism and gradual but inexorable drift to the political right of the society. The madness of the bourgeoisie was now starkly revealed.

Merijn Koelink, photography.

Merijn Koelink, photography.


Those 1950s B films, the so called *sun lit noirs* were the mannerist phase to the classic era of the forties. But there were other elements worth examining in narrative here. The literature of the mid 20th century, in English, began to exhibit some of the pathological denial of the society as a whole. The manufacturing of a Norman Rockwellian Ozzie & Harriet world, Queen for a Day and Father Knows Best and Dwight Eisenhower…and Joe McCarthy. Its all of a piece. The anti communist hysteria was the moral sickness of the society. The artist retreated to the avant garde more as refuge, and in painting the Marxist immigrants of the New York School (most anyway) looked to find the outer edges of form, but also of the spiritual. The retreat from Abstract Expressionism was into the strategic careerism of the mannerist mini movements that followed in reaction. It is becoming increasingly difficult, I think, to appreciate art. A visit to the Modern in New York means an hour of bombardment by image and noise during the travel to get there. The museum itself, like almost all museums today, is ever closer to a visit to a corporate headquarters where an amusement park has been built on the side for the rubes to visit. Audiences are treated as children, and increasingly they ARE children. The infantilization of the society is nearly complete. The sense of grandeur and taste, of sensitivity to color and tone, that one finds in Barnett Newman, for example, is hard to see anymore. Its there, but from all sides there is a caustic snide attitude. Leftists never tire, NEVER tire of pointing to the CIA’s brief and well documented minor pimping of the Ab Ex painting. Its like a secret handshake for leftists. There is some cool factor attached. For the right, everything is junk. Everything not military. Not patriotic. But for the majority of those in the U.S. and U.K. there is ever less interest given to *art*. There is a lot of interest in *entertainment* but not in art.

And the abandoning of art, as a practice, as an idea, is also an abandonment of..as J. M. Bernstein put it: “its function as a form of resistance, a reminder, a placeholder, for the claim of sensuous particularity, and so nature, against the claim of self authorizing mindedness.” There is, I continue to find, a numbing sense of mediocrity in western culture today. I know very few good teachers, because most who have any ideals or commitment, retire early. I know artists who have been destroyed, both mentally and spiritually. And I think this is because of the specific ways in which the Spectacle seeks out the most anodyne and empty and then goes on to promote that. The unexceptional is the ideal now, not the median. And the collective sense of raised consciousness that occurred in the sixties has been all but extinguished. From Malcolm to the Panthers, to Jackson Pollock, to Genet and Beckett, to that sense of film art that was being driven by European directors mostly: Pasolini, Antonioni, Fassbinder, and Godard, even to Bergman, or Losey, the mid century through to the mid 1970s, contained radical voices. It also contained working class voices. That is not true today. The corporatized scheme for education includes class segregation. Anyone who does not see the corruption and class prejudice in Academia just isn’t looking. And of course marketing, and Hollywood have intensified their message. A message that is flagrant and unalloyed in its fascist sentiments.

Jeff Silverthorne, photography.

Jeff Silverthorne, photography.


I suspect that if one systematically looked back, historically, at cultures all over the world, you would find that the role of the artist ended in some form of solitude and isolation. The community cannot really tolerate the artist for too long. He or she is the disrupting force of change, the reminder of personal trauma, and of both shame and guilt, as well as desire. But the artist must not seek other than isolation and exile. The older artist who is *not* shunned, in a sense, is the collaborator.

There is a sense in which even wildly successful and recognized artists will withdraw. This is the natural structural process, as well as the natural spiritual one.

The problem today is that aesthetic negation, and this relates to aesthetic autonomy; that which makes something aesthetic, and by comparison, everything it is not, as not aesthetic, is increasingly difficult to differentiate not because *everything* can or is art, but because NOTHING is art, and nothing can be art. Its not the inclusion of things, its the exclusion of possibility.

Mary Devens, photography. 1897.

Mary Devens, photography. 1897.

Any discussion of aesethic negation or autonomy can never be as simple as most art writers would like it to be. Even most philosophers (or theorists if thats the term they prefer). But it is safe to say that differentiation is increasingly complicated by not just by the obvious commodifying of most everything, and of a near total reification in society, but at least as much by the increasing distance of society from nature. My memory of the art world in the early 70s, in New York and L.A., was that people, artists and audience alike, spoke about theory. About ideas, not message. About form, not style or fashion. It was a given that if you wanted to create art, you were a radical. A communist or anarchist or just insane. You smoked, drank, took drugs, argued, had a lot of sex, with both or all genders, and you read. You read all the time. I remember running into people, writers, in book stores. I ran into painters, too and musicians. In book stores. But that is all gone. Most gone of all is the idea that audiences think.

Pepi and O’Hara and Monaco conclude their very cogent little essay this way:
“The complicity of the consumer in his own debasement is wholly on display in this state of affairs. New cultural mechanics simultaneously promise to reward our participation (“because you wanted it, we made it!”) and threaten us if we opt out (“we don’t want to make things that you don’t want to do, but how do we know what you want if you don’t participate?”). In the end, consumers are enjoined to do more work to create less substantial works that profit concentrations of capital in which they have no stake.”

This is the logic of conformity. It is the erecting of an idea of conformity as a virtue. And that conformity is joined at the hip to globalized Capital.

George Tooker

George Tooker


It is conformity of obedience, and a constant message of encouragement in one’s own domination. Many liberals, at least white liberals, will scoff at words like *domination*. How can I be dominated if I just bought a new iPhone? The fact is that shopping, online or off, is very close to the state religion in the U.S. Its acute in parts of Europe certainly, but nothing like the U.S. Perhaps that has to do with two things: Puritanism and Imperialism.

The new opportunism of the celebrity left (sic), those corporate employed crypto Imperialists (Laurie Penny, Molly Crabapple, Natasha Lennard, and really, Paul Mason, and Danny Gold, and all the rest who pimp for U.S. military solutions, and there are a host of others) have reached a zenith of bad faith, cynicism, and ethical turbidity, obfuscation, and just naked dishonesty, in this http://interactive.fusion.net/rise-up/index.html
The new marketing of revolution. Branded, capitalized, and very troubling. This is an extension, really, of what I wrote about last posting. The appropriating of human suffering, compiled by algorithms, market tested, and very effective mind control, finally. For the effects of these enterprises are to re-program expectations, and then bait and switch the narrative theme. Suddenly, the audience, the subject, is applauding and helping and assisting something quite different than the first advertising blitz promised. Keep your eye on the ball. Its three card monte for generation duh. For the record this is a Disney/ABC/Univision(right wing media folk who assisted the coup in Venezuela in 2004) project. Haim Saban is a lead shareholder, and a big supporter of Israeli policy. Isaac Lee Possin, a Colombian educated in Israel is the chief executive for Fusion. This is the corporate structure now creating politics as spectacle. Throw enough money around, enough swag, and enough contradiction, and repeat it ad infinitum, and eventually the audience fatigue stops critical thinking.

Rafael Solbes

Rafael Solbes

Now, one could go further in the perfidy of that group, but the point is that such projects are like psychic bottom trawling. All cognitive activity will tend to get swept into the attention nets, and then the bespoke algorithms and computing happens automatically, and soon everyone is everyone’s friend. Fusion or the NSA or Google or Verizon. Honestly, its all the same. Against this mental bottom trawling are the sparkling stars of corporate news outlets. And honestly, with very very very few exceptions, if the man is paying you, then you are the punk. There is no way around it. Now, everyone takes jobs that one hates. And its done to pay the rent and buy the kids food. But cop to it!

But back to art.

The moment Warhol and Lichtenstein created ‘Pop’ art, the entire issue of autonomy was raised and reconstituted the meaning of art. I dont actually think one can lump minimalism into this same basket, but the point here is that ideas about symbol and allegory changed. Or perhaps, more correctly, were erased. For now ‘anything’ was art and history was irrelevant. Critics could write about ‘the end of art’. Arthur Danto saw in Pop Art the impossibility of any longer distinguishing between an aesthetic object and an ordinary object. But this implies that cultural history was only about such distinctions. So, in another sense, this was a de-politicizing of art and culture. For Adorno was right, it was the spell cast by the artwork that mattered. And it was in Adorno’s critique of The Odyssey that he confronted a chthonic underside to storytelling, to myth, and to the role of, and formation of, culture and art. For in language itself, there was history (in fact Adorno’s criticism of Heidegger was predicated on what he saw as fraudulent pseudo magical interpretations of invented words). This was what Hegel, and then Marx, and then Benjamin and Adorno himself terms *Natural History*. And it is this cultural process of exhumation that modernist art (and probably medieval art in a different sense) were pursuing. And everything created must address this, even as the self must exhume its own process of becoming. This probably goes far beyond the issues I want to focus on, but it’s important to understand exactly what the Spectacle, the post-cultural moment of mass electronic screen culture has destroyed. Or is trying to destroy. For Heidegger, like Hegel (and Marx certainly saw this when he critiqued Hegel) is valorizing the *now*, the status quo, albeit a narrow Volkisch *now*. It is culmination. It is a claim to totality that is the fraud. In the three films mentioned above, each is echoing Homer, and each is finding a problematic, even nihilistic absence at the end of the journey. There is no, and can be no, culmination.

The Student of Prague (1913). Paul Wegener, Stellan Rye, Hanns Heinz Ewers directors.

The Student of Prague (1913). Paul Wegener, Stellan Rye, Hanns Heinz Ewers directors.


This absence though is the foundation for allegory. For Adorno, this was the history of subjectivity being played out again and again. And the claims to totality are the destruction of mimesis. In other words, the primordial mimetic identification (and here both Freud and Lacan are contributing factors) with rivalry, with aggression, must result in sublimation, and in forgetting. “Meaning is the ruins of Nature”, Hullot-Kentor.

“Art’s truth appears guaranteed more by its denial of any meaning in organized society…” Adorno.

Those who deny meaning in art, or claim an end to art, are justifying the instrumental logic of domination. Art’s purpose lies in its lack of purpose, for then the mystery and illusion achieve autonomy — the erasure of differentiation is the belief in an objectivity and truth of a society that dominates and pacifies and alienates. But yet, in which everything can be meaningful. In which everything IS meaningful. The presentation of advertising, Campbell’s soup cans, as art was actually a destruction of the object. All objects can be famous for fifteen minutes, and hence all objects are fungible. And if that is so, then a specificity of object is lost. Hans Sedlmayr in the 1920s said lifeless objects can acquire a face and gaze back at you. This is related to Von Kleist’s essay on marionettes. It is *ausdruck*, the gaze of the artwork, and it is found only in the non-fungible.

Alfred Leslie

Alfred Leslie


And the problem with this post historic art is that if objects are fungible, then so are people. The suffocating deadness found in *artists* like Koons or Marina Abramovic, speaks to this underlying sense of human disposibility.

Mimesis is a contested term in Adorno. And in Benjamin. For it means different things in different contexts. But none contradict the other. There is the primordial linkage to imitation, and there its secondary role in survival, and then there is the psychoanalytic form which is akin to projection. Andreas Huyssen actually laid out five distinct meanings of the word *mimesis* that he found in Adorno. But the last one is really Benjamin’s use or definition, and it has to do with Benjamin’s linguistic theory. And that would require an entire other post. The salient aspect of his theory is that there are several registers in which language has meaning. And the utterance of words is connected to the body, to a gestural knowledge, which again relies on the sensual as formative. The 1920s in Austria and Germany were keenly exploring ideas of how expression took on meaning, and Benjamin was one among many who grappled with this under the sway of Freudian theory and practice. The point though is mimesis is partly a sensual knowledge, and its practice provides extra-linguistic meaning to utterance. Benjamin wrote a good deal on film and photography during these years. For he sensed, rightly, that in film there was another sort of space, another sense of time, and more, a deep mediating of mimesis in the audience. For Benjamin saw two basic registers of language: one was instrumental, logical, the manipulation of signs and the other was as knowledge of mimesis. Benjamin saw mimesis, always, more closely aligned with similarity than did Adorno. In other words, language as sign, language as image (hieroglyphs) and language as a very particular kind of imitation of Nature. It is this last meaning that remains so difficult. But it is the one most relevant in an age of screen dominance. For in mass kitsch culture, in which the *now* is being reproduced ever more rapidly, constantly, there is no Nature returning our gaze.

Atul Dodiya

Atul Dodiya


Adorno wrote that art is a form of behavior. For that is mimesis, too. And even when utterly subjective, and perhaps it is always partly subjective in this sense, the mimetic engagement must have something with specificity to provide refuge (another words of Adorno’s). I suspect those memory traces of archaic mimesis have all but been eliminated today. The differences between not just an aesthetic object and a not aesthetic object matter, but between our memory and our separation or not from other people. The knowledge of the human is gained through mimetic processing. Without it, the culture increasingly functions in ways close to how autistics function. But more, when only a screen gazes back, that is no gaze at all.

“The survival of mimesis, the non-conceptual affinity of the subjectivity produced with its other…defines art as a form of knowledge…For that which mimetic behavior addresses is the telos of knowledge…art contemplates knowledge with what is excluded from knowledge…”
Adorno

This occurs in painting, in photography, and it occurs in narratives. On stage, in film, in novels, anywhere. It is the raison d’etre of art. Today, the instrumental straightjacket that binds all expression is also found in the endless pseudo scientific drivel one reads or hears in media. Dietary advice, or psychological bromides, or moral posturing is always baked in the ovens of mock science. It is not science, it is not even magic. But from this comes cultural expression that is equally banal and lifeless. Whatever else, there was life in Criss Cross, and before that, to visit again the German Expressionist cinema, is an almost shocking experience… for there is memory and dream, and gestural knowledge (The Student of Prague, The Golem, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Shatten, et al). None of that exists in today’s corporate mass culture. Gone Girl or The Hunger Games possess no mimetic memory. They are literally distracting audiences from remembering…anything. The society is awash in sleight of hand intellectual games.

The tensions that are expressed in those three films I listed above, were from a sense that something was being lost. The best contemporary film seem always to be connected to a dream of retrieval. The worst contemporary film is comfortable with amnesia.

Ron Bladen

Ron Bladen


The idea of an end to art already resided in Duchamp, and later in Rodchenko. Except of course it doesn’t end. And it can’t end under the terms of these experiments. The theoretical gestures, the ready-mades, the black painting of Malevich, were finally pointless. It was not until Warhol, really, and Lichtenstein, that the focus shifted to the commodity. The problem with all of this is that in a sense, the mass culture of giant telecoms, Hollywood, and the pop music business, has moved the goal posts, so to speak. It isnt art that is destroyed, it’s the audience. It is the society of scale and proportion as aspects of a morality. Art isn’t dead, but probably the collective memory of Western culture is. Post modern ideas about the arbitrary sign or symbol, are in collusion with the residue of Hegelian/Heideggarian insistance on the whole. The whole being the totality of social experience, and argued as a form of self realization, self improvement, individuality, and … finally, progress. Call it something else, but hiding behind every piece of Jeff Koons junk is the wink and nudge of self congratulation. In the same way that film, that artform born of seaside amusements, and developed almost from the start as a business, is forever looking to pat it self on the back via gratuitous awards shows and constant media hype. This is called populist exactly because its the least populist artform in existence.

Art is self destructive. It is guided by impulses that are anti social, but only in so far as they question the status quo, because the status quo cannot survive history or memory. I doubt anyone would claim Kiss Me Deadly is exactly Shakespearean in scope or magnitude of emotion, but it survives viewing today because it refuses to deny it own destructive character. And within that declaration of defiance, even if subsumed by the film industry to a degree, are found the echos and traces of history, the understanding that you cant have gotten here without suffering, inequality, and madness. Only the most privileged claim sanity.

Stan Douglas, photography.

Stan Douglas, photography.


Painters like Barnett Newman or Mark Rothko, are reducing an idea, on the one hand, but it is in their secret disposition, the enigmatic and hidden, that they are actually looking for plenitude. You cannot be enigmatic without being allegorical. Even the stripe of Newman reach toward the allegorical. I’d say it’s a good rule of thumb to distrust art that requires elaborate pre conditions for viewing it (or hearing it, etc). If you have to don headphones, or walk through a tunnel, then its probably just a sales pitch tricked out as socially relevant. Never trust social relevancy anyway, not in art. The importance of art lives in a mimetic memory, one that perhaps was once more active, but now is found in art. Why else bother? The deceit and ruthlessness of American society today, the inauthentic and counterfeit that exists in the non stop assault of advertising is only salved by reminders that being human doesn’t have to be a quest to become reptile, but that humaneness is the spiritual and psychological sacrifice that goes into genuine expression.

Voyeurs of Suffering

Hercules Seghers, early 1600s.

Hercules Seghers, early 1600s.

“Sixteen states saw their guard rolls double over the past decade {1990 to 2000} while most of them reduced overall public employment…state and county correctional adminstrations, taken together, have elevated themselves to the rank of third largest employer in the land, just behind Manpower Inc, and Wal Mart, and just ahead of General Motors…the U.S. carceral system now employs four times as many people as McDonalds and seven times more than IBM.”
Loic Waquant
Punishing the Poor

“It is no simple matter to determine the precise extent to which mass incarceration is exacerbating the deep socio-economic and related cultural and political traumas that already plague inner-city communities and help explain disproportionate Black “criminality,” arrest, and incarceration in the first place. Still, it is undeniable that the race to incarcerate is having a profoundly negative effect on Black communities. Equally undeniable is the fact that Black incarceration rates reflect deep racial bias in the criminal justice system and the broader society. Do the cheerleaders of “get tough” crime and sentencing policy really believe that African-Americans deserve to suffer so disproportionately at the hands of the criminal justice system? There is a vast literature showing that structural, institutional, and cultural racism and severe segregation by race and class are leading causes of inner-city crime. Another considerable body of literature shows that Blacks are victims of racial bias at every level of the criminal justice system‹from stop, frisk, and arrest to prosecution, sentencing, release, and execution.”
Paul Street

“[T]he British Empire acted as an agency for imposing free markets, the rule of law, investor protection and relatively incorrupt government on roughly a quarter of the world. The empire also did a good deal to encourage those things in countries which were outside its formal imperial domain but under its economic influence through the “imperialism of free trade.” Prima facie, therefore, there seems a plausible case that the empire enhanced global welfare–in other words, was a Good Thing.”
Niall Ferguson

I want to look at a piece Brad Evans wrote for L.A. Review of Books, about Jacques Ranciere’s recently translated book Figures of History. In which this piece by Alfredo Jarr is referenced.
http://alfredojaar.net/gutete/gutete.html

Here is a paragraph from Evans’ article (http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/facing-intolerable#) that starts with the famous Adorno quote on art after Auschwitz.

“…sometimes too easily drawn that the extermination is “unrepresentable” or “unshowable” — notions in which various heterogeneous arguments conveniently merge: the joint incapacity of real documents and fictional imitations to reflect the horror experienced; the ethical indecency of representing that horror; the modern dignity of art which is beyond representation and the indignity of art as an endeavor after Auschwitz.[iv]
Countering this problem of representing humanity’s negation, Rancière resurrects what is for many cultural theorists an all-too-familiar (if unresolved) debate:
So we have to revise Adorno’s famous phrase, according to which art is impossible after Auschwitz. The reverse is true: after Auschwitz, to show Auschwitz, art is the only thing possible, because art always entails the presence of an absence; because it is the very job of art to reveal something that is invisible, through the controlled power of words and images, connected or unconnected; because art alone thereby makes the human perceptible, felt.[v]
Rancière’s revision of the Adorno question should be taken seriously. Its purpose is to rethink the political function of art, and, in doing so, start the process that will allow us to reimagine a more artistic conception of the political that is not simply tied to perceptions of endangerment and the pure task of human survival.”

Larry Bell

Larry Bell


There is a second passage I want to quote,

” He {Ranciere} focuses in particular on Jaar’s installation ‘The Eyes of Gutete Emerita’, which demands that the spectator first read about Emerita’s experience of the Rwandan genocide before being confronted with the woman’s concentrated and framed stare. Rancière acknowledges how the inversion of the gaze, the forced witnessing of the eyes upon the most horrendous acts, demands an appreciation of the way in which the intolerable can be turned into a recognition of humanity. As Rancière writes, instead of showing the mutilated bodies, Jaar’s work “restores the powers of attention itself.”[vii] The art historian and renowned cultural theorist Griselda Pollock notes the same, adding that Jaar’s installation asks the question “Will you too remember her eyes — eyes that look at you forever but forever see murder?”[viii] Jolting us “from the kind of consumption of the image that makes images out of atrocity without inducing a political response,” The Eyes register the experience that others had been obliged to witness. It is this element that marks the singularity of his work in creating encounters for the viewers far away from the event that force them to recognize a gap that has been cut into a living persons life by proximity to atrocity, by the wound that is trauma: an event too shocking to be assimilated.”

Evans says rightly that violence should be intolerable. Given that mass culture is now constantly finding various ways to depict violence and sadism for pleasure, this is pertinent and isnt too far from what I was trying to write about last time. However, the Jaar piece is highly problematic. In fact its far worse than problematic It is introducing the consumption of third world violence, as a subject, as a theme, even if making a rather portentious point about NOT showing the violence. The audience is asked to project their conceits onto the ‘eyes’ of the victim. A black African woman. But first, first the audience is admonished to read a bit of description. Except the description is the U.S. state department version of events. Griselda Pollock asks will you remember her eyes? This is white paternalism, and its additionally puerile and sophistic. Again, positing the savage, the one who saw ONLY murder.

Here is Dan Glazebrook on Robin Philpot correcting the party line. http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/21/the-real-lesson-of-the-rwandan-tragedy/

and Keith Harmon Snow’s interview here http://www.corbettreport.com/interview-886-keith-harmon-snow-reveals-the-truth-about-the-rwandan-genocide/

Royal Engineers, officers, Sudan 1885.

Royal Engineers, officers, Sudan 1885.


Additionally, this artwork of Jaar’s is frought with colonial cliches. It is a fetishizing of Africans as victims, and the use of eyes is reminiscent of much Colonial writing. The eyes of the predator, bloodshot, out of control; the prose of Empire while in the colonies is rife with descriptions of the eyes of the natives. This is almost caricature. These eyes are not like any others because they have seen a special horror. Secondly, there is something deeply sentimentalizing about this. The woman, the mother, helpless, but now (!) assisted by a white artist. A man! Artist as white savoir, who also gets to wring his hands, brimming with white guilt. Its very troubling frankly that Ranciere used this example, and that Evans didn’t take note.

D’Jeli Clark quotes Paul Landau’s book on photography and Colonialism:

“Toward the end of the 19th century, just as racial ideologues accomodated their thinking to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, photography fully took over the reportorial work of painters like [William Holman] Hunt and began to allow great numbers of urban people to “see” Africans living far away. The invention of the half-tone grid-system put photos in newspapers and books in 1888, and began the “10¢ magazine revolution.” Pictures froze images of “primitive” people who were supposed to be disappearing in the path of the very universalizing and homogenizing forces in which viewers were safely enmeshed. David Livingstone’s instructions to his brother, a photographer, transpose William Holman Hunt’s ideas into the incipient scientific language of the day: he asked Charles Livingstone to “secure characteristic specimens of the various tribes … for the purposes of ethnology.” Unlike “exhibitions,” traveling shows, and museums, photography illustrated Africa primarily by means of iconic signs, not indexical ones; like mobile displays, photography transferred “the location of analysis” back to the comfort of the metropole. Photography greatly increased people “in-the-know”: postcards, magazines, white hunter’s books, illustrated travel stories all yielded their messages in urban livingrooms and studies. The trajectory from painting to mechanical reproduction traced the shift from public display to private viewing.”

Chintan Upadyay

Chintan Upadyay


Clark adds that the Western imagination always saw the colonial subject in a rear view mirror. Framed by a colonial narrative and staging. The Jaar piece is not only politically misinformed, it patronizes the Rwandan people as victims that the white man failed to save. It is sending the Native back to the metropole, yet again. As to violence, the real violence, as Keith Harmon Snow says, goes back to include a history of slavery and plunder. But this piece exoticizes the conflict, the violence is ‘special’, it took place in the heart of darkness after all, and the white man ‘turned his back’ and allowed it happen (never mind the white man assisted in creating said violence). That is because, presumably, only the white man can problem solve.

Now as to the question of the social or political and its relationship to art, I will turn to Adorno, not least because his quote is part of Ranciere’s argument. Adorno though never addressed directly the social role of art. Rather he wrote of the tensions within individual works of art. For him the work of art represents the totality of society. Adorno wrote; “All that artworks do or bring forth has its latent model in social production.” The difficulty with Ranciere’s approach to art and society (and which Evans addresses quite well, which I will get to) is exactly related to Adorno’s aesthetics (and that quote). Lambert Zuidervaart says that for Adorno, art is ‘de-fetishizing fetishes’. This leads to a very complex but important discussion of the autonomy of art, and what Adorno called its ‘truth content’. Autonomy is socially mediated, but remains the precondition for truth content. Art is meant, for Adorno, to challenge the status quo. It also, as Evans notes, implies something unrealized, better, or Utopian in human aspiration. The problem with Adorno’s ideas on autonomy is that social institutions, mass culture, electronic media, have all changed the cultural and social landscape over the last fifty years. The post modern culture now rejects any idea of an absolute need for autonomy, or for heterogeneity. Even the idea of the Culture Industry needs revising. Still, the idea of art’s social purpose is always going to distort and over simplify the truth of art. When Gottfreid Holnwein is quoted:

“The world has been purged of fairies, elves, witches, angels, enchanted castles and hidden treasures. Dreaming and fantasizing is nowadays considered a chemical imbalance in the brain of the child. For reasons of national security there are no realms of imagination anymore in which to escape — children are held in the merciless headlight of the adults level-headed, common-sense-madhouse: a world of stock-markets, war, rape, pollution, television-moronism, prozak [sic], prison-camps, miss universe-competitions, genetic engineering, child pornography, Ronald McDonalds, Paris Hilton and torture.”

This is indeed the state of mass culture, and Evans says, correctly:

“Helnwein shows how facing the intolerable is not simply about revealing the raw reality of injustice in the present. It’s about transgressing the limits of mediated suffering. Or as Rancière might explain, it reveals precisely “the critical project of art” as it “eliminates its own lie in order to speak truthfully about the lie and the violence of the society that produces it.”

Bahia, Brazil. 1860 apprx. Photographer unknown.

Bahia, Brazil. 1860 apprx. Photographer unknown.


The colonizing of consciousness by corporate interests and U.S. Imperialism though is highly complex, and the proof of that is in the problematic Jaar piece. And here one runs into the autonomy question. Institutional hegemony being what it is, the constant compulsive repetition of propaganda and jingoistic narratives and image are now feeding off themselves, and have created codes, or shorthand for imparting message and meaning. This is why the truth of the artwork is not found in its content but in its form, or rather that the form is the radicalizing precondition for the non-identical. On a slightly prosaic level, again, the form of the Jaar piece is deeply reactionary. It is related to an extraction of value from Africa. That value is embedded in how artworks are circulated, funded, and displayed. One cannot photograph Rwanda and then return that image to the former colonizer, the white advanced world, and not have been engaged in yet more exploitation. Even if the money is collected for charity, it is just further shaming. This is why the topic of violence cannot be a blanket term, and why complaints about exploding latex heads in zombie movies is the least of all problems. The violence of white superiority seen in the HBO show The Affair, a world of white problems made by a privileged friend of the Clintons, and produced by a major corporate purveyor of *entertainment*, is really a deeper form of psychic violence. The emphasis on the de sensitizing aspect of violence in entertainment is valid, but often couched in the most undialectical way, and often underscored with a certain Puritan distrust of art and culture. The violence theme becomes equated in this process with society’s licentiousness.
Gottfried Helnwein, "Disasters of War, 13".

Gottfried Helnwein, “Disasters of War, 13″.


Now it is interesting that the Helnwein artwork under discussion is perhaps among his least effective. I think Helnwein is a very important artist. But the blood soaked little girl (blond in point of fact) is too literal an image, one too familiar, and one the opposite of provocative. We’ve seen very similar images in Vogue. I think this is an issue I write about a good deal, and it has to do with the spatializing of mimetic engagement, but also with the questions Evans asks here, which I think are perhaps not the right questions and are wrong in a very particular way. One does not read such an image by asking questions, anyway. The viewer is not conducting that sort of interrogation. Take a different Helnwein painting; the Donald Duck image on a street in downtown L.A. This image is far more disruptive. The lurking menace of that street, the lack of pedestrians, the color that saturates the photo on which this work is built..and the image of the Walt Disney character, Donald Duck, is more involved in raising questions. It is not overtly about violence, yet the uncertainty of that image, the anxiety, is in the end more durable, and destabilizing than Disasters of War 13. The duck character is suddenly unfriendly. He still smiles, but it is the smile of a torturer, or thief. Worse, a politician. My lifetimes assumptions are interrupted at that moment, my childhood memories, my trust in a personal nostalgia, are all invoked; the meaning of kitsch, of mass culture, is being put on trial. But by whom? For what? A hot summer night, as the title implies, a looming Liquor store, in a low rent industrial area (actually I know that street in L.A., in the loft district and its no longer so low rent) invoke filmic associations. This is a film noir image. This is Edgar G. Ulmer or Siodmak. The tragic turns into the grotesque said Jan Kott. Here the cartoon commodity turns into a threat, a unsettling and contradictory image suddenly seen on his way to buy a bottle of Night Train. It is neither grotesque nor is it not; the well known warmth of a Disney character becomes suspect, to be distrusted suddenly.
Gottfried Helnwein. "In the Heat of the Night".

Gottfried Helnwein. “In the Heat of the Night”.


On the other hand, the bandaged little girl is teetering on the edge of bathos. It is close…not quite there….but close to maudlin. The idealized almost Victorian image of the girl, blond, dressed in white, with white make up, is an interesting image, and in the context of the entire ‘Disasters of War’ series, it is more effective. Helnwein serializes his works often, and it is usually from within those juxtapositions that the real effects of his image are found. As is, I think the dialectical movement within the piece is short circuited.

Evans summation is very good, and it cuts to the heart of I suspect everyone’s quibbles with Ranciere. I would argue that the central problem with discussions of art and politics is that art has no political purpose. It has political meaning. But its not meant to be propaganda. The social utility of art, its purpose lies exactly in its lack of purpose. There is where one finds its autonomy as well. And that is why, under the growing surveillance state, the more authoritarian mediation of daily life, such lack of purpose, or autonomy, is harder to find. The meaning, the PR, is *given* to the artwork before its made, almost. This is the real nightmare of the technological reproduction aspect of art; there is no fertile space left, psychically or literally for the making of art. Everything is commodified and reified, and everything made, even the most conceptual pieces, is appropriated instantly. And the possibility that appropriation takes place apriori might be the last frontier for the ‘brave new world’.

Sammy Baloji, photography. "Série Mémoire" (2006), Lubumbashi.

Sammy Baloji, photography. “Série Mémoire” (2006), Lubumbashi.


As to that Auschwitz quote. It may be that more people have written “that quote is misunderstood” than have actually misunderstood it. No other quote of Adorno’s comes close to the citings of this famous maxim. There is a better more relevant quote of Adorno’s.
“It is the lack of experience of the imagery of real art, partly substituted and parodied by the ready made stereotypes of the amusement industry, which is at least one of the formative elements of that cynicism that has finally transformed the Germans, Beethoven’s own people, into Hitler’s own people.” Adorno saw the collapse of education in Germany, and especially cultural and arts education, as a decisive element in the rise of National Socialism. As Hullot-Kentor points out, there were many Nazi SS officers who could play the violin, but that’s not the point. The hopes, Utopian dreams and desires of humanity, from religion to philosophy had morphed into aesthetic questions that seems threatened by the mass conflagration of World Wars 1 & 2. For Adorno, his last and ultimately unfinished book Aesthetic Theory is really about the possibility of art in the coming 21st century. The problem was that great art now had no audience. That cultural education had so collapsed that it was quite possibly too late for aesthetic concerns to rescue humankind. The cultured individual, civilized, humane, had disappeared.

Today, where once an idealized past was a foil for proving the destroyed present, there is the regrettable past (usually recent past) as proof our benevolent present. This is related to this discussion of a future pedagogy, which Evans raises quite rightly at the end of his article. Adorno, in his late work, had started to see style (and fashion, and novelty) as almost synonymous with domination. The constant production of the *new* is of course connected to mass production, but the cycle is now so accelerated that artworks (film especially perhaps) look dated almost as soon as they appear. Five years means a film looks old fashioned. This is because technical virtuosity has replaced form. Actual style is now just a new process, a new technical factor, a new version of the same. The new stimulates shopping. In other words, the genuinely *new* in art is that which ceases to imitate the marketing of consumer lines, the Spring line, the fall collection, the new and improved toothbrush. The relations of production don’t change much structurally, but the artwork must, as a first act, reveal the sameness under the mask of novelty. The aesthetic education will always be political. I don’t think one needs an aesthetics of the political. But I do think one needs a political reading of art, but not as message, but as history.

“Because artworks register and objectivate levels of experience that are fundamental to the relation to reality yet are almost always concealed by reification, aesthetic experience is socially as well as metaphysically compelling.”
Adorno

Santu Mofokeng, photography. Soweto, South Africa.

Santu Mofokeng, photography. Soweto, South Africa.

Today, mass culture, corporate culture, is enclosed within assumptions about entertainment, and it reflects the values of the corporate ownership class that makes it. It is repetitive, and yet predicated on ideas of novelty and originality. The role of popular culture today, though, has changed in another way. Where once popular forms of entertainment were simply a way to use up leisure time, or for distraction, today they are far more deeply intwined with morality, with behavioral attitudes (back to Adorno on style) and political opinion. But most of all they serve to instruct the individual, through the erasure of mimesis, and through repetition of its style codes, in psychological conformity. Never has a population so uniformly accepted propaganda. The last significant aspect of popular mass culture is the ways it silences radical voices. It disappears them. Either through hostile appropriation, through a hegemony of distribution, or through simple omission, which is really just the result of the first two.

Keita Seydou, photography. Mali, 1950s.

Keita Seydou, photography. Mali, 1950s.

The professionalization of art has had a hugely deleterious affect on culture. The endless MFA programs in various creative mediums, the exclusionary practices of Academia, where actual laws keep non accredited teachers from teaching. If you have no degree, even if a University *wanted* to hire you, often they couldn’t. Most university teaching is done now by adjuncts. And they live very economically precarious lives. Still, the domination of lay pedagogy by institutional instructors is rarely questioned. So, in the arts, the non accredited teacher is disadvantaged. Which means the ideological back drop is created for students by those at least more *responsible* to institutional norms. You see the problem here; and again, going back to The Bauhaus, almost none of the instructors had degrees. There was a freedom that no longer exists. So the question is not what would a new study of aesthetics and politics look like but who would teach it. And the only potential for such change is to tear down the elitist privilege and fixed hierarchies of accreditation.

A final note on African photography. I have mentioned this before, but in the light of the Jarr installation, its worth looking at Africa through African eyes. Keita Seydou was a photographer from Bamako, Mali. Born in 1921, he took a great many portraits in the 1940s and 50s in Mali. In a sense he was the African Disfarmer. Both men ran small streetfront shops and took pictures of everyday people, often on holiday, or for special occasions. Seydou took remarkably dry shots; austere almost. There is a quality of August Sander in his work as well. He is among my favorite photographers. But there are many others. Malik Sidibe, J.D. Aihumekeokhai Ojeikere, and Sammy Baloji, Depara, and Zanele Muholi, and South African Santu Mofokeng. There are great white African photographers as well, David Goldblatt and Pieter Hugo. The point is that Africans make their own art.

Obiora Udechukwu

Obiora Udechukwu


I posted three images of work by Hercules Seghers, a printmaker and painter from the early 17th century. Rembrandt owned 8 paintings of Seghers, and only 12 overall survive today. Only 183 prints survive. Rembrandt modeled several of his own etchings on Seghers’ prints. Seghers is one of those geniuses who creates a small catalogue of a very specific vision of the world. Seghers work is, like a couple other artists from Holland in that era, surprisingly modern looking. There is a meticulous but never fussy discipline at work, and a boldness of compositional vision that one finds nowhere else in the early 1600s. In his own way Seghers reminds me of Pirinisi, the creator of worlds of infinite depth, from a vision that is unsually skewed from the norm of the period.
Hercules Seghers

Hercules Seghers

Seghers prints are his greatest work, though his paintings are very fine. The prints resemble aquatint, but that was a later invention. These were sugar-lift prints (or sugar-bite, or lift ground technique) and this was a process rarely bothered with at the time because it was deemed hardly worth the effort. The effects achieved by way of the granulated sugar were not deemed significant at the time. Today the prints bear the strangeness of both Seghers vision and his technique. They have an odd sense of negative space, of illusion almost between foreground and background. But it is finally the framing, the sense of space, that unusual inexplicable Segherian space. Then there is the color. Segher’s prints are oddly elusive in their impressions on the eye; ochre and blue, and earth brown and damp greens. There is a nice summary of his work from the British Musuem here http://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/HerculesSegers_painted-prints-introduction.pdf

Hercules Seghers

Hercules Seghers


There is another artist little known, really, who deserves mention. Adam Elsheimer, a 17th century German who is also connected to Rembrandt. Elsheimer was highly valued by Rembrandt’s tutor Peiter Lastman. Elsheimer is another of those remarkable minor figures who nonetheless exerted huge influence despite producing few works. Elsheimer died very young in his early thirties. A solitary depressive by all account, he, like Seghers, remains something of an enigma. There is actually not a great deal of biographical information on him, and of dubious reliability. He did certainly travel to Venice, and Rome. He may have studied there with an older German painter, Johann Rottenhammer. Elsheimer had two of Rottenhammer’s paintings among his belongings when he died. The older German specialized in cabinet paintings on copper. He knew the Flemish painter Brill, and both of them knew, in passing anyway, Rubens. Elsheimer converted to Catholicism, and married a Scottish/German woman while in Rome. After his death Rubens wrote; “one could have expected things from him that one has never seen before and never will see.”
Adam Elsheimer. "Maiden Chased by Satyrs".

Adam Elsheimer.
“Maiden Chased by Satyrs”.


He painted mostly on copper and on a small scale. His work is precise and strange, the subjects esoteric and the treatment is almost disorienting, really. He worked very slowly, and was in trouble often with his patrons.

Elsheimer and Seghers are both considered minor by virtue of their very small output. Neither were good businessmen and both led mostly solitary lives. Elsheimer did have an interest in science, and attended social gatherings at the Vatican botanical society for a time. It is interesting that both have a connection to Rembrandt, for it is Rembrandt more than any other painter of the 17th century who recuperated all that came before, synthesized it and produced something that completed what came before and initiated what came after. He invented the bourgeois individual as image much as Shakespeare did as mind. Western culture coalesced around the Dutch traders of the early 1700s, and the scale of ambition changed, the hubris of Capital, and the recognition of social hierarchy was part of the inner dialogue of people.

Adorno ends the section “Society” in Aesthetic Theory by asking a rhetorical question. “What would art be, as the writing of history, if it shook off the memory of accumulated suffering.” It is in the expression of art, that this suffering resides. It is the tension wrought by a denouncing of alienation and domination. But this is not found in becoming voyeurs to suffering. For that is is ideology, if we agree ideology is essentially false consciousness.

Adam Elsheimer.  "Saint Christopher Carrying Infant Christ".

Adam Elsheimer.
“Saint Christopher Carrying Infant Christ”.

The Same Story, But Cleaner

Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt

“In the late ’60s, Guy Debord—who was a situationalist—he looked again at the work of Edward Bernays, and saw that now what we called the media was starting to be joined by governments and by financial banking systems. And he called it the “integrated spectacle.” So we’re all living in this completely false reality that doesn’t really exist. The thing that’s so funny is that we’ve become the mouthpiece of this consumersism.”
Penny Arcade

“The sage, holding onto the left half of the tally
does not demand payment from others;
the person with potency {de} takes charge of the tally;
the person without potency looks to collecting on it.”

Lao Tzu

“On the other side there are doubts about whether the reality of such features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, purpose, thought, and value can be accommodated in a universe consisting at the most basic level only of physical facts — facts, however sophisticated, of the kind revealed by the physical sciences.”
Thomas Nagel

There was a moment, about half way through David Fincher’s new film Gone Girl when I started to ask myself why Fincher had chosen this material. Perhaps its an homage of sorts to Vertigo, but the question remained for me throughout. Nothing Fincher did suggested a desire to reach beyond the clever or derivitive. That sense of intellectual pillage seems to fascinate Fincher. One could argue, well, that’s what genre partly is, always. Maybe, maybe this is just borrowing from Brian DePalma, and Hitchcock, and from himself even, and maybe in a sense that is just post modern sampling. But I happened to watch Vertigo not so long ago, and there is something in that film that is linked to deeper questions of memory, and conformity, of how we rewrite our own histories. In Gone Girl there is none of that, there isnt much more than the working out of a puzzle. But this is not, probably, entirely the fault of Fincher. Or rather, he is an artist trained in another era, a director borrowing image and story from another world. An imaginary world.

Balthus

Balthus


Jacques Ranciere, in a new book on cinema, suggests three branches of approach to film: theory, politics, and art. The cinephile’s love of cinema is something I remember, and on a personal level was something I learned from my old departed friend Terry Ork. I think everyone probably had a conflicted relationship with Ork, but I have never learned as much from any single person as I did from him. The cinephile’s passion for film was linked to the idea of mise en scene, something very hard to define, but as Ranciere put it, something that inevitably led to a kind of wisdom. Mise en scene was that quality of establishing a relation to the world, that was expressed in that ineffable frame, and sequence. Certain directors seemed to have an innate ability to create a film vocabulary that allowed for a deeper engagement with the world, and with one’s own memory. Take Vertigo, for example; a film that has haunted and disrupted audiences since it was made. But why? Seeing it again I found myself just as transfixed as I had been the first time I saw it, and the ten times in between. There is something quite independent of the narrative (it seems) that triggers an emotional reverie. In some peculiar way, that I hope to transcribe here a bit, it has is a strange mythic rhythm and sense of image that seduces the viewer. It is a secret cinema.

“Cinema is also an ideological apparatus producing images that circulate in society and in which society recognizes its own stereotypes, it legends from the past and its imagined futures.”
Jacques Ranciere

Terry Ork

Terry Ork

There is something in great directors that is participating in the construction of our world. Mass culture, kitsch forms, do the same thing, but they create a world that doesn’t exist, but in another sense, of course, does. It is a shallow world of manipulation and deceit, but it advertises itself as transparent and progressive. Literature, all narrative, does this too, of course. Our world is still partly the world of Shakespeare and Dante, whether one ever read either. We think about ourselves, and not just the world, though those things cannot really be separated, based on the stories we are told and that we hear. Even the fragments of stories shape how we evaluate and organize our lives, how we come to think of ourselves. If in theatre there is the residue of the repetitions of rehearsal, of memorized text, then in film there is capturing of actors, often long dead. That dislocation of time is one of the most haunting qualities of cinema. I remember Ork, who I believe was born William Collins in San Diego, but went by William Terry, and William Drake, and finally Terry Ork …and wrote on film under the name Noah Forde. I remember Ork’s never trusting the too literary in film. He loved Bresson and Minnelli, Ophuls, and Nick Ray, and he translated himself many early Cahiers du Cinema pieces. I share these memories of Ork because it was a time when I first started to grasp the pull of film, of cinephilia, and we’d often go to three and four films a day. In private film clubs, in apartments or lofts and at theatres or museums. Nobody had real jobs, at least not the kind of jobs you had to show up to much. Ork was also a very respectable poet, but part of his character flaw was an inability to ever allow his work to be published. But it was a time when I learned to appreciate Bly and Bill Knott, and James Wright. And these influences helped shape, I think, how I came to view theatre and film.
Gone Girl (2014). David Fincher, dr.

Gone Girl (2014). David Fincher, dr.


Over the last forty years the cultural landscape has changed dramatically. Media consolidation is one factor, and the continuing ascension of marketing and PR. The world that has been constructed by mass culture is far more intractable, it is more homogenized, more white, more pro military and more pro Imperialist as well. Take a show like The Blacklist. An amusing enough genre piece with a very effective James Spader in the lead. But the most recent episode, as an example, features a Mossad agent fighting a nefarious Iranian terrorist cell. These are the paradigms of mass culture. And it would be easy to almost randomly select other network shows and find the same manufactured political model. Less obvious are the deeper implications of film as an art form. For in this approach are to be found deeper political meanings. Ranciere quotes Michael Mourlet: “Cinema substitutes for our gaze a world in accordance with our desires.”This is true, up to a point, but the more significant question is what shapes our desires. Fincher’s film is an expression of a shallowness of desire, and to compare it to Hitchcock is to feel, on a primal emotional level, a lost world of other desires.
The Bad and The Beautiful (1953). Vincent Minnelli, dr.

The Bad and The Beautiful (1953). Vincent Minnelli, dr.


The sense of film as mechanized Utopia has fallen away, and the bombardment of image, the circulating of image and mini-narratives, ad copy really, has now so saturated daily life that our perceptual processes are unavoidably linked to this machine, but it is an oppressive and intellectually debilitating machine now. Watching Minnelli’s The Bad and The Beautiful (1953) is to access another time. It is also a very early *meta* film. A film about the business of making films.

David Hall and Roger T. Ames have written several excellent books on Taoist thought and on Confucius. “It is the word picture as experienced by the celebrant of the poem and not (necessarily) the private experience of the poet, that constitutes the image. In fact, the most productive manner of discussing images is in terms of their communally experienceable character. Only such images are directly efficacious.” Thus, for example, the I Ching (Book of Changes) contains particularistic images, that are activated by a social memory based on traditions, rituals, practices and literature. As Hall and Ames put it, these images are ‘ritually protected’. In the West, at least since the Enlightenment anyway (but almost certainly in a different way, before) language has privileged the literal, the instrumental, the denotive. Metaphor is secondary, or parasitical (Ames and Hall), and this is worth noting here because of the extraordinary influence of screen image and more particularly of film and TV.

Lita Albuquerque

Lita Albuquerque


In the Minnelli, the quality of adulthood is a sort of background. The idea that making movies is for the immature. And yet the fictional producer Jonathan Shields seems to the world of 2014 remarkably adult. There is no snark. No sarcasm in the entire film. There is forgiveness, but not amnesia, at the end. And Minnelli was, of course, among the more elegant movers of the camera. It helps to have Kirk Douglas, when Fincher had Ben Affleck. The coiled sexual energy in Douglas is palpable, and like James Stewart, Douglas was able to get angry and take it to the extreme very quickly. That was the energy below the surface of Douglas. And it was in his body, and it spoke to something that relates to class. John Garfield had a walk that was not dissimilar. James Cagney, too, in a more exaggerated fashion. If sharks could walk, that is how they would walk. But there was never anything sadistic in Douglas’ eyes. He could portray a villain (Out of the Past for example) but there was never wanton cruelty in his eyes.

Now, there is another aspect to technique in film. Fincher is always cited as a technically masterful director. From one perspective he is, but from another, he is not. The quote from Lao Tzu at the top is a relatively obscure passage. But the short version is that *de* is short hand for authenticity. The man or woman in possession of *de*, the zhenren, is the one who is capable of having gone past mastery. He or she is master of the mastery. Hence, not in need of mastery. This idea runs very deep in Confucius and in Taoist thought. The zhenren, the authentic person, is transformative by virtue of having deferred to nature, and then incorporated nature. That deference is hard to translate, but it’s relational, and it negates by erasing the oppositional, through allowing it. It is actually very close to Adorno.

Ad Dekkers

Ad Dekkers


“A work of art that fails to become its own most enemy remains the imitation of the muteness of history.”
Robert Hullot-Kentor.

Kentor quotes Wallace Stevens: “Art must be a violence against the violence; but if this violence is to be more than violence, what history presents art with must be returned to it pacified in form as memory.” I believe that is a paraphrase, and partly Hullot-Kentor’s commentary, but the point is that negative dialectics demands that art be impossible, and that it destroy itself in a sense. That sense in which it destroys itself is in mimesis. This is that sense in the viewer or audience or reader of the artwork that feels a helplessness. For memory is humbling. The cheap techno violence of most modern cinema is not just de-sensitizing, for it is that also, but it is there to create a sense of class hierarchy, and the illusion of power. For this pop-violence is not violent, it is fun, it is stimulating, and it is therefore allowed to be ideological. Maya Lin’s Viet Nam Memorial is the distillation of all wars, of mass industrial scale murder. The passage downward, to the underworld reminds us we are journeying across a dead zone, a killing floor of the soul. This is the Tao of violence in a sense. One of the most exquisite moments in The Bad and The Beautiful is when Jonathan Shields plays the recording of the actress’ father reading a monologue from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There is nothing in the least portentous in that scene. The father is dead, there is only his voice. Reading a scene about death and fleeting existence. In the violence of today’s Zombie films or war movies, there is only camouflaged plunder, there is an unmistakable echo of the domination of the surplus population today. For all of it, from The Walking Dead to Homeland, there is the camouflaged pillage of Globalization. The latent meaning lays there disguised as aliens or viruses or Muslim terrorists, or vampires or zombies, all of them operating in their own slightly different register, but all of them reproducing the essential violent dynamic of this society. A violence directed from the privileged few against the disempowered many.

Homeland, 2012 (Showtime).

Homeland, 2012 (Showtime).


The fundamental unreality of this pop-violence allows a distance from any particular violence, and in that unrealness lies the smug condescension of the ruling class, of white supremacist Imperialist thinking. The increasing casualness with which this violence is depicted also reflects the indifference of those in power to those without power. Shooting hoodie wearing black drug dealers is simply and actually quite obviously the drama of colonial murder. The mistakenly released super weaponized bio-agent is the reproduction of smallpox blankets handed to Native Americans. And so forth. The unrelenting lack of compassion or, especially, forgiveness in characters in mainstream TV and film is the posture of the overlord dealing with a runaway slave. The unreal level of revenge in husband and wife stories is, again, simply reproducing the guard on horseback watching over the chain gang. Take your pick.

“The gesture draws on a vernacular nominalism that amounts to a procedural dismissal of whatever aspect of an object might lay claim to the universal as the objects own autonomy; this is rejected as fraudulent and an injustice for presuming to acknowledge anything that could come between the object and those uses that might be made of it.”
Robert Hullot-Kentor
On Adorno’s aesthetics

So, the technical facility of a Fincher is one that only tells the same story, yet again. It is almost intentional (if unconscious) in its superficiality. When Rosamund Pike murders her billionaire boyfriend in Gone Girl, there is only set design, and choreography, but no real violence. Nobody is upset by that scene. Nobody. The facade violence then serves as the plaster for the shape of movement which is reproducing this familiar sub textual story of class placement and social hierarchies. It is plastering over a skeletal frame that leaves only the contours of domination. Without that sexualized titillating violence the architecture of oppression lears back at the viewer undisguised, a grimacing death’s head.

Donald Judd (1968).

Donald Judd (1968).


Of course there is also an ideological layer, the obvious one in which all Arabs are bad. So the Arab shooting the U.S. Marine is also, though, the plaster that allows a pattern recognition in which certain kinds of people are sacrificed to maintain order (power, property etc). The plantation owner becomes then, inversely, the Arab terrorist, and then they can easily reverse these roles in the next scene. For that violence is not real, it is carried out in sequences highly familiar, scored in the most familiar ways, and acted as if in an advertisement, a commercial. But in the end the raised fist is always the slave owner’s fist. Again, let me quote Hullot-Kentor on Adorno’s aesthetics: “By structure of law, we do not permit equality to be pursued except as a fulcrum of inequality.” So, since liberal *equality* still allows extreme privilege, homelessness, starvation, denied medical care, it therefore becomes the club with which to beat those not living up to this *equality* ideal. The white liberal has never forgotten that tolerance and equality were ideological weapons to protect his class interests. The mass cultural narrative is always telling stories of domination, even and especially if presented as stories of liberation.

The culture industry today, mass culture, hides its authoritarianism under masks with labels such as “human rights”, “equality”, and “anti violence” (or the Hollarback video etc). This is true, too, for celebrity left journalists from Penny to Danny Gold to VICE. All claims of barbarism (again, via Hullot-Kentor) or of brutal regimes, or of repression of rights, are always just echos of Lord Kitchner, of Empire, of King Leopold and the Raj. This structure and this grammar migrate easily enough to stories about Vampires or Zombies or super viruses. The entire Ebola narrative is one cooked up in some Hollywood office forty or sixty years ago. It is torn from the pages of Hollywood script labs, not biological warfare labs.

Andre Derain

Andre Derain


The idea of equality also is a structure of grammar and linguistics. And of instrumental thought. Yet, there is still another aspect buried in this; the expectation of a climax, a denouement, and a resolution. The financialized invisible, the economic underpinnings that allow for an elite group the ability to grasp or to *see* equality etc etc etc, also exists only in exchange value, spread sheets and ledgers and accessed by those ‘free’ enough to devote time to ‘self improvement’, to ‘working on themselves’. The bourgeois balanced checkbook is the model of restrained critique, fairness, reasonableness.

Adorno of course was fascinated with the disenchantment of society. Today, the news, the left and right paid journalists, all decry the evil of ISIS, the barbarity of Russia, and the ruthless dictators of the South America. Molly Crabapple can write a sentence that includes “…the brutal Maduro regime”. The white mask of smug superiority — and this is the same mask worn in narratives like Homeland, but also is the same plastered wall crack that provides white men in costumes (ideologically and aesthetically speaking) acting out The Walking Dead‘s fight for survival. Reducing mankind to the level of primitive, as is the narrative of all zombie or post apocolypse films and TV, is really an understanding that we ARE primitive, and that maybe we desire it. The problem with all science fiction evolutionary tales of super minds or AI stuff is that we are actually heading in the opposite direction. Capitalism and corporate science is not reaching for the stars (except literally to strip mine them) but rather enslaving and holding society back, reducing it to a primitive state of dependence for shelter, food, and warmth. Education is destroyed, so that sci fi future of brainiacs is only a few white brainiacs on private jets served by indentured slaves. Evolution for the few.

The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963). Roger Corman, dr.

The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963). Roger Corman, dr.


The West’s desire to conquer Nature is the antithetical stance of Taoism. The authentic person, the zhenren, dominates himself the better to defer to Nature, and merge with it in synthesis, and a mastery of mastery. The West’s idea of dominating nature starts with its acceptance of dominating man. In the false Missouri of Fincher’s Gone Girl, I was reminded of James Wright’s poem, Autumn Begins in Martin’s Ferry Ohio.

“In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Therefore,
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.”

It is one of the greatest of American poems. This is everything that Gone Girl was not. It was not Vertigo, it was not Minnelli or Ray or Mizoguchi, or Bresson or Godard. It was another Puritan cleansing of meaning and depth, of deep emotions. Adorno saw the truth of artworks in their form, and saw in their form the transcription of the history of human suffering. Instead, today, in mass culture the form transcribes only the history of domination, from the pov of the dominator. This was the message of Pasolini’s Salo. Today form is, in mass culture, the stern schoolteacher, ruler in hand, and in this interrupted gesture (per Adorno and Benjamin both) lies the latent sadism of all its meanings. It is not the violence of exploding zombie heads that should trouble us, but the violence of colonial plunder and conquest expressed over and over and over as the screeching tires of a cop car chasing a “bad guy”, or the nicely turned out woman lawyer working as DA, or the avuncular Uncle who makes funny comments in the latest sit com: for the really emancipatory in art is found in that which formally removes these meanings, and strips away the plastered holes. Art must negate that which is the whole, for, per Adorno, the whole is untrue.

One of the greatest of all science fiction films is The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, directed by Roger Corman. The dialectic of defeat has never been more clearly revealed. It is a modern Book of Job, and still, a sort of meta narrative recounting the history of micro budget B films.

James Wright

James Wright

There is no Missouri in the Fincher. There is only suburbia as found in TV series for fifty years. This is the ‘not-Missouri’ you might find on Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best. Affleck is such a hopelessly lumpen presence that it drains all energy from the scenes, even if the potential existed. In the entire film there was only one, maybe twenty second sequence, that I thought was transcendent in anyway. Rosamund Pike staggers away from her motel, and wanders into a truck stop/gas station. She uses the pay phone. That’s it. It’s just remarkably shot, the sound editing (which is good, I have to say, for the entire film) is perfect, and the sense of the background trucks is simply hypnotizing. And, above all of that, something unnerving is taking place. Its unexpected, and it’s scary. Probably not an accident its a sequence without Affleck. The meaning is linked to the non-representational. It is only felt, fleetingly, as the truth of cinema. That is mise en scene. It comes out of an interruption of the mimetic subjective process, where something happens that can’t be processed in conventional terms.

For Adorno, the negative dialectic meant turning violence against itself. The domination of nature, or conquest of nature, was the pre-history in ourselves, those archaic traces of the irrational. And only in negating it can come reconciliation. In The Man With the X Ray Eyes, the future of science is a nightmare of seeing that we cannot stop.

Titan missile silos, decommissioned. Location undisclosed. US midwest.

Titan missile silos, decommissioned. Location undisclosed. US midwest.


There is a whole discussion to be had around the dismissing of Freud by a society ever more dependent on, and linked to, an artifical landscape whose signposts were written in televisionese. The giant telecoms with advanced algorithmic analysis and data mining via the ever more invasive spy system of US/NSA/corporate controls has removed the personal choice in how to create ‘desires’ and ‘needs’. It is inching toward a total domination of data, applied in a weird logic of instrumental thinking to the individual shopper. Machines operate independent of human judgement. This marketing research, for that is in a sense what it all is, is now applied to most cultural product. Certainly to most TV and film. The fact that it is deeply flawed hardly matters because all outcomes are wins for the corporation. So, watching David Fincher’s latest film I couldnt help but realize that in a sense Fincher was accessing the reality as it is experienced by millionaire directors, who work for billion dollar studios, where marketing is based, largely, in the same machine logic as facebook or the NSA. The flatness, the loss of affect, that seems to peep back at the viewer from Gone Girl is the world as Fincher experiences it. Or rather, the world as Fincher ‘doesn’t’ experience it.

“Another way to describe the artwork’s masking of truth is to say that, instead of having or containing the truth, the artwork ‘reflects’ the truth, so long as reflection is here understood as a mode of mimesis.”
Tom Huhn
Introduction to Adorno

James Ensor

James Ensor


As a sort of thought experiment, it’s worth looking at talented director, a Cronenberg, and examine his early work in comparison with his later much higher budgeted work. Cronenberg felt creatively exhausted around the time of Spider. Now he makes bloated literary adaptations with high brow pretensions, and free of anything like his individual stamp — assuming one believes he had one. Videodrome certainly still feels like something special, and maybe Dead Ringers and Naked Lunch even. How does this relate to his ever increasing budget? Or fame? I don’t know. And its hardly a worthy experiment in the terms I’m making it. But my point is that Fincher is still making Nike commercials, essentially. We live in a society in which language has been altered into consumer-speak. Terms like ‘the private sector’, or ‘corporate family’, or any of the military jargon applied by the US press secretary, culminating in ‘disposition matrix’. These Orwellian terms are appropriated for entertainment purposes. Now, how does this link to film art? I think it’s partly linked by how difficult it is to make films such The Bad and the Beautiful today. There is nothing that is not connected electronically, and yet superficially. Text messages, twitter, social media, and just cell phones themselves have created a constant never stopping surge of information that people process quickly, in emotionally limited ways. Disposable information. Space is in flux, place is fluid, and I increasingly suspect that this quality of being ‘plugged in’ has very high psychic costs.

Thomas Eakins

Thomas Eakins


It is worth remembering that Adorno’s criticism, in fact much of his writing, was not intended for the University. Benjamin as well, wrote for radio and newspapers. Peter Uwe Hohendahl points out that by 1959 Adorno was at a stage of acute disillusionment with the University, and the state of philosophy. He was aware of the shrinking sphere of public discourse of an intellectual or philosophical, or critical nature. The counter culture that appeared in the sixties was more complex than, I think, has been understood by many commentators. But in that interview with Penny Arcade, from which I pulled a quote at the top of this post, she reflects back on the Bohemia that existed in New York at that time. It existed in Los Angeles, too, and in San Francisco. It existed in London certainly, and in Paris. It does not exist in any of those cities now. There is no sense of an avant garde, and I find people in general to be very cynical about this topic, about the loss of an avant garde. The young tend to think nothing was really lost. And this is linked to the dissolving or end of modernism. The changing of New York, or at least Manhattan, from Bohemia to Mall took place over about twenty years. Certainly the New York of the 1970’s, when I lived in Chinatown and saw movies every day, is long gone. The post modern has come to feel increasingly like an advertisement for passivity. Mass culture feels increasingly like fascism. The forgetting of what radical aesthetic practice meant is costly, for in place of the avant garde one gets increasingly trivial comic books, or one gets David Fincher.

Artworks, and here we are talking more specifically about film, are not mimetically negating the world, or reality per se, but are negating the spell that is cast upon us. It is not reality but the spell — and this is crucial in understanding work that isn’t opposing this spell. This is a central tenant for Adorno, that the society of domination was in the process of destroying subjectivity. This is also where Adorno borrowed heavily from Freud; for he saw all artworks as illustrating the history of subjectivity. This is also why Ranciere saw the concept (if that’s what it is) of mise en scene as inevitably leading to a kind of wisdom. For the spell of reality, or the spell of an artwork, both exist only by the subject’s submission, or embrace, and this is the truth of mimesis. To express without reification, or in another sense, without objectification. But this expression is both fleeting, and historically mediated.

“The unity of the system derives from unreconcilable violence.”
Adorno

Zoe Leonard

Zoe Leonard


Adorno believed that “legitimate works of art must without exception be socially undesired”. Now, the emigre psychoanalysts and artists who fled fascism, arrived on the cusp of McCarthyism, and their already well developed paranoia meant that they, at least superficially, tried to adjust and assimilate to life in the U.S. Psychoanalysis turned to adjustment, and artists looked to avoid overtly political statements. Even Minnelli, born in Michigan, was descended from Sicilian radicals and revolutionaries who were forced to flee Palermo after the uprising of 1848. The sense of exile ran deeply in all these emigre directors; Lang, Wilder, Siodmak, et al. The history of European culture and education was linked with oppression and flight. Tom Huhn makes a profoundly perceptive comment in his introductory essay on Adorno, when he makes mention of Freud’s aside that the history of civilization might be written using a chart that indicates the ever increasing use of soap. This also connects with Theweleit’s study of the German Freikorps; sexuality, fascism, moisture and dirt. Huhn adds that soap is the anti-mimetic, psychoanalytically speaking, and that Soap Operas were so called for a reason.

Syd Soloman

Syd Soloman


Soap then is a controlling mechanism for the psyche. And mimesis is stunted by the *too clean*. The point here is only that the work of these emigre directors, and their children (Minnelli) was mimetic in a sense that much later work was not. Mimesis is always in process, and must not stop for explanation, for that rigidity in form is, I think, akin to Reich’s ideas about repression and the rigidity of the body. The sensuality of Kirk Douglas vs the rigidity of Ben Affleck. The moist mise en scene of Minnelli and the dry and arid in Fincher. This is, no doubt, pushing this idea in a far too literal way, but it helps explain something of what has changed culturally over the last half century. The truth content of the artwork, to follow Adorno again, is reflected — and today, the unceasing production of kistch, and pop-violence, and reactionary work is reflecting back the already destroyed subjectivity of a culture of commodity fethishizing, conformity masked as individuality, and domination as freedom. The post modern expression, in mass culture, is repreating the same story, the same callus condescension and the same interrupted blow, the overlord poised to beat his servant while chatting to the cook.

Cannibalizing Culture

David Benjamin

David Benjamin

“These sacrifice zones of the corporate state are expanding. The recent shooting of an unarmed young black man in Ferguson revealed the insidious disease of white supremacy and how easily U.S. cities can turn into a military occupied police state. With unprecedented persecution of whistle-blowers, the Obama administration continues to threaten press freedom and engage in extrajudicial killing through drone attacks for anyone who is on the receiving end of U.S. imperial foreign policy.
The world is quickly becoming one big open-air prison.”

Nozomi Hayase

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
Paulo Freire

“-What takes place- in a narrative is from the referential {reality} point of view literally nothing…”
Roland Barthes

“This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate.”
Thomas Jefferson
1813, on problem of ‘Indians’.

If you took the major institutional equity theatres in major American cities, or mid majors, say population of one million, or a million and a half (Rochester is, after all, a million, as is Birmingham…and neither are considered large metro areas) and you examined the new plays, new work produced at these theatres for the last twenty five years, I am willing to bet you that you cannot find a single work by a playwright who wasnt either a graduate of an MFA theatre arts or writing program (and maybe some were only Enlgish majors or Law), or at least *developed* in house at the theatre in question. In other words, I would guess there are no plays written by Mortuary workers, or truck drivers, or nurses or warehouse workers, or factory workers or kindergarten teachers or ranch hands. Not unless they have gone through the ideological cleansing of an MFA program. Rarely, however, does the working class hear its own voice on stage. But my sense of U.S. culture today is one of utter and absolute homogenization. The plays feature a white core perspective, and they feature an acceptable topical theme, or just pure sentimentalized kitsch that reinforces an identical ideology. They are plays of not amnesia, but of manufactured memory.

There are gifted playwrights out there, its just that they don’t get mainstrage productions anywhere. On occasion a few will make a second stage appearance. And this is a related problem, because theatres dont develop the radical voices, the unsual talent. They may occasionally provide a single second or third stage short run production. They never provide the promise of five years of productions, even small ones. I was fortunate enough to work at Padua. To know I had a home each year. That is nonexistent today. My first play was awful, but I’d like to think I improved. Young writers need that support. Just the knowledge they have a home. What they don’t need is dramaturgs rounding off the edges, sanitizing and shaping their work to conform to the acceptable pattern. I had a dramaturg tell me once I lacked conflict in a play. Now, maybe I did, I can’t say, but the idea was that somehow ALL plays had to contain a certain kind of conflict. But worse, its not the details, its the backdrop, the extant *idea* of a social reality in which we all live. Or should. And one must write in a way that respects that backdrop.

Syad Haider Raza

Syed Haider Raza

I have noticed several trends in mass cultural entertainment of late. And I sense something else at work in how certain film and TV projects fail. One trend is the manufacturing of the ordinary. It is, it seems, a necessary construct for white America. Their sanity demands this prop be kept in view. And millionaire Hollywood actors and actresses flock to play, oh, the role of an ordinary junior high school math teacher…in Maine, least diverse state in the country. There is something suffocating in this finely detailed blandness. Oh I am a millionaire but I wish I were a high school math teacher. In a country that now ranks near the top among advanced nations in child poverty, and for whom nearly a third of its population lives right at the poverty line. There are no such places as are imagined in these stories. But August Osage County, and now Olive Kittridge upcoming on HBO are the homogenizing of not just representation, but of history and of community. Once upon a time Theodore Dreiser and Faulkner, and Inge wrote tormented autopsies of the nightmarish claustrophobia of inbred small town America. You drive across the US and stop at a dozen small towns in Idaho, Utah, Kansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, and West Virginia say, and what you find is unemployment, alcoholism, domestic abuse, bigotry and anger. Its curious how rarely unemployment finds its way into these *white ordinary* sagas so beloved by Hollywood. Or travel to the Reservations, to high plains tribes, what’s left of them, or to the southwestern deserts, and onto Navaho or Hopi land, and what you find is poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, and government duplicitiy, even now. Or just stop in at the any of the prisons, federal or state. Allenwood, Walla Walla, Victorville, Lee, Big Sandy, Snake River up in Oregon, or Lompoc, Leavenworth or Terminal Island. The state’s super max joints like Pelican Bay and Florence ADX, or the crumbling Orleans Parish, or more crumbling San Quentin or Sing Sing, or the sinister Ely Nevada, which even years ago I remember having a rep as bad as those at Attica or Rikers or Soledad. Then a prisoner rotted to death at Ely, from untreated gangrene, and the public began to, sort of, demand a few small token reforms.

Picnic, by William Inge, original cast, Ralph Meeker, Paul Newman, Janice Rule.

Picnic, by William Inge, original Broadway cast 1953, Ralph Meeker, Paul Newman, Janice Rule.

All one has to do is listen to the scoring for Olive Kittridge, in the trailer out now, to feel the condescension and smugness of the project. This is white world of minor problems that are not really such big problems, after all. There are certain adjectives, when read in a review of a film, that mean one should flee and not look back (irascible is one, whimsical is another, and of course heart warming). This sickening sentimentality is, I am finding, now sutured to the fine cross hatch stitching of all things white, of a nostalgia for an imagined world that never never never existed. The entire thrust of this sort of narrative is to erase the tragic, to erase the actual suffering and despair of the poor today on the streets of America. To erase the history of genocide and slavery. But it is also, more, to fabricate an imaginary world as if it were real, and then allow it to provide a sort of backdrop for discussions about the real world. Again, there is nowhere in the United States like these towns. But its worth repeating that Maine is the least diverse state in the entire country. Fiftieth out of fifty.

Inge’s best play is probably Picnic. It is interesting to examine the interior worlds of Inge’s characters to those today found in Olive Kittridge or August Osage county. Or read An American Tragedy, or McTeague by Frank Norris.

Detroit House of Corrections, women's division. 1899

Detroit House of Corrections, women’s division. 1899

For even in the classic noir films of the 1940s, there was a fundamental probing of the corruption of institutional America. The kind and decent were preyed upon by the ruthless and sociopathic. A film such as High Sierra, where the protagonist is a criminal, “Mad Dog Roy Earle”, but a man, one haunted by his own actions, vulnerable and damaged, and almost tragic. The film investigates forgiveness, and sacrifice. The potency of such films comes from their basic distrust of society. Society is almost a malevolent force just out of frame. This was the world of Hammett and Chandler too, and of James Cain. But on another level, one can sense certain structural changes occurring in mainstream TV and film. In TV, the serialized narrative must manufacture reasons to stay on the air. Everything becomes a circling, a delaying of the story. Characters wait, and yet they don’t wait in an effort of unearthing new insight, they delay to see what Neilsen share they captured that week. The more prestige products — created as finite series (mini series) somehow often fall into this pattern, only because its so familiar. The Affair, the product of Sarah Treem, is so incalculably bad, so trite, so cringe inducing that its hard to find words for it. Never has the privileged world of WHITE ruling class ideology been so nakedly presented. The working class characters are treated as almost mentally damanged, and in possession of DNA scripted to exhibit lack of ‘couth, and in this case, even an ignorance of anal sex. Its all so strange and surreal, a show in which Dominic West’s eyes betray that caught in the headlight panic. How can I null this deal? Maybe I need a new agent.

High Sierra (1941), Raoul Walsh, dr.

High Sierra (1941), Raoul Walsh, dr.

I realized this week that the problem of much criticism of TV, from the new pseudo celebrity journalists of the pseudo left, is exactly consistent with this world. The last two postings I’ve touched on the absence of class analysis. It is simply a hole in the prevailing discourse. Look at the films this year that are being predicted as contenders for Best Picture. Never mind the utterly regressive and moronic insistence on this as a marker for anything, but in purely sociological terms, the list (as I read it in The Atlantic) was the following: Boyhood, The Imitation Game, Birdman, Whiplash, Unbroken, Insteller, and An American Sniper.

Now I don’t want to take up too much time on this, for its all rather obvious. Linklater’s Boyhood is an unwatchable exercise in misogyny and, again, this pretend world of white ordinariness. The Imitation Game is a historical bio pic of Alan Turing with the execrable Benedict Cumberbatch, and not having seen it, its hard to know what really to expect. But its possible that it might be interesting. And its directed by Mortyn Tyldun, a Norwegian responsible for two vaguely interesting films in Norway. So I give it a pass, for now. Birdman is more solipsistic cannibalizing of the movie industry, and is really just more white neurosis. Whiplash is a feel good cliche set against elite white privileged education, and Unbroken is by Angelie Jolie, but nobody’s seen it yet. But I mean, what does one expect from the woman who shut down an entire African nation so she could have her baby in peace?Intersteller is the latest Chris Nolen exercise in meta-emptiness (also very white and set in outer space…strip mining Kubrick’s 2001), and finally Clint Eastwood’s An American Sniper. I’m not sure I need to really say anything more about that.

Walter Darby Bannard

Walter Darby Bannard


There is an interesting discussion to be had that revolves around the fact that there is a good deal of criticism of violence in film and TV. And indeed, the level and saturation of violence is astonishing. But the sentimental drivel that is August Osage County is rarely criticized in terms nearly as harsh. Why? Which does more harm to a culture; The Expendablesor August Osage County, for example? Im going with August Osage County. But perhaps they are inseparable — the coma inducing insulin short fall of August Osage County, and the thrum of gun shots, broken glass, screaming women (or men, less often) and bombs and aging men with too much cosmetic surgery. Is Hannibal worse than The Affair? No, no, I mean finally its not actually. Shakespeare was violent, so was Sophocles. But there was narrative, and video games, or violence porn like Saw, abolishes narrative. Its very important to make and identify these distinctions. For failing to do that starts to erase all art, to turn in the philistines that censor literature and want profanity labels on rap albums. There lurks the latent Puritan.

The reasons that even a show like Hannibal, which traffics in displays of forensic gore, is less destructive than August Osage County, is because at least in Hannibal, there is the innate dignity of narrative, of actors like Mads Mikkelsen or Lawrence Fishburne, who evince a sense of the passage of character from A to B. That human experience is given value through such performative mechanisms. In the saccharine dishonesty of August Osage County, the cliche driven familiarity, the dishonesty of the white ordinary again, or a propagandistic rural America, and of sickeningly syrupy acting — the end result is one of diminishment and insufficiency; that also serves to stigmatize those rural poor who can’t measure up to such representations.

Chiricahua Apaches. Carlisle Boarding school. 1900.

Chiricahua Apaches. Carlisle Boarding school. 1900.


It is hugely destructive to turn to an Osage County, or Olive Kittridge as a cure or tonic for Boardwalk Empire. There is violence and there is violence. One really should not over simplify the question of violence in film, TV, and theatre, or in literature. There is no such thing as some *violence* essence. It happens in narrative contexts, and it happens in the context of anticipation and marketing. I feel nothing but a kind of ulcerous pain internally, when I see Samantha Power interviewed…as a personal example. I feel literally nauseated at the sight of Netanyahu, or Eric Holder, or Antonin Scalia, and I feel a smouldering rage when I read the mannequin left self annointed celebrity scribes such as Molly Crabapple or Laurie Penny. These are the release valves, those who diffuse the anger of the under classes. If art matters, if it does shape the consciousness that is a pre-condition for social change and revolution, then blaming depictions of violence only has cogency if Osage County and the like are at the top of all lists.

Go to google and type in August Osage County trailer. I cant link it here, I just cant. Do the same for Olive Kittridge.

Artists Anonymous

Artists Anonymous


Remember that throughout U.S. history, the story of Native American genocide was ignored, buried, justified, and that even today a football team in the NFL refuses to change the name *Redskin* speaks to the absolute invisibility of this story. I mention this because that process of assimilation that the Native American was forced to endure. The boarding schools (Indian schools) like Carlisle in Pennsylvania, were in essence only exaggerated versions of what education for the poor has always been. As a sidebar on mascots, the Cleveland Indians baseball team is finally retiring the logo nicknamed *Chief Wahoo*, which is, in fact, a far more offensive image than even the Redskins logo. This is 2014, and sports franchises for multi million dollar teams (maybe billion) are still using blatantly racist imagery. Take a moment and ponder that.

wahooI dont have the same confidence in reforming education that many people I know have, and these are people I respect. But the fact that accreditation remains in place as a guiding principle is reason enough to be suspicious, but beyond that, the very idea of compulsory education has lost the thread of what was once its obvious raison d’etre.

What are schools supposed to be, in theory, doing? Turning out the well rounded humane compassionate tolerant and articulate individuals? The socially conscious erudite skilled and imaginative human? Nobody believes that, few even want that, if they’re being honest. Schools are there to squash creativity, condition students in the acceptance and naturalness of social hierarchies, and in obedience to wealth. Not to the powerful, really, but more to the wealthy. Wealth is its own virtue and with it comes power. There is a sense that all institutions are fully corrupt now. That resistance almost cannot really effectively begin within institutions. It may certainly migrate there, but one of the truths of an aesthetic resistance is that there needs to be a certain radical poetics, an interpretive radicalism, a return of focus to hermeneutical concerns. And the idea of a new attention to culture, to narrative, to image, to art seems important to me.

Andro Wekua

Andro Wekua


Take as an example the recent *Hollaback* video, which garnered something like 5 million viewings and elicited in the tens of thousands of comments where posted, was also critiqued for the underlying ideology of white supremacy that was its backdrop. This was an obvious case, but in one way it was encouraging that so many recognized the message. The message wasn’t ‘dont harass women'; the message was, white women are at risk from ghetto dwelling black and latino men. There is a sense I’ve been having lately that suggests the white pov, the foregrounded white storyline, the narratives of white problems in a white world are becoming more strident. More panicky. The Hollaback video is not about this white woman walking the streets of NYC. It is about this *white woman* walking the streets of NYC. She is not an everywoman. If she were, she would be many. There would be that shift of perspective from her specialness, to the fungible *woman*, harassed by men, and by men who would be edited to shift the focus from individual to social, from subjective to objective. The video would be about a system of patriarchal privilege that allows for the reinforcing of this privilege in acts of verbal stigmatizing and objectifying and humiliation. That men exert a tacit abusive power over all women. When the image is a particular white woman, with an implied class, and disproportionate numbers of abusive men are black or latino — the narrative elides into one of colonial space and dynamics. Its also serving as a pro-gentrification narrative.

There has been a change in what ideas of ‘topicality’ mean. Topicality is a word used in advertising and promotion, and mainstream criticism or reviewing and is code for self congratulatory. Topical means the theme will flatter the target audience. In theatre today, just as an example, look at Theresa Rebeck’s Zealot, given its world premiere at South Coast Rep in Southern California. Some critics *liked* it, many did not. I have not seen it. But how does such pablum reach the main stage of a major institutional theatre? This is an almost laughably bad sort of CNN version of middle eastern politics. And of course, at the center of the story are a pair of US and UK diplomats. It is seemingly impossible for playwrights today to recognize their own world vision is one borrowed from TV news and earlier films and western journalism. Why write this story? Rebeck is a TV hack and New York playwright with a pretty substantial reputation — but born of what? Quick name me a Theresa Rebeck play.
I cant.

"Indians Planting", engraving, Theodore de Bry, 1591

“Indians Planting”, engraving, Theodore de Bry, 1591


But worse is that this is the theatre of faux realism. The representational world as seen by affluent Americans. It is Orientalist and depicts a cartoon image of Islam. I don’t think that this is at all unfair to say. Compare to Genet’s The Screens of sixty years ago, or some of Peter Brook’s work, or even Paul Bowles. Or Margarite Duras. Bowles ‘was’ the white man expat who wrote explicitly about the tensions of white colonial thinking, the harm and the wounds of European erasure of the culture of the colonized. The alienated white tourist. Bowles also said that the Sahara was community. It was mythic too, he called it ‘being close to the absolute’. But he also noted in several interviews, that the desert changes you, but that it changed through an immersion in a kind of community long disappeared elsewhere. Today, in reading the LA Times review, for Rebeck, that community is replaced by western diplomats. The Muslim characters are seen through western eyes. The issues are one’s imagined by a paternalistic West. Making it ‘topical’ is to insert a faux feminist issue about veils. And the form resembles that of a TV mini series (of course Rebeck wrote for NYPD Blue, Law & Order, and Smash). Now, again, I haven’t seen this production, and perhaps it is wildly and singularly different from the other five or six plays I’ve read of Rebeck’s. But that disclaimer should be inserted here. And its certainly possible that every reviewer was missing some deeper point. But does anyone honestly think that a quick scan of the plot points doesn’t convey the truth of what I’m saying? And I’m not picking on Rebeck particularly. It is just that working class and underclass voices do not make appearances on big theatre stages in the United States anymore.
Reza Syed Haider (S.H. Raza)

Syed Haider Raza (S.H. Raza)


That today, a William Inge feels radical by comparison is rather remarkable. Clifford Odets dropped out of high school, and founded the Group Theatre. There were many University educated artists attached to the Group Theatre, but the sensibility of their work was left wing politically, and never concerned with ideas of the status quo. A different era, yes, and that’s rather the point. Many of those writers and directors and actors; Harold Clurman, John Garfield, John Randolph, Oscar Saul, Morris Carnovsky, Sandy Meisner, and Joe Bromberg, were later working, even if briefly, in Hollywood — most were children of immigrants, working class, many rose up through Yiddish Theatre, and the influence can be felt in those noir of the forties and fifties.

India Song (1975), Marguerite Duras, dr.

India Song (1975), Marguerite Duras, dr.

There is seemingly no escape from PR firms, and their reach extends deeply into the tissue of almost any topic. Everything is mediated by marketing. Malala is *handled* by a PR firm. Military action is fed to the public via a PR firm, or several PR firms. War crime tribunals are dealing with marketed materials half the time, and all policy decisions are shaped by Madison Avenue to some degree. The United States is now, in its daily operations a cartoon. But the deep state carries on regardless of the lurid and increasingly idiotic nature of the professed rulers and people of influence.

Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, from The New Yorker

“-Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.–
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?

Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

You do?
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.
Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

No?
It’s because he’s smart.

So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

Maurizio Cattelan

Maurizio Cattelan


That a Supreme Court Justice believes in a literal Devil who is out doing mischief, should not be surprising. This is a long ways now from Thurgood Marshall, William O. Douglas, and William Bennett. From a certain perspective, the Warren court is to the government today as Melville is to Jonathan Safer Foer. I’m being glib, and a bit snarky myself, but the nepotism and insularity today in media, and fine arts, let alone Hollywood is actually pretty staggering. Being a slow learner it was only this week that I realized Laurie Simmons was the mother of Lena Dunham. Well, of course, and the father is the stupefyingly talentless Carroll Dunham. (go ahead, google his paintings). This is only worth noting because it is so common. A good many people will suggest that this is really not of much importance, or meaning, or that it is resentful on my part, or that, god knows… but the truth is that culture cannot finally survive this level of suffocating intellectual partisanship. That social networking and family connections, as well as just class, is now so nakedly rewarded ahead of actual talent is the result of forty years of direct attacks on art and artists. It is impossible to imagine The Group Theatre today. Culture is entertainment, occasionally with a *message*, but never threatening, never politically radical, never too serious and never too difficult. It is clever, and snide, and novel and usually loud and bright and narcissistic. It is usually always misogynistic. It conforms to a white world view, an Imperialist world view, and it is endlessly familiar, and solipsistic. It is the imaginary manufactured *ordinary* presented with a wink as *extraordinary*. This coy nod to the common folk is a feel good ploy by the ownership class. The truth is that today the cultural gatekeepers are an increasingly narrow and privileged class, most of whom regard culture as something of a hobby, but always with an eye to profit. Whether they even admit it to themselves, it is a province cleansed of the unruly or uncontollable, or subversive. Today film and theatre operate cannibalizing earlier versions, or earlier iconic works.
Edward Corbett

Edward Corbett


Take Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. It is sometimes to easy to forget just how influential this film was. How it has shaped several decades of how the public imagines outer space {sic} and created the stylistic template for all future science fiction. It was almost a new genre onto itself. I am not a gigantic Kubrick fan, but there is no question that his artistic integrity seems even larger now than during his lifetime. I suspect Tarkovsky’s difficulty with 2001, and his decision to make Solaris as a sort of critique of it, was a deeply felt instinct, and a correct one. For in ways unintended I think 2001 has become something that fused certain latent dreams in much of the collective US psyche, and whose style code has been appropriated by the military itself. The slightly kitsch elements in it, from the ape costumes to the acid flash back corridor, are now the stuff of countless cheesy sci fi films, but the more elegant elements, the neutered emotionless HAL voice and the equally emotionally withdrawn Keir Dullea, seemed to have infected the dream life of the two generations, or three. The genius of the film is really in the sense of meticulous care that went into it, and in the rhythm of the editing, the duration of each scene. It is a hugely formal film, but it is also ambitious and grand in design. Not as an expression of neurotic problems masquarading as myth (ala Terrence Malick), but a truly sort of relgio-mythic monolith in its own right. Its how I have always experienced the film, as Kubrick’s own totem making enterprise; the movie becomes as enigmatic and seamless as those monoliths themselves.
2001; A Space Odyssey (1968)...Stanley Kubrick, dr.

2001; A Space Odyssey (1968)…Stanley Kubrick, dr.


Kubrick’s intelligence is what separated him from his imitators. And that he recognized that unseen forces shaped the world, forces outside his own subjective concerns. And, honestly, I don’t think he ever made a film he should feel ashamed of or made for pure profit. But to lead this back to the homogenizing of culture today, I am willing to bet that one cannot find a space narrative made since 1970 that does not predicate its vision of space on the Kubrick. Kubrick may well have shaped how NASA imagines space.

The biggest problem though, for homogenized culture, and not entertainment — lets pretend we can separate them — is that it adheres to and draws from this fake reality. There is a curious contradiction at the heart of this *small town* realtiy ala Olive Kittridge, and that is that small town rural America is also the butt of endless jokes, and the location for slasher and psycho killer films. Countless numbers of them. *August; Texas Chain Saw County*. So there is this coy wink, this slight nudge, when the idealized small town depiction comes on. For deep down the manufacturers of these films hold such locations, the real versions, in contempt.

Raza Syed Haider

Syed Haider Raza (S.H. Raza)


Often I think it is just that seriousness scares today’s producer and public. I’ve posted three pieces by the now 92 year old Syed Raza Haider, originally from Madyha Pradesh, but longtime Paris resident. The devotional mathematics of Haider, the geometry that encases the void. When I look at Haider’s work I often think of Kubrick, perhaps oddly. I think of Kenneth Noland too. But I think bindu, the point of focus in a sacred geometry of Hindu philosophy, as well as the Kaballah, is expressed in a care for the single detail out of many. The geometrician at work, as Blake drew God, the builder of the Universe. For the artist, there must be a silence behind each sound, veils behind which secrets are to be found, or not. And in narrative there must be an ability to transcribe something of the tragic and suffering of the vulnerable.

I wanted to bring this discussion back to the topic of violence again.

“Violence in movies today is as peculiarly affecting these days as stupidity.” writes Timothy Bewes. And his discussion of it touches a bit on what I was writing above. He continues…“Fear of violence in postmodernity renders all action violent and all violence erotic.”

In a society of acute, and often immaterial control, of endless obfuscation and neutralizing of dissent; the expression and/or representation of violence feels a bit like that frozen moment, the Naked Lunch, the distillation of recognition of the super or meta enclosing of daily life. There is a line from Shakespeare and Marlowe through Dostoyevksy and Kafka and Melville, in which narrative cannot escape its own personal psychic trauma, and its relationship to legal state violence and domination. In narrative Ive called this ‘primal crime’. The lack of it, the substitution of neurotic bourgeois concerns of marriage or property or career feel oddly more damanging psychically and certainly eerie in that post modern way of suggesting ur-passivity. Walter Benjamin touched on this idea of legal violence, in his essay Critique of Violence. The appeal of violence, its erotic appeal, is not just the process of numb inducing repetition of the same, but also because its an expression of defiance to the regulatory state.

Waiting for Lefty (1935), by Clifford Odets. Group Theatre.

Waiting for Lefty (1935), by Clifford Odets. Group Theatre.


Violence that takes place, representationally, outside a state framework tends to be treated, narratively, as criminal. State violence is righteous and protective. Fear of the outside. Now, this is only one register, for in another way, there is a de-sensitizing assault of non stop images of violence and death and pain that are only expressions of pure titillation. But how does that work? How do images of violence get marketed? They are marketed in an overall strategy to instill fear and suspicion and distrust in people about other people. That is the actual dark side of the *individualizing* theme. It distracts from the real enemy which is the system of domination in place. Of capitalism.

Bewes cites Hegel, the ignoble or disrupted spirit, realizes the dialectical movement of true Spirit. Now, this was the Dostoyevskian Underground Man in a sense. There is much to dissect in all of this, but here my point is only that art is not real life. We tell each other stories not to reinforce equilibrium, but to tear it apart. Not all violence is the same, and without transgression, there is no radicalism at all.

Narrative and Empathy

Raymond Hains

Raymond Hains

“Just like the operations of the consciousness, these scriptural graves are defective: there is a fissure in the construction, a leak in the system. In an almost totemic way, historiography is infected by what it touches as the past always seems to overhaul the present. And thus the real not only reveals itself in discourse, it also makes a disturbing appearance when writing is confronted with its own limits or, in other words, when the factory of history suddenly has to face its industrial waste.”
Alex Demeulenaere

“Strategies are undermined by unpredictability. Tactics make an ally of unpredictability.”
Stan Goff

“Narration created humanity.”
Pierre Janet

There is a fascinating dialogue between Fabio Akcelrud Durao, and Robert Hullot-Kentor, from just a couple years ago. Hullot-Kentor is a translator of Adorno. He’s a very interesting figure, though one (as I wrote last post) who I disagree with a good deal. But…the topics of both mimesis and space are introduced. And I have to confess, re reading his essay on Barbarism I find I am not at all sure what exactly the point is, but then perhaps it is that such points themselves are barbaric. (but Im not sure).

RHK: “Where there is space, there are objects of systematic management”.

That’s not exactly right, or rather not right at all. Hobbes wonderful quote is cited; “Space is the phantasm of a thing existing without thought”. But Hullot-Kentor does say “Mimesis is primordial to empathy”. One has to dig into the idea of mimesis, which almost everyone has accepted as Adorno’s impossible idea. Hullot-Kentor calls it ‘the involuntary karaoke of the self’. Which is more or less what I’ve meant when I say we re-narrate as we engage with narrative. Watching a film, we practice this karaoke, when we read a novel or short story, we re-narrate as we go along. In theatre, we don’t quite. And in poetry, I might argue, some poetry anyway, operates in a way much closer to theatre. Any good play is also always a poem. Its one of the reasons I’ve always suggested that playwrighting students read poetry. Read *about* poetry, and read poets on poetry.

Cleve Gray

Cleve Gray


Now I want to dig a bit into this idea of barbarism, but more as it relates to mimesis, and that is not really Hullot-Kentor’s focus. He writes :“Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, this becomes the thought that art as form is the unconscious transcription of the history of human suffering.”
This is correct, I believe, but the problem is a bit later the idea that Paleolithic rock paintings are *exclusively* mimetic participation in a magical object… and that Neolithic artifacts represent a significant change of consciousness, and of the human relationship to the group. So maybe in a sense, this is not correct, or not completely. Adorno was interested in the ways in which artworks enhance our relationship to the world. The artwork is only art if it changes you somehow. Hullot-Kentor is quite right, when he says this however:

“If art—when art is art—understands us better than we can intentionally understand ourselves, then a philosophy of art would need to comprehend what understands us. Thinking would need to become critically imminent to that object; subjectivity would become the capacity of its object, not simply its manipulation. That’s the center of Adorno’s aesthetics. It’s an idea of thought that is considerably different from the sense of contemporary “theory,” where everyone feels urged to compare Derrida with Nietzsche, the two of them with Levinas, and all of them now with Badiou, Zizek and Agamben. That kind of thinking is primarily manipulation. It’s the bureaucratic mind unconsciously flexing the form of social control it has internalized and wants to turn on others.”

Adorno saw much of human misery through the Freudian lens. His growing despair at the idea of effective change was probably pretty prescient in a sense.

Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler


But let me return to mimesis. The idea of mimesis cannot be separated from the past. Nor, really, from the uncanny. And from space — and by extension, from home and homelessness. And homesickness. History is the creation of a place; the past. Michel de Certeau suggests that history creates the past, as a place, to be studied from this other place, the present. That history is both made, and in the making is entombed. It is placed away in the tombs of the present. But this history is written down. Michel de Certeau wrote about the writing of history — in the sense that writing included a partial forgetting, and besides, there were traces of oral history that kept returning — returning as sort of trace elements. As accusations. I am approaching this for the moment from the perspective of art. And especially of theatre. Last posting included a comment thread debating various playwrights. I have kept thinking about why some writers, some playwrights anyway, feel so different. I have talked about the space on stage, but I wanted to add to that that the speaking of text is a way of recapturing the forgotten oral traces of history. Now de Certeau and Adorno both (and Benjamin) were interested in Freud’s anthropology, if that’s what we want to call it. And writing began to change the idea of exile, of home and of homesickness. Shakespeare enters at exactly this point. For the 16th century marked the ascension of writing, of writing as discursive. And of writing that was then spoken as memorized text. And I think this is largely neglected when people talk about or write about theatre. Theatre is memorized writing. And this process of memorization is then presented, performed, and all that takes place on stage is a revealing of this fact. One way to say this is that theatre fails when it forgets the history of its own making (rehearsal and memorization and direction and blocking etc).

Sadhus, streets of Mathura, 1950s. Photographer unknown.

Sadhus, streets of Mathura, 1950s. Photographer unknown.

De Certeau sees the *uncanny* as a clash or confrontation with the surpressed or forgotten voices of the past, those that written history left out. Edgar Allen Poe implied this in several places. Most good writers know the experience of voices coming to you. And no amount of scientific psychiatric or rational explanation is even close to satisfactory in regards to this. Sometimes things write you. You don’t write them. The play isn’t a thing anyway, it is a process of revealing. And to be etymological, it is revelation. This is one reason that improvised dialogue is so unsatisfactory. I have never believed ‘improv’ had any value for actors. It simply takes them away from their central job which is to transcribe something of those uncatalogued voices — the history of memorization, of memory. The history of memory is what all plays are about.

There is a very trenchant sentence in a review of Adorno’s early book on Kierkegaard that is cited by Hullot-Kentor. It was by Siegfried Krakauer, Adorno’s early mentor and friend.
“In the view of these studies {Benjamin’s} the truth-content of a work reveals itself only in its collapse…the work’s claim to totality, its systematic structure, as well as its superficial intentions share the fate of everything transient, but as they pass away with time the work brings characteristics and configurations to the fore that are actually images of truth.”

Mounir Fatmi

Mounir Fatmi


This is true of theatre, for theatre is so welded to time, and space, and the ephemeral — or the West’s idea of ephemeral — and a play cannot be repeated, only made anew. It is is transient. But this also touches on the psychoanalytic aspect of the artwork, which operates as a dream. A recurring dream, per Hullot-Kentor, that as it recurs and becomes familiar, the *content* of the dream fades away leaving what Adorno would call its *truth content*. So today’s audience for Shakespeare is not the same as the audience of 1600, the truth content of his work, of any one play, has emerged over four hundred years. But like dreams, it is impossible to nail down what that truth content is exactly. Historical truth emerges, again, a bit as revelation. This is also related to tragedy. The tragic drama of Greece were rituals of revealing. This spatial model, the idea of truth emerging, or something arising from the depths of the sea, a submarine or some submersible leviathan surfacing, or flesh falling off the body leaving only the skeleton — all of this is found embedded in myth and the artifacts of antiquity and pre history.
Nigel Cooke

Nigel Cooke


So, truth is revealed in the disintegration of the artwork. This is history as it interacts with memory, but also with the system of domination. And at this point, the questions of class and mediation by propaganda, and of screens — of learning, education, all come together. To return this to the discussion of individual artists, and in this case to playwrights, is perhaps useful. And it is important for how one approaches both education, and interpretation. Looking at, say, Caryl Churchill, the subject of a long testy debate on the comment thread of the last posting here.
A Party for Boris, (Ein Fest für Boris ). 1970, by Thomas Bernhard, directed by Martin Frauenhofer. Passau, Germany.

A Party for Boris, (Ein Fest für Boris ). 1970, by Thomas Bernhard, directed by Martin Frauenhofer. Passau, Germany.

There is something conceptual in her plays, it is a theatre of the conceptual. This overlaps with metaphor, but the narrative is enclosed and contained within a concept. This might serve to explain her extraordinary popularity. For the theatre of the conceptual (which I guess I’ve just coined) is one in which the play runs into a brick wall interpretively speaking. This is not to pick on Caryl Churchill particularly, for there are many far worse examples of this conceptual expression. Tom Stoppard is another example. The themes, and in Churchill’s case this is very true, tend toward an acceptable controversial posture. Some of this, I admit, is beyond the control of the playwright.The objections made in the Churchill debate, if I understand them, are countered simply by my saying that I find something manipulated in such cleverness. She is offering a new buffet item each time out.

The past is the past that has been written about. The historian, the historiographers are writing *worlds*. They create worlds to which the reader must travel. The question of fact is very interesting here because one of the problems I find in aesthetics today, as well as politics, is that it seems not to matter anymore what is true or not true. But this journey in reading, to this place located in the past, is another of those spatial models.

Dunhunang Star Atlas, detail. 1000 A.D.

Dunhunang Star Atlas, detail. 1000 A.D.

For in fact it is mimetic, the spoken word karaoke in your head. And not just in your head. Given the emphasis on the optical, the gestural language of performance is atrophying. When radio dominated things, the voice subsumed the gestural. Today, the body, as an instrument of performance, tends to be subjected to a lot of abuse, from starvation to cheek implants to personal trainers. The facts of the past matter, however. For they return, over and over. They return as rats return, as dogs to their vomit.

“About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or
just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the
torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything
turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.”

W.H. Auden

Kirsten Klein, photography.

Kirsten Klein, photography.


When I have tried to write about space in art, specifically in theatre, I often feel the frustration of of how illusive this idea is. The conventions of just talking include these tacit ideas about space, “He knows where he is going” for example. Well, where? To the land of success, or Elysian fields, or the land of milk and honey. The whole idea of ‘goals’ is imbued with this illusion. Progress. Destination. Great art punctures these assumptions, in the introduction of an awareness about exile and homelessness. A walk in the park is not easy, actually. When narrative forgets place, and forgets the journey — that the journey is itself a place, it fails. Space in theatre is not Euclidean, it is a mimetic space. It is that unconscious and uncanny disruption of conventional location, and of the autonomous subject. Suddenly the familiar is haunted by the unfamiliar. In a sense, as De Certeau seems to suggest, it is by what is not written, not spoken, that something disruptive occurs. The act of explanation includes its opposite, this ‘space’ in which one hears what isn’t said. Theatre is so disruptive for this very reason. Pinter and Bernhard both (though differently) probe the elliptical in narrative. Their stories point the listener toward what isn’t said. Maybe what cannot be said. To step back and look at the control exercised by today’s authority apparatus, what you find is endless explanation. And this is the role of mainstream journalism, too. Asking for explanations, and not caring if those explanations are real or not. What would happen if the answer was ‘we don’t know’, or ‘ We won’t say’?

Dirk Skrebert

Dirk Skrebert


I want to talk about what I mean by a theatre of the conceptual. The word *conceptual* is very complex, and can be used in a variety of ways. It is impossible not to wade into very dense material here, for it is at the very center of aesthetic experience. Adorno’s dialectic was Hegelian, but owed a good deal to Benjamin. The dialectic is seen in the object’s opposition to its other, and whereby this opposition constitutes a kind of dependency. The object’s resistance to its other becomes an incorporation of the other into itself, so the more it is itself, the more it is not itself. For the purposes of this discussion, the point is that in art, in any medium, the extreme of this dialectical operation results in the truest picture of reality, of life. For there is always an excess that is the byproduct of this operation. And it is in this excess that I suspect the uncanny is, at least partly, located. This process denies the existence of fixed concepts; and it means the artwork’s meaning is found not as a reflection of the social, but in its opposition to society, its negation. The negation of what was for Adorno, a societal system of domination, means that the artwork has transcribed the suffering and unwritten and denied forces of history. The artwork that predicates itself, justifies itself, through a conceptual rationality, is then erasing or obscuring history, no matter how cleverly they discuss it.

Philosophy *is* conceptual, however. But it is a dialectical process. It could be said, that the conceptual I speak of is the undialectical conceptual. Here Benjamin enters the discussion.

“Authentic art knows the expression of the expressionless, a crying from which the tears are missing.”
Adorno

Ken Currie

Ken Currie


Hullot-Kentor is very good on the influence Benjamin had on Adorno. I have written before about Benjamin’s ideas on tragedy, and it is related to what Hullot-Kentor says about Benjamin’s notion of allegory. Both are very close to what I think theatre is really trying to do. Hullot-Kentor writes; “the idea is to phenomena as is an expression to a face.” This is what the performance is to the text I think. It is not deductive, or conceptual (though concepts clearly play their role {sic}) — it is a presentation, an activating of something that finally cannot be rationally known. Allegory is a sort of double dialectic then. To place these thoughts again in the context of theatre, the form of the play (a play) is its expression of buried history, at the same time that it is a negation of the false authority of society (nature). It is of course hugely more complicated than I am laying it out here, but the point is that the meaning, the value of theatre cannot be summarized, or abridged in various explanatory cliff notes. The truth of theatre is in its performance. And that which *can* be summarized is, finally, not theatre. It is an illusion.

Theodor Adorno

Theodor Adorno

Tragedy is not a theme, it is an act of revealing. It is part of that dialectical extreme, and it participates in something very close to Benjamin’s ideas about *naming*. This was the very Judaic/Kabalistic side of Benjamin. There is that famous line in Dialectic of Enlightenment: “there is said to be no difference between the totemic animal, the dream of the ghost seer, and the absolute idea”.The sedimenting of terror into language, specifically into the naming of things, is that magical element in spoken text that differentiates it from reading to oneself silently. Both can be mimetic, but the range of the frightening is greater when it happens on stage.

“For Adorno, understanding a work of art is not a matter of conceptual analysis.”
Shierry Weber Nicholson

Wittgenstein oddly, sort of, comes to mind here.

“Think of the recognition of facial expressions. Or of the description of facial expressions — which does not consist in giving measurements of the face. Think too, how one can imitate a man’s face without seeing one’s own in a mirror.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Martial Raysse

Martial Raysse

The domination of nature coincided with the neutralizing of language. Shorn of terror, the cry became the concept, Dionysian energy was expelled, superstition replaced by logic. This was the force of Enlightenment thinking, and the correctives were real, but less observed, the cleansing of that which allowed for the tragic to reveal itself. The tragic as a sensibility; and without that sensibility, the infinite domination, unchecked rational horror grows on the underside of the image and word. Negation, radical extreme negation — the concept’s self critique, destroys itself but becomes a memory, both of nature and of the individual. This is the Lacanian gloss on Benjamin/Adorno. This is the center of the Adorno aestheic. The reversing of Kantian aesthetic sublime, the incorporation of Hegel’s dialectic toward a radical negation, and Benjamin’s ideas of allegory. The second issue is, of course, mimesis. But in the context of this post, and the shadow of mass culture today, I think it is worth exploring why theatre is so often bad. And in what ways is it bad?

“…thought dominated by the hierarchical, subordinating concept, for which material is always reduced to examples of concepts, becomes increasingly irrational in the loss of the adequacy of form and content.”
Robert Hullot-Kentor

Hullot-Kentor was writing about Adorno and Shoenberg and the essay form in the above quote. What matters here is that this is exactly what happens today in almost all discussions, of both culture and politics. There are always appeals for justification that reside within a narrow conceptual format. I hear people refer to polls, for example, even people who don’t trust polls. It is just reflexive to nod toward the authority of instrumental thinking. So in artworks, the question of autonomy is crucial now. This is why Churchill fails for me. And it is why Handke or Bernhard do not, and why I think there is distinct difference. It is interesting to look at Adorno’s ideas on atonal composition in this light. For the demand for completion, for an end of equilibrium and rest is challenged by Shoenberg’s density. Suddenly the horizontal and vertical models are upset. In one way, one might look at Beckett and Ionesco and Genet and Pinter as operating out of a strategy of density — albeit a density worked through absence. There is no appeal to rational authority in these writers, whose form denies the authority or legitimacy of the status quo. For it is in form that the most reactionary expressions of capitulation occur.

The Water Hen, by  Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1972.  Tadeusz Kantor dr. (Cricot2)

The Water Hen, by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1972. Tadeusz Kantor dr. (Cricot2)


Now the question of autonomy touches on the reality of popularity and commodification. The great nightmarish machinery of digesting oppostion that is the hallmark of a society of domination is a very effective machine. I realized during this debate on the last comments thread of the danger of demanding any sort of purity. It doesn’t exist. Bernhard’s posthumous declaration that his work was not to be performed or published in his native Austria was a last gesture of recognition of this impossibility. Still, the institutional creep affects all theatre artists. The durability of Capitalism is undeniable here.

Still, distinctions can be made. The artist who remains too friendly to his or her jailer is suspect. That friendliness is found in subtle form, in the relationship of the artist to the producing entities. To popularity itself. As Jameson says, “the traditional image of the rebel is not merely objectively precarious but perhaps even subjectively illusory.” Innovation in and of itself is just an audition for the producing studio (or to a lesser degree the institutional theatre) to co-opt and put in use as a new *style*. New marketing. Corporate interests eliminate the outsider. There is no outside now, or almost none. This is a discussion of class and of what the artist’s role might be in the great Spectacle today. All of which is not to say that differences do not exist, for they do. It is just that the mediation of finance goes far deeper than it did sixty years ago. Still. I think Jameson might be wrong. And I think he is wrong because he is ignoring class segregation. It is a fetishizing of the idea of rebel, or rather rebel artist. The lone genius etc. But in fact, the political artist, the radical voice is today, still, kept out of the mainstream. Handke isnt done much. Bernhard less frequently than many. And it is interesting to look at Cricot, and Kantor, who brought The Water Hen to Edinburgh in 1972, to the Fringe festival. They performed Witkacy’s absurdist play in Polish. Nobody quite knew what to make of it. But the astute critic, like Michael Billington, recognized something of some significance was taking place. Barber of the Daily Telegraph called it “distressing”. The sound, the memory, the sense memory of radicalism was recognized even in Polish, to an English audience. So, yes, the posture of rebel is often now a style code, but the politically radical, the aesthetically radical, remain anathema.

In fact, it may be that the mediation is so extreme, so hegemonic, that new forms of aesthetic appearance are taking place from within. It may also be that they are not.

Dosso Dossi. early 1500s.

Dosso Dossi. early 1500s.


I want to conclude by finally getting to mimesis. The idea of mimesis as Adorno formulated it (influenced hugely by Benjamin) was as a way out from under the crushing conformity and standardization of mass culture, to trace authentic artworks and to trace the path of their occurrence. He wanted to focus on the concrete, the thing, without allowing its subsumption by the general. The particular was to be dialectically engaged, as I’ve written above. But what does this mean? It means several things, but among the most important things it means, in terms of art, is that spontaneity not be surpressed. The spontaneous fantasies of children are literally beaten out of them. School…the Job, as Burroughs called it…is in the business of extinguishing that fantasy and creativity. That might be a cliche, but it’s true. One of the things children lose, or forget, is the ability to sustain the tension of a seeming contradiction. When children play they allow for things not to make sense. And they experience little anxiety in this tension. I can remember much of my fantasy life as a child. The invented worlds, and the invented names, or the configuration of real names, and invented ones. Voices spoke to each other. They had names. What is interesting, and this was remarked on by Benjamin in several places, the name often didn’t have a form, or a body. The name was enough.

Mimesis on a primary level is simply incorporating the object, the other, into oneself. I am like that. I am that. Immediately the disintegration of the self begins. The negation of what I am like, or what I am. Naming these others is part of the continuing tension set in motion. What I am like has moved, perhaps. Adorno wrote of the opening of Kafka’s Amerika (Stoker); “The novel takes place in an America that has moved while the picture was being taken.” The reference to photography is very meaningful here. It echos something of the destruction of time (per Shierry Weber Nicholson). Kafka’s narrative exposes something of the American inner life, and it does this without conceptual practice. He later says the novel is about the awakening that we are not who we think we are. This is the negation. An extreme negation in a “spaceless space”. Perhaps it is a space without things in it. With only processual agitation. Mimesis, the re-narrating of both story and image, is contour, it is that childlike ability to keep contradictory balls in the air. Names without form. Benjamin famously saw the gesture in Kafka as akin to classical Chinese theatre. Adorno saw it as film. I once thought Adorno was right, but I think Benjamin is right. The dissolution of language, the loss of meaning; this is Caliban as much as it is Kafka. In fact The Tempest remains the almost scriptural evocation of a kind of samsara.

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

Prospero, act IV The Tempest

Artist unknown, 1640s.

Artist unknown, 1640s.


Mimesis then is that which is the foundational act in creativity, but it is also domination of Nature. I take that into myself. It is hard to arrive at any summary of what Adorno saw as mimesis. But it is worth looking at Erich Auerbach’s famous book of that name, and one thing stood out for me when I read it twenty years ago; and that was the idea of that the voices of the Old Testament were speaking another language from later voices such as Dante of Shakespeare, or later still Tolstoy and Dickens. They were not providing an externalized map of that character’s feelings. They were not directing the listener to plot points. Edward Said wrote about this opening chapter in Auerbach:
“[There is an] externalization of only so much of the phenomena as is necessary for the purpose of the narrative, all else left in obscurity; the decisive points of the narrative alone are emphasized, what lies beneath is nonexistent; time and place are undefined and call for interpretation; thoughts and feelings remain unexpressed, are only suggested by silence and the fragmentary speeches; the whole is permeated with the most unrelieved suspense and directed toward a single goal (and to that extent far more of a unity), remains mysterious and ‘fraught with background'” For me, Adorno’s mimetic action is in that obscurity Said speaks of….the undefined time and place. These are the contours of the imagination. We hear, we invent, we are deaf — but all of it is engaged with, and absorbed.
Gotou Hidihiko

Gotou Hidihiko


Amresh Sinha wrote: “Adorno’s critique of mimesis proposes a method of dialectical reflection which goes against the grain of the positivistic tendency of modern consciousness, which has a tendency to substitute means for ends. “Art’s expression is the anti-thesis of expressing something,” for Adorno, implies that it remains non-identical to a tendency that is related to the exigency of commodity exchange.”

Mimesis is a form of expression, not a Xerox copier in the head.

In a culture in which everything is reified, and commodified — pretty much literally so — the impulse toward an instrumental rating or indexing of experience is intensified. Exchange value. The inner life is calculation now. And such calculation diminishes the mimetic. This is actually obvious. The new Spiderman or whatever summer block buster is a pure calculation. Cha ching. The entire fabric of image and sound is imbued with exchange. Tragedy cant not be marketed. It becomes bathos. Sentimentality is joined at the hip to the grotesque, which is one of the altered futures of Tragedy. Tragedy is a form of expression, and revealing.

Mobutu and the Queen Elizabeth.

Mobutu and the Queen Elizabeth.


So, it strikes me that in theatre there is simply a very narrow tolerance for error, for regressive performance. In film and TV, there is, for reasons worth talking about … in another later post… a much wider tolerance for error. One’s attention isn’t as focused, its a bit more passive. But I suspect there are some fallacies in much theory on media. Most of it seems not to grasp that narrative operates as narrative wherever it is. Now, the harvesting of attention, the labor value of social media users, etc, is certainly germane, but there is still a sort of glossing over how people reflect on the stories before them. How much does that part change? The narrative part I don’t know. But I think it does, even if I think the effects are often exaggerated. And it does matter because a form of expression is stopped short electronically at some point. There are thresholds for mediation by technology.

The mimetic process of reflection, of engagement, is especially complex when narrative is added. I was looking at some photos this week, for reasons I cant remember, of Mobutu. Some with the Queen, others with Prince Bernard of the Netherlands, or with various U.S. government officials. What struck me was that Mobutu can be understood in light of Imperialist foreign policy, neo-colonial thinking, and Capital. But he can also be seen echoing Ionesco, and Shakespeare. Mobutu invented a style of dress that was based on nothing at all African. His abacost was a simulacra African dress. He had a delusional fear of neckties and western suits being worn by associates. His eyeglass frames were from the elite store in Paris that made Le Corbusier’s glasses, and Cary Grant’s. He would charter a Concorde to take shopping trips to Paris. He brutalized his underlings, slept with the wives of all the men close to him. And he was America’s boon ally and close buddy. He looted billions from his country. The US and UK had helped orchestrate the murder of Lumumba, and installed the young the army officer as head of the country. He ruled for decades.

Ambrose Tezenas, photography.

Ambrose Tezenas, photography.


The story of Mobutu is a comic-tragic drama, and his fall, the story of Kabila and Rwanda, and the assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana is a story that echos in our heads. It is haunting in its way, as a continuation of Imperialist pillage and destruction. The aesthetic appropriation of a Mobutu story is a fascinating idea. An opera? Perhaps. But it is in the writers of greatest weight that one can best understand a Mobutu. That too is part of aesthetic resistance.

I end with a fragment from an interview with Heiner Muller in which he tells a brief story:

“And I have another story. At the concentration camp Oranienburg there was an extremely brutal SS soldier. After the war the Russians went to his wife and told her about the things her husband had done in the camp. The wife didn’t understand. He had only done his job, and he had always been a good father to his children, always very loving. The Russians persisted, asking whether nothing at all had seemed odd to her? She considered, then said, “Now and then he would come home with bloody boots.” When she asked him where the blood came from, he would say, “We killed a pig today.” All those years, the woman never knew. She killed her children, set fire to the house, went mad, and ran screaming across the moor. In the concentration camps the low-ranking members of the SS were often farmers’ sons, so they were accustomed to killing animals. All that had to be done was to supply them with the ideology that the prisoners were not humans but animals.”

This returns me to that quote of Hullot-Kentor at the top. “Mimesis is primordial to empathy.”

The Cynicism Industry

Hiroshi Sugimoto, photography

Hiroshi Sugimoto, photography

“Sincerity is the beginning
and end of existence; without it, nothing endures.
Therefore the mature man values sincerity above all things.”
Zisi (Tzu Ssu)子思子

“One day the man demands of the beast: “Why do you not talk to me about your happiness and only gaze at me?” The beast wants to answer, too, and say: “That comes about because I always immediately forget what I wanted to say.” But by then the beast has already forgotten this reply and remains silent, so that the man keeps on wondering about it.”
Nietzsche
Use and Abuse of History

“Much of education and journalism has been captured and superseded by entertainment. Even public discussions have to be entertaining and are judged by how skilfully the protagonists attacked and how courageously they hid their weaknesses, and not by the contents of what they had to contribute with to solutions for a serious public issue.”
Heinz Steinert

The ascension of irony has coincided with a rise in cynicism, and with a reluctance or refusal to engage with society. But today, I suggest that new terms are needed to denote the post modern ironic and post modern cynical. For cynicism as it is traditionally understood would include a set of select values, however nihilistic. Today’s cynic does not harbor select or elite values, and whose cynicism is not a rejection so much as an ignoring of social issues. Timothy Bewes suggests it is now in the service of political rhetoric. It is used by reactionary commentators to denote apathy, meaning as a cover for the material corruption of political institutions.

The retreat from politics, or rejection of political concerns is linked to postmodernism as a rhetorical mechanism. And it’s true that the post modern rejection of meta-narratives quickly morphed into the excuse for accepting the status quo. Engagement is regarded with disdain, and accused of naivete. Cynicism once contained a form of melancholy, but that has morphed into simply disengagement (albeit anxiety laden), and hostility toward Utopian ideals. Cynical is often used as a synonym for dishonesty as well. But the post modern rejection of meta-narratives became soon, simply a disregard for any narrative, and replacing these with simple coded fragments in use for career decoration. How much of the erosion of narrative is linked to the inherent qualities of electronic media is an open question, but I suspect its not entirely the telecom industry structuring things a certain way, but at least partly if not largely the imprint of pixels and the speed and the fragmenting and re-fragmenting of information. It is perhaps hard not to be cynical in the post modern sense.

Alesso Baldovinetti. Annunciation 1447, tempura on wood.

Alesso Baldovinetti. Annunciation 1447, tempura on wood.


I was thinking this week of the Axial Age; of Confucian China, and of Zoraster in Persia and the rise of Judaic prophecy. In Greece the development of tragic drama. From the 7th century B.C. to the late fourth century B.C. was an age of enormous change in cognitive patterning. Scientists recently discovered in Indonesia, paintings on cave walls that are even older than those at Chauvet in France. The world was very dark and empty forty thousand years ago. In Confucian China I suspect it was still dark and empty, but not nearly the same. But in both there was nothing remotely similar to life today. But I digress…

“Politics, governed increasingly by an ethos of supply and demand, has become a realm of consumer sovereignty in which the concepts of leadership and inspiration are important polemical commodities, but are maintained only in this mediated way. Cynicism appears in the space left empty from mass cultural retreat from politics itself.”
Timothy Bewes

The role of post modern thought in Academia has been to further distance the grammar of the upper and educated class from the working class and the non working poor. Of course *educated* is a pretty nebulous term. Educated for many at expensive Universities means knowing the right kinds of discourse, the acceptable cynicism to display. Discourse today is saturated with irony and sarcasm. It is not even really specific. It is gestalt irony. There is no subject often, or often just a vague one. There is also an implied belief in the person of the ironist that his or her position is superior. But superior to what? Superior how? Irony today avoids answering such questions. It avoids answering anything.

Darren Almond, photography.

Darren Almond, photography.

One of the problems with ironic stances is that they dissolve the subject even when there is no subject. The ironic mustache, or ironic golf shirt, worn in Palm Springs ironically, creates the hall of mirrors effect, and thereby introduces itself as a potential object of irony as well. *My* ironic mustache ironically comments on *HIS* ironic mustache, and I’m an ironic hipster that parodies the other ironic hipster etc. But beyond such tedious subjective leisure time mental games, there is the fact that very few people have time or money to be ironic. Politics is ironic as well, just another platform for ironic performance. Obama is ironic. Bush was more parody, but Obama is clearly, as part of his marketed persona, a cool urbane cynic — and contains a blank distancing from actual events, actual politics. Its fascinating that US media wants to demonize other world leaders as cartoons and demons, but in fact Putin, as an example, even with his bare chested horseback rides, is simply not ironic material. Russians in general are not a particularly ironic people or culture. The role of careerist *left* writers of mainstream publications .. Laurie Penny or Molly Crabapple, or star academics like Zizek, are all of them simply print versions of stand-up comedy. Jon Stewart is the TV comic now looked to for guidance by the liberal class. Penny, and Natasha Lennard, and Crabapple are all just vaudeville acts. And often, or usually, these acts are performing in a gentlemen’s club straight out Chinese Gordon. http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2014/778-the-establishment-andrew-marr-and-owen-jones.html

The affluent white population of the U.S. today is so deeply mired in irony and snark that they cannot take a breath without it being ironic.

Invincible (2001). Werner Herzog dr.

Invincible (2001). Werner Herzog dr.

But there is something else here, too. And that is that in American culture the ‘idea’ of the individual is preserved no matter the conditions of the material world. There is, obviously, a whole complex of factors at work here. The Puritan history, and the Protestant work ethic, the business minded culture that worships the “self made man”. The only marker for worth is economic. Nobody who is poor is valued existentially. There is though, a dialectical process that needs to be observed in this. The individual of consumer America is really he or she who identifies with the culture. It is an individuality in the form of a brand. And the destruction of language, its degraded state in marketing and advertising and popular culture overall has contributed to this leveling of culture and discourse. The new rise in branded journalists, especially, actually, on the *left*, even when some of the writing is useful, has created a deeper attachment to the status quo. Language as it’s used in popular culture feels as if it no longer is even attached to the world around us. The late writings of Adorno expressed his despair at the possibility of intellectual integrity in mass culture. And this is where it is important, as I continue to say, that aesthetic awareness be cultivated. And it is clear today that almost always the missing ingredient in cultural discussions is a class analysis. The ironic and cynical processing of the world must be resisted exactly because it further petrifies class distinctions. But this is a topic resisted acutely by the educated class, even those who are out of work.

Benozzo Gozzoli, 'Journey of the Magi' detail 1459

Benozzo Gozzoli, ‘Journey of the Magi’ detail 1459

My experience with students over the last few years has been, even in classes with very bright enthusiastic students (rare), that there is an inability or at least reluctance to examine work and narrative in ways other than than an imaginary neutrality. By this I mean that the forces of production are rarely considered, and even when they are, the role of class antagonism is ignored. It is invisible almost. This lack of class is replaced by a belief in, or subscription to, an ideal state of the purity of truth. Truth is also never processed in relation to memory or history, to suffering, or political violence. There is a tacit acceptance of the surface (or top text), and simultaneously a sort of new age inwardness that is bathetic and puerile. The political violence of the world is redacted from narratives that are even ABOUT political violence. I screened Herzog’s underrated 2001 film Invincible to a class recently, and surprisingly the students were deeply attentive, but the specifics of what this fable implied were at best very murky to them. Still, exposure to the halting rhythms and strange visual grammar of the film seems to disturb the audience, which was mostly third year high school students. And this has always been my experience; complex and difficult artworks destabilize, and that in itself is the start of awakening. Such work, because it cannot easily be processed in conventional ways (as surface, as advertisements work) lingers in the memory.

Now this particular small group of students were Norwegian. I cannot image such openness in the U.S. And here lies another problem; in the United States cynicism has bled into other beliefs and theories. It participates in other forms of distancing. A culture that parades its liberal virtues through the most fascistic representations, where multiculturalism means the exclusionary practices of individual defensivness, is one in which culture itself is colonized, and by several different colonizers, all of them at bottom the same.

“The faults indispensable to this operation of accountancy consist in
the morality of the terms used. According to an old terrorist device
(one cannot escape terrorism at will), one judges at the same time
as one names, and the word, ballasted by a prior culpability, quite
naturally comes to weigh down one of the scales. For instance,
culture will be opposed to ideologies. Culture is a noble, universal
thing, placed outside social choices: culture has no weight.
Ideologies, on the other hand, are partisan inventions: so, onto the
scales, and out with them! Both sides are dismissed under the stern
gaze of culture (without realizing that culture itself is, in the last
analysis, an ideology).”

Barthes

Mosque library, Cairo, 1950.

Mosque library, Cairo, 1950.

Class analysis disappears in a variety of ways. It is subsumed by various identity themes, as well as by a general logic of catering to the mass public. Under cover of this populism is an eradication of critical thinking, and in most artforms there is a sentimentalizing and simplification of message. But there is also the creation of platforms and contexts; platforms for entertainment, and contexts that favor this false notion of the individual. White gay men and women have tended to disporportionatly imprint theatre and the perfomative avant garde, for example, in the United States. But where once there was Charles Ludlum, or Jack Smith, today there are bland bloodless academics, self branded as gay or lesbian, and enclosing within that an absolute reduction of what is acceptable *theatre*. The once marginalized now perform the role of marginalizer. Radical voices have been domesticated. This is the calculation of a lost avant garde. Ludlum was really a tragic theatre artist, because his theatre could not exist except as oppositional. Now its not this simple of course, for both the civil rights movement and gay rights, there were hard fought struggles. However, the proprietor class has worked at a control of the assimilation, managing what was visible and what was not. In the arts self identified “-fill in blank- artist” has tended toward compromise to the prevailing system over the last twenty five years. The writer or artist is not grouped according to content or movement, but according to self created identity (brand).
Dan Christensen

Dan Christensen


MFA programs create brands. They are apprenticeships in ideological shaping. If anyone, ANYONE, can name a single radical piece of theatre to come out of U.S. Universities I would be happy to listen. So again, class disappears. Sexuality has replaced it. Where black and brown writers emerge, they must emerge homogenized. Sentimentalized and sanitized. I rarely see young black or brown or even Asian playwrights who don’t write other than as bourgeois voices for the establishment. Now of course there are exceptions, but again, in theatre there has been almost nothing of note to come out of University programs for several decades. In fine arts the tally is better, slightly. Film schools are an entire other topic. I taught at the Polish National Film School for five years full time, and eight if I include my workshops the first three years. I was the lone instructor to lecture in English. I consider the school, on balance, far from the worst such institution. There were virtues, first among them that this was an international school. Students coming all over the world created a great cross pollinating of ideas. There were also absurd deficiencies, a sclerotic bureaucracy and backward looking administrators — often reaching the level of irrationality. And there was a deep cultural defensiveness among many of the Polish instructors. Still, the memory of communist discipline lingered, and there were many truly exceptional teachers, in editing, and in the cinematography departments.

I asked once at a faculty meeting what we were trying to do at the school. Nobody even tried to answer. For there is no answer. The relationship of such schools, in film, in theatre, in music even, in writing, is blurred and contradictory.

Charles Ludlum, in 'Camille'. 1973

Charles Ludlum, in ‘Camille’. 1973

The neutral reception of culture denies the real concrete reality of the culture industry. Heinz Steinert wrote:
“It (culture industry)is a form of domination that reaches deep into what people know about society and world. It is domination not by fear and repression in the first place but by subtly determining what and how we know about the world. Its center is the cult of the factual.”It is a cultural production of commodified knowledge, whose appeal is always to the authority of statistical or measured proofs. Popularity is often taken as if it occurs in a vacuum. If a film is hard to see because distribution is limited, it already is marked as underground or difficult. The entire structure of *entertainment* is involved in creating audience attitude. As technology now increasingly allows a mastery of access … one can view a film whenever one likes on his computer or even cell phone, the audience is provided with a sense of specialness. Of ownership. I’ve written before about the sense of being an insider. A peak behind the scenes of the making of a popular film or TV show invites the audience to feel unique and privileged. Steinert calls this a “false privilege”. The rise of *reality TV shows* is another form of this insider construct. The specialness is linked, in an oddly contradictory way, to identification with other privileged shoppers of cultural product. There is the manufacture of a sense of ‘belonging’.
Cynthia Daignault

Cynthia Daignault


The audience today is encouraged to perceive their attention as empowerment. The advertisers and network and studio want them to view their product. Neilsen ratings are published throughout the season, box office figures are published, and marketing targets the public by appealing to their wisdom, by critiquing their profile, their particular market niche. All of this shapes how the individual sees the narrative, or artwork. It is not all that different from the appeal of astrology columns or click bait polls that posit if YOU were a Western movie, which one would you be?

Last posting I touched on the ways certain works avoid homogenization. In the comments Molly Klein made an astute observation, as is her want, in relation to watching an Ionesco play. And it struck me that the question of space is significant, and that Adorno and Horkheimer mention architecture right at the start of Dialectic of Enlightenment. Public housing has always, with a few marked exceptions, valorized the Capital put into them. Not only is today’s city a fortified militarized battlefield, it is also a monument to Capital. Architecture is increasingly meant to be viewed from the perspective of a movie screen. One must gaze from a distance, or view the shifting panals and walls as in a film reel. The streaming effect is pronounced in architects like Hadid. And this perpsective, in a sense, resists place. Buildings are seen as if they could be anywhere. Even when landscapes are included, for they seem to absorb the landscape and turn it into a film set. This perspective is how everything is viewed today. And it closes off space rather than opening it up.

Korean man, early 19th century.

Korean map, early 19th century.


In the 15th century, the public viewing a painting, even the illiterate, would recognize certain figures; John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, Christ, but even less obvious figures such as Ishmael and Croesus, or St Jerome, and St Paul the Hermit. They certainly recognized certain scenes as representations from stories; The Visitation, the Expulsion from Eden, the Annunciation, and so forth. Gesture, eye color even, and placement on the canvas all contributed to this ‘reading’ of the painting, and how it fit into a narrative. Memory was triggered, and this memory was both personal, but also societal. The viewer was not manipulated. And I could well make an argument that manipulation is one of the, if not *thee* most significant aspect of mass culture today. Manipulation is marketing. And alongside manipulation is the focus on innovation. For innovation is a form of trickery, a sleight of hand that is in the service of producing effects of *newness* and novelty. These effects tend to wear off rather quickly.

I post here a couple pieces by Toba Khedoori. Jerry Saltz called her a “an artist of metaphysical refinement and restraint.” Khedoori’s work is silent. If Tirelli is quiet, Khedoori is absolutely silent. Saltz ended his review of her recent show this way:

“Strangely, I found myself thinking, “If I were in prison, I’d like to have one of these drawings on my wall.” Then I remembered a story by Herman Hesse: a prisoner paints a landscape on the wall of his cell, showing a miniature train entering a tunnel. He makes himself very tiny, enters into his picture, climbs into the little train, which starts moving, then disappears into the tunnel, leaving his cell empty.”

Toba Khedoori

Toba Khedoori


This is work that does not manipulate. The mute space is not exactly disturbing, but an accusatory quality exists. But there is another aspect and that is where the viewer is situated. This is not a film screen, it an architecture of dreams.

And it reminded me of what Rita Valencia wrote about The Mandala of Compassion Project, at the Hammer in Los Angeles.

“The project entails four accomplished meditation masters, fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist monks, constructing a sand mandala of intricate design which represents the enlightened mind of Chenrezig, a Buddha who is the embodiment of compassion. The design is like a very elaborate blueprint of a sacred architecture…it is common to use sacred architecture in Vajrayana meditations as representation of mind and metaphor for body, which is itself to be seen as a metaphor.”

but at the end makes the very cogent observation regarding the staff at the museum itself.

“The staff seemed generally very conscientious about the limits on break time afforded them, and never seemed to tarry. I heard guard talking about their work, worried about people they had found on the third floor of the museum with backpacks or beverages (a no-no), commenting on the constant influx of newcomers. The newcomers were students from UCLA with little to no training and widely variant work ethics. Conversations of the staff were generally casually personal. But there were quit a few anxiety-laced “work” conversations, which centered on concerns about staffing and personnel trends, particularly shrinking staff, replacement of full-time with part-time workers(students), dissatisfaction with supervisory staff. Others spoke of long hours and long commute times:12 hour shifts, huge amounts of overtime, which supports the ‘shrinking staff’ comments. Plus, the pants they are issued to wear at special events are scratchy. One got the feeling that on the whole it wasn’t such a bad gig, especially given the options, but the break room with its low ceiling and sallow light was not a particularly cheerful place and was more than it appeared…
Through the heady scent of lilies being clipped and groomed wafted the pungency of the all too predictable discontent…workers placed in a distinctly different class of beings than the educated museum staff, having fewer privileges and perks, and held in much lower esteem, signified mainly by the bleak little break room. A diagram of the museum emerges, a kind of mandala of museum life. At the center top are the Great Museum Benefactors surrounded by their retinues, without-whom-none-of-this-would-be-possible. In the next circle reside the curatorial staff. The antechambers below are occupied by a transient population of artists and their management. Next, at the base and on the perimeter, are the support staff of guards, janitors, attendants. The ruling principle of this mandala is ignorance that values ‘this’ over ‘that’ as though such valuations are real, manifest through exclusivity and enforcement of status. Perhaps it is empty of meaning or concrete reality, and the suffering it creates, as the benefit, is also transient and empty; but the karma it is generating, for those who enforce and control and administer this edifice of public culture, is inexorable.”

Toba Khedoori

Toba Khedoori


The work of Khedoori is one that opens space, and it is work that expresses a practice, and a commitment. There is a correlation between the repetition of rehearsal in theatre, and Khedoori’s practice. She creates a context, a ritual space, through her meticulous attention and focus. One does not draw such work without practice of a very particular and focused kind. The value of Khedoori’s work, like a majority of great painters and artists is in the embedding of this practice. Nothing even approaching irony or sentimentalism is present. The austerity is beautiful, not because it is minimal, but because it is imagines something we cant normally experience. The memory of practice is felt, and this is in part what constitutes allegory and the presence of an unconscious that is conjured and appears beside the viewer. We are looking at thousands of hours of repetitive work, at process. In another sense this is what mimesis really is. Theatre like that of Peter Handke, or Harold Pinter is the work of practice, of whittling away the inessential, the message and the ‘effect’, the novelty, the gimmick. There are no invitations, nothing to chat about. Only memory and something destabilizing that comes out of the time spent, the life’s work that is unapologetic.

Now, Adorno warned of dangers in the retreat from popular mass think and commodity culture. That one’s search for authenticity could lead one to resemble that which was being retreated from. It’s worth noting that Zizek confuses Adorno’s position on reification because Zizek actually has suggested that authenticity resides in one’s role as consumer. The revolutionary shopper I guess. In fact Robert Hullot-Kentor, an admirable translator of Adorno, is oddly also much like Zizek is his essays *on* Adorno. My suspicion is that the problem is again Marx, and class analysis. This is the regressive side of leftist thought. Faux leftist thought. The left (that term itself is a symptom) without Marx. The left also called *progressive*. This is very evident in Hullot-Kentor’s notions on the culture industry, which he claims is an obsolete concept, and then explains this by describing “how we hear this term” — but who does he mean by *we*? Honestly, this is a very American sort of stance. Hullot-Kentor’s insistance that barbarism is an outmoded concept again speaks to the reactionary lurking within. For the tenured American professor, ideology is also outmoded, by and large. Fascism is just too ‘too’ a word. Hullot-Kentor’s animosity toward Adorno smacks of career anxiety, actually. But it’s also a startlingly shallow (intentionally I suspect) reading of Adorno, but one that will appeal the affluent white post grad student at NYU. But I digress.

Claudia Wieser

Claudia Wieser


The space I refer to in theatre, the opening to an allegorical space, a mental breathing in a sense, is — I am convinced — the crucial and single most consequential factor in all artworks. It is just that in theatre the experience is most immediate. As much as I value film, there is something about the screen, the great wall on which shadows are thrown, and then followed in a way similar to reading, but subtly different, that stops the opening of space at a certain point. And it’s a difference of enormous importance. I suspect film is closer to the novel than it is to theatre. For the narrative in film is engaged with mimetically much as one does in a novel. The novel of course usually means many hours reading, and hardly even in one sitting. The limited duration of film and TV, enforced by economic concerns, is one of the difficulties in the film form. In theatre, the narrative follows on the creation of this architecture of thought, in the ritualistic repetition — which is the re-creation of the same text, anew, night after night — the narrative is revealed rather than read. Watching a film, one narrates alongside the film narration. Mimetic adjustment, or memory. In theatre, the memory is activated, not reflected upon. This is not exactly a huge gulf opening up between the mediums, but only that the activation of space, as it occurs in theatre, is expansive, not contractive. Novels, finally, contract as well. But this entire discussion is mediated by the manufacturing of *the real*.

One aspect of this constant creating and re-creating of an illusory *real* is the cynical, but also the supervising of emotions. Mestrovic wrote: “…contemporary emotions are dead, in the analogous sense that one speaks of a dead current versus a live wire, or a dead nerve in a tooth or limb.” Emotions are blurred by constant bombardment from advertising. Deep emotion is limited. One is chastised for being too ‘emotional’. The rise of emoticons are obviously a sort of symbol of all this. But going back to Reich, the ever shallower feelings of people was noted. The real, that *real* that mass media enforces, is the bland flavorless shine, a sort of indistinct quality of business and (per Adorno) affability. It is non determinant science, and technology. Most of all it is ‘progress’.

The Department of Energy's Human System Simulation Laboratory (Idaho National Laboratory ).

The Department of Energy’s Human System Simulation Laboratory (Idaho National Laboratory ).


Today’s sense of inwardness is as indistinct as the ‘outside’ real. I’ve sensed a huge resurgence of new age platitudes of late. They are the corrective to the too authoritarian 12 step process. Both can co-exist, of course. There is cynicism in this, too. Those mouthing platitudes don’t believe them, they just use them. Their use value is social cohesion. Careerism. One mustn’t pledge fidelity to some Guru, but its perfectly ok, desired even, to utter meaningless bromides about banal psychological traits. This is the emotional plague Reich wrote of. It is a version of false consciousness, and today the cynical affluent educated class must constantly reiterate their contentment, and deny the suffering of not just others, but of themselves. Minor boredom is OK, that’s what therapy is for. Boredom can be appropriated as style, too. It’s fine to have a shrink or therapist, just be clear you don’t really believe in them. The therapeutic culture accepts this manufactured real. It teaches its clients to adapt. Life is something that one must *succeed* at. Therapy is just a career choice. Death would seem to question any idea of success, but then death is a taboo subject. Death doesn’t go away however.

Molly Klein wrote:
“The meticulous illusion of the irreducible individual, the non-type (post-type), is not (only) the (technical, philosophical, ‘psychological’) enrichment advertised by the schools and traditions producing it but a hollowing out of the function of reference, so that the more elaborate the portraiture of ‘individuals’ grows, the more entirely empty each unique and eccentric exemplar becomes with regard to meaning generation.”

This all works at closing down ‘space’. Film without space (digital mush), architecture without space (Hadid, Foster, Meier et al), and theatre without space — pretty much everything on stage in the U.S. The loss of mimesis has meant new psychic mechanisms for processing. The post modern cynical is one of them. It demands everything be fungible. Everything is already dated, and obsolete. The cynic insists on the ‘new’, in order to have something to label already dated. Anything emotional is rejected. Anything demanding attention is rejected.

Memory is overrated, don’t you think?

Sibylle Bergemann, photography.

Sibylle Bergemann, photography.


A final quote from William Blum this week. In a very direct way this is related to the *real*. Which of course is the pathological unreal.

“You can’t believe a word the United States or its mainstream media say about the current conflict involving The Islamic State (ISIS).
You can’t believe a word France or the United Kingdom say about ISIS.
You can’t believe a word Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, or the United Arab Emirates say about ISIS. Can you say for sure which side of the conflict any of these mideast countries actually finances, arms, or trains, if in fact it’s only one side? Why do they allow their angry young men to join Islamic extremists? Why has NATO-member Turkey allowed so many Islamic extremists to cross into Syria? Is Turkey more concerned with wiping out the Islamic State or the Kurds under siege by ISIS? Are these countries, or the Western powers, more concerned with overthrowing ISIS or overthrowing the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad?
You can’t believe the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels. You can’t even believe that they are moderate. They have their hands in everything, and everyone has their hands in them.
Iran, Hezbollah and Syria have been fighting ISIS or its precursors for years, but the United States refuses to join forces with any of these entities in the struggle. Nor does Washington impose sanctions on any country for supporting ISIS as it quickly did against Russia for its alleged role in Ukraine.
The groundwork for this awful mess of political and religious horrors sweeping through the Middle East was laid – laid deeply – by the United States during 35 years (1979-2014) of overthrowing the secular governments of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. (Adding to the mess in the same period we should not forget the US endlessly bombing Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.) You cannot destroy modern, relatively developed and educated societies, ripping apart the social, political, economic and legal fabric, torturing thousands, killing millions, and expect civilization and human decency to survive.”

Thoughts on Pedagogy

Open City, Valparaiso, Chile.

Open City, Valparaiso, Chile.

“The best place to teach architecture is in a simple box.”
Odile Decq

“The political locus of tolerance has changed: while it is more or less quietly and constitutionally withdrawn from the opposition, it is made compulsory behavior with respect to established policies.”
Herbert Marcuse

“Collegiate traditions and the preppy, Ivy League look were some of my earliest design inspirations and the starting point for our signature style.”
Tommy Hilfiger.

“As the US war machine increases the intensity of its bombing of Muslim fundamentalists and political extremists in various parts of the world, but especially in Syria and Iraq at the present moment, the official “workstations” of CNN and other news outlets engage in a kind of grotesque production of moral panics in their appeal to fear, insecurity and imminent danger. Violence is not something to be condemned but to be appropriated as a productive source for higher Nielsen ratings and more advertising revenue.”
Henry Giroux

The future is going to happen or not happen depending on pedagogy. The war machine of the United States cannot be stopped. No amount of protest or organizing can stop this train heading toward the cliffs. How many survive the inevitable crash is the crucial question. Can mankind avoid extinction.

I don’t know.

But if one is to survive after, for life to be worth living, then one must begin to think of the pedagogical models that can serve to sustain life. The current issue of Uncube magazine…here http://www.uncubemagazine.com/magazine-26-14231695.html#!/page1
is about education. Radical pedagogical solutions (focused primarily on architecture, but not exclusively). There is the Catholic University of Valparaiso’s School of Architecture and Design (Escuela de Arquitectura y Diseño de la Universidad Católica de Valparaíso), there was HfG in Ulm, Germany, Forensik Mimarlik, in Turkey, and almost a hundred years ago there was The Bauhaus.

Ethel Baraona Pohl, architect and writer, said to learn we must now unlearn. The future is about learning, not acquisition. From peer education, listening to those around you, and from teachers who also want to learn. If you teach and you do not want to learn you are a bad teacher.

Toba Khedoori

Toba Khedoori


To unlearn means unlearning more than the basic commodity form, and the stuff channeled to corporate media by the U.S. government. It means unlearning cultural assumptions that are masked and marketed as something else. Thomas Frank actually wrote a pretty cogent piece back in 1995 (http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=30469) in which he pointed out that conformity was sold as a brand of non-conformity, and with a different label. It seems to me that somehow organically developing communities should actually develop around schools. That the idea of school itself should be retired. Everything should be a school. Not a village, but a school. Why else do people gather together? To share, ideas, food, clothing, sex, and art. And by art I mean anything at all creative. And that’s the problem today. In the West the hyper specialization of education has meant that nobody equates planting cauliflower with creativity, or building a small yurt. Is it art? Is cooking art? Is shoemaking? In a sense yes, but in another sense, no. But, in the context of learning, of radical pedagogy, the need to fetishize genius or make art a regressive cultural fetish would be unneeded. The problem is that if one looks at Open City, in Chile, you see they built an ampitheatre. And design students designed a great seat to place on the brick floor. Someone is always creating theatre. For theatre is everywhere all the time. There is a feeling of liberation in such places. The fact is, yes, Shakespeare and Bach and Miles and Bolano and Genet are not the same as cauliflower cultivation. But, they ARE related.
Olimpia Hotel, Tallinn, Estonia. Kallas & Kersten architects. 1980

Olimpia Hotel, Tallinn, Estonia. Kallas & Kersten architects. 1980


And this is, I think, my point. If one rids oneself of the idea of seeing the world in terms of category and calculation, reduces instrumental thinking, then a village becomes a school by default. Everyone should know how to plant vegetables and cultivate them. Everyone should know basic boat building and basic carpentry. And everyone should be curious. Everyone, literally, should be students until they die. The greatest teachers should remain part time students. Lecture on St Augustine at noon, and take a seat for someone else’s lecture on the history of the Chinese junk rigged sailing or basic trigonometry in the afternoon. And then take part in communal cooking at dinnertime.

I don’t think the general public in the U.S. or Europe any longer can even imagine a world without commodities. Without shit to own. Without the turning of nature into objects to measure and probably sell. They cannot *not* imagine money, making money, hoarding money. But there is a real depth to this perceptual process. It is not just Capitalism that it hard to imagine gone, it is, for such a population, the difficulty in letting go of hierarchies, of power, of domination, and of control. The controlling of things, and people and people *as* things. This is basic; curiosity dies in exact proportion to the increase in instrumental thought. The more thinginess there is, the less questions there are.

Carlos Cruz Diez

Carlos Cruz Diez

As Frank pointed out, marketing today is always selling individuality. Or, branded individuality. The illicit is the new conformism. Titillation is in hyper drive all the time now. Politics is couched in titillation. Style style style. The province of the MTVification of news departments. I’ve heard people say, oh Badiou is (or Derrida or Marx, or Freud, or Gramsci, or Obama or Bush) not *sexy*. Sell different, but not too different. You are sold a certain kind of difference. Sexy different. This has always been true under Capitalism, to some degree anyway. You have four hundred tooth brushes to choose from, all of them almost identical. But if you thought to stain your teeth and not brush them, to walk around with stained blue teeth you would be arrested and put on medication.

The role of education, in the sense it is thought of today, began prior to World War 1 (building on Rousseau by way of Fichte and Shiller), but it was between the wars that a more heated discussion began to take shape. Herbert Read’s Education Through Art, is both an historical curiosity of a kind, but also a somewhat prescient look ahead at mass culture. Read was a singular case, a man of very wide learning and a surprising radicalism.

“…But uniqueness has no practical purpose in isolation. One of the more certain lessons of modern psychology and recent historical experiences, is that education must be a process, not only of individuation but also of integration, which is the reconciliation of individual uniqueness and social unity.”
Herbert Read

It is worth looking back at the writings of people such as F.R. Leavis (and Q.D. Leavis) and their concerns about the growing standardization of society. They saw this from that rarefied vantage point of Cambridge professors, but F.R. Leavis saw nothing good in dumbing-down education, and was hostile in general to most technology. The Cambridge creators of the Scrutiny journal feared the ‘rise of the machine’, and the educational system submitting to middle brow entertainments (this was the time of the BBC’s birth). Lurking as background to what was, in a sense anyway, a sort of nostalgia for British gentlemen’s role in running the world, was the slightly perverse concern with children. Education and *children* are of course linked. But I suspect linked in ways that mystify the actual problems.

Patrick Heron, portrait of Herbert Read.

Patrick Heron, portrait of Herbert Read.

But before I discuss the interface between notions of morality and educating the young, it is useful to look at a few facts and a couple recent articles on education. A recent poll by The National Science Foundation, found that around 25% of Americans did not know if the earth orbited the sun or vice versa. Of course the polls on religion and education are more widly talked about (a third of the U.S. population believes in angels, and an even higher percentage deny evolution). I suspect that if you asked most adults to explain basic science or answer questions such as what is gravity, or what are stars, they would not be able to, nor would they be able to tell you if DaVinci lived before or after Rembrandt. Ask them who is Secretary of State and most wouldnt know, and ask them to name, say, twenty countries in Africa…any twenty…and Id wager about 10% could do it. What does this mean? When I was a boy, I know that my father’s generation certainly had been taught more practical math skills, and taught history, far better than my son was. The public today both revers a kitsch idea of science; a reverence that is almost cultic, while at the same time, largely, are ignorant of science.

One of the problems with leftists today is that they deny culture in the name of this materialist sobriety….what they perceive anyway as sober minded materialism. On the one hand its a corrective to mush headed romanticism, and liberal petit bourgeois relativism (meaning Capitalism). But the shadow side of this tendency is be instrumental and cynical. There is a connection between the need for titillation, and this instrumental sobriety. On the surface this seems contradictory, but in fact that cynical snark of white male America bleeds into factory Marxists in their denial of allocating a greater role to culture in social change. Aesthetic resistance does not mean valorizing only stories about the proletariat. In fact, to imagine a future of documentaries about heroic grain harvests is pretty depressing. The youthful leftist today is more concerned, however, with the titillation factor in theory. (Oh Adorno is sooooooo boring, and Badiou is such a rock star, and etc). The academic left is, with a few exceptions, pretty much not the partner to revolution, and not even a partner in social change. Talk to organizers in grass roots movements, anti death penalty, organic farming, prison reform, housing, and they will almost to a person tell you how bankrupt Academics are, and worse, how totally unhelpful are most Trotskyist movements. A friend once said to me, yes I’m a communist in a party that is labeled Stalinist. When people ask me why, he said, I tell them because its more democratic than the Trotskyist parties.

N.Y. stock exchange, 1908.

N.Y. stock exchange, 1908.


The privileged white University student, attending lectures on Ranciere or Badiou, is not part of the working class. They are not likely to ever be part of the blue collar work force. Their interests do not coincide with janitors, cab drivers or short oder cooks.

My personal experience with Academics has not been good. They can’t help but fear for their position. Their job, they professorship, in the end comes before all else. The same as home owners in the Hamptons put their property before all else. They work for the corporation. They work for the man. Where are the public intellectuals who live on the margins? They exist, but they have trouble gaining visibility. And if they do find an audience, the snarky white post grad student will recoil. Why? Because any voice from the margin is a threat. This is the shift that has occurred since the 60s. Outsiders were searched for by University students, and welcomed, in 1960, while today the most outside the University student wants to go is VICE or Salon.

Peter Doig

Peter Doig


The academic (again with some exceptions, but I can count on one hand those exceptions) is afraid of being fired. He of she will not teach certain things in certain ways. They do not offend if they can help it. How many academics would openly praise Fidel Castro, for example? Or tell the truth about the Balkans and Milosevic? The answer is none. I don’t know any. There is this subject position that academics take; it is the false neutral. Lets hear from both sides, etc. Well, its false because one side monopolizes visible discourse today. They own media. So, no, lets not hear from both sides this time, lets hear from the side shut out 99% of the time.

I want to touch again on education, and youth. There was in the decades between WW1 and WW2 an assumption that promoted the idea of self expression for the child. That self expression went hand in hand with self fulfillment or perhaps self realization. But whatever the term this was the beginning of the educated classes condescending to discuss the poor, and the start of a very particular offshoot of narcissism. This was the handed down Romantic idea of the ethical man who has learned from literature and the arts, and which was German was well as English in national origin. As James Donald put it, this was correction through self expression. So today, public education in the U.S. the elite classes can purchase elite education, the kind geared to social networking more than anything else. And for the rest, only the most basic skills are taught, those which would allow one to work as a security guard at a mall, or at Burger King.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, photography. Portrait of Fidel Castro.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, photography. Portrait of Fidel Castro.

So the destruction of public education means, thirty or so years down the line, that half the population thinks angels are hovering above them as the sun circles the earth. At the rarefied end of the educational spectrum are elite schools producing snarky young men and women who are mostly adept at networking. This non critical class of mostly white haute bourgeoisie are the readers of everything from the Atlantic to the New Yorker to NY Times to VICE and Rolling Stone. They believe in gentrification (morally as well as selfishly) and they think, honestly, deep down, that tribal societies (you know, A-rabs and Africans and such) just need help. Its kind a cool to visit those places and get hammered with some tribesmen, or guys in turbans, but, yeah, its dirty and fucked up and, well, they need help — that’s all. Its not racist to say that. Look at their fucking country, its dirty and the toilets smell.
City of God, Augustine. Illuminated manuscript. 15th century.

City of God, Augustine. Illuminated manuscript. 15th century.


The thrust of state mandated education was predicated on several unspoken beliefs. Firstly, that providing students with structure AND with a model of ethical and moral rectitude (the teacher) would generate a sort of osmosis, or thermal-intellectual reaction in the unconscious, or sub conscious, and thereby resulting in a more unified person, both better morally, but better as a citizen. Now the specifics were not addressed, in terms of what makes a good citizen. There is the faint odor of a Puritan cloud over this. The whole person was MORAL. Meaning repressed. Meaning obedient. Herbert Read, a sort of quasi Jungian, was one of the few thinkers of the early 20th century, who openly questioned such ideas in the context of education. In the U.S. the Kennedy presidency marked the start of re-thinking public education. Modernizing it, and also, to genuinely offer it to the poor and disadvantaged. There was a sense then, in 1960, that society was expanding and the system for shaping the young, morally, but also for purposes of control, was in need of overhaul. But it was also the last gasp of a genuine belief in school as a place to develop an ethically good and well rounded person.

There are several side-bar topics related to education today. The dominant narrative for white Americans is colored in with patriarchy crayons. (to sort of abuse metaphors myself). The paint by number program is white, male, and Imperialist. Along with this comes the rote violence of today’s United States.

Popel Coumou

Popel Coumou


The entire side industry of trophy hunting, or really almost any hunting (and we can semi exempt certain small indigenous communities, the few that are left) is an expression of the pathology of the society overall. Factory farming, hunting, both express such an acute sadism toward nature that it requires a total burial in the consciousness of the West. People simply compartmentalize, almost completely, such facts. Trophy hunting is a useless activity that is given cover in popular culture by the morbidity of western masculinity and its attendant narratives. Hunting is a symptom of a larger sickness.

Cruelty toward fellow creatures is a kind of self hatred. A deep anger that seems to be surfacing ever more frequently in irrational outbursts. Honestly, if someone sat down and collected date on internet comment threads, the conclusion would be that this is an emotionally starved society, enraged and unable to cope with daily life. There is a desperation to *win*. Winning is everything. Win or you lose. And what do you win? Doesn’t matter. Its barely a consideration. As long as one *wins*. Comment threads are internet road rage.
Notice how few questions are asked in comments threads. Comments are about owning your opinion. Not about asking questions. Questions are for weaklings.

” We need people who are not moved by the hysteria of the majority. We need people who openly admit that the majority are often, if not usually, completely wrong. This will not be easy. Westerners, of all social classes, have a strong belief that if Western domination of the Third World were to end, their already threatened lifestyles would suffer – if not entirely collapse. In effect, there is an unspoken consensus that these imperial wars are the best bet the West has for economic recovery. Not only has the Left failed to challenge this consensus, but, by its words and actions has actually become part of it. It may well be that Western culture no longer has the vitality to produce an active and worthwhile Left. This is a possibility we must consider.”
Donnchadh Mac an Ghoill

Classroom, 1900 apprx. Jacob Riis, photography.

Classroom, 1900 apprx. Jacob Riis, photography.

The erosion of curiosity is tending toward a return to medievalism. It is a technocratic dogma with its own priest class (technology experts and scientists) and a mass public for whom curiosity is now something suspect. Not only has curiosity been blunted, it is perceived as possibly dangerous. Asking questions smacks of dissidence.

“One inhabits a world in which long-standing notions of shared experience atrophy, and yet never one never actually attains the gratifications or rewards promised by the most recent technological options.”
Jonathan Crary

The public is subjected daily to almost unlivable and impossible demands to synchronize itself to electronic media. Bank accounts, on-line ordering, all bureaucratic activity is mediated by technology. The user is ever more helpless and powerless. There is nobody to talk to face to face. There is only submission.

Provide a phone number, an address, a shipping location, a billing location, an ID number, etc. The subject is reduced to compliance and little more. The student is being educated, increasingly, in adaptability. This is the clear message of most educational templates. Adapt.

Klavdij Sluban, photography. Youth detention center, Mojaisk, Russia 1998

Klavdij Sluban, photography. Youth detention center, Mojaisk, Russia 1998


The working class, or the non working poor, are continually disempowered by the ever more rapid production of meaningless innovation in gadgetry. This is the shopping model for people who can’t afford to shop. Everything is framed by disappointment. By what you cannot afford to have. The modern model for education is both broken and outmoded. It fails to provide even an iota toward a sane communal sense of life. It is geared to create anxiety, insecurity, and frustration. From grade school through high school the class divide is obvious and insidious both. At the University level, the class divide is even more pronounced, and additionally, in a hyper specialized technological universe, a research based corporatized value system is imparted and results in not curiosity and a growing imagination, but in career competition and fear and loathing of your fellow students.
Tommy Hilfiger ad. Fall 2013. (Craig McDean , photography).

Tommy Hilfiger ad. Fall 2013. (Craig McDean , photography).


The formation of open schools, the mixing of disciplines (Forensik Mimarlik in Turkey focuses on architecture but includes politics, art, and geography) is what must happen. No more diplomas, no tuition, no grades, and a system of sharing knowledge. At Forensik, projects included installing a kitchen in a bus station where stranded refugees live. But it is less the content, finally, than it is the practice of being a student. One must learn from those who know more, but everyone should submit, in a sense, to being a student. Professors must learn from others. One must always be learning something, a discipline, a craft, a philosophy. And there is another terrible burden placed on those who seek to learn past the accepted age. *Adult school* is one of those pejorative terms that stigmatizes. Why not learn math at the age of forty? Or Sanskrit or Greek or Russian or Thai or Polish at the age of fifty. Learn how to grow things. Learn farming or beekeeping. I learned beekeeping a year or so ago. An entire other world opened up. Learn how to write, how to think. There is an assumption that the young must be groomed, and cared for. There is a cut off point, a number, what is it? Twenty five? Thirty? Forty? I don’t know. I studied old Roses a few years ago. Suddenly an unknown history opened before me. Roses from the crusades, from Russia, from Bulgaria, for scent, for color, some cultivated since Roman times. Or apple trees. The tragic loss of apple varieties is an almost unknown story. The last real apple nursery in England closed a couple years ago (Scott’s Nursery in Merriot, Somerset. I had the pleasure of buying from 85 year old Frank Naish before the premature death of one of the other owners. Here is a link to the few remaining places to find heirloom apple trees http://www.fruitwise.net/links.html). History is embedded even in the names of apple varities: Hoary Morning, Frederick, Brown Snout, Sweet Alford, Broxwood Foxwhelp, King Thompkins Co., and Laxton’s Fortune to name only a few of the literally thousands one could, at one time, find. Here is a personal favorite of mine: http://www.treesofantiquity.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=102
Edward Dugmore

Edward Dugmore


The citizens of the United States, more than any other country, live lives devoid of joy and wonder. Of course, not everyone, but as a sweeping generalization, it’s true. I see none of that wonder in young children. They are often too busy learning to operate their cell phone. And those who do have it, lose it soon enough. They usually lose it as soon as they go to school. I had an argument recently about the teaching of penmanship. My father had beautiful handwriting. That was another time. The debate was around the question of usefulness. One woman said no, no, teach them how to write code. I was a minority voice, though not totally alone, in arguing that learning to write well, and learning about scripts and fonts and lettering is a part of what links us to our history, and teaches something profound about how to look, and it is a basic primal activity — making signs on rocks and in the dirt, and finally on paper.
Heirloom apple varieties.

Heirloom apple varieties.

There is another aspect to institutional education today and that is the deep reliance on bureaucratic models, and its connection to sociology. It is important to think about who exactly is to be educated.

“In the Renaissance, no Fredericks or Voltaires blossomed behind the scenes; rather they never existed. Among the guild masters of the medieval city, there were no modern entrepreneurial types or trust managers who simply lacked appropriate outlets for their activity, nor among gilded journeymen, was there the unnoticed and silent consciousness, as it were, that characterized the industrial worker today…The doctrine is false that even though times change, the psychological makeup of human beings remains the same.”
Max Horkheimer

Horkheimer wrote this in the 1930s. He went on to suggest that history was not to be ignored just because people from different eras remain far murkier to us than we like to imagine. This would mean even the study of other cultures would be pointless, and clearly this is not the case. But the historical issue, that is historical research, in our own time has largely forgotten that the vast majority of the world’s population in any given time was forced through various means to renounce their instincts. The desire for equality is always driven by those under the boot heal of domination. The rulers seldom want social change. Why would they? So, when discussing the idea of education, of school, it is worth trying to see from what and where the discussion is to start.

Office, CERN, Geneva. (courtesy Lars Muller publishing).

Office, CERN, Geneva. (courtesy Lars Muller publishing).

If education means children, the question of family influences arises. The focus on children is natural, up to a point, but it only mystifies things to restrict the idea of pedagogy to the very young and adolescents. If the discussion is about the U.S., then it is worth remembering, according the those very unreliable polls (Pew and Gallup and the like) that a vast majority of people believe science should be the primary field of study and that grade school and junior high and high school should be preparatory for advanced specialized technical learning. At the same time, as I mentioned, the vast majority polled have very little understanding or knowledge of science themselves. There is disdain for the arts, and honestly, this is completely understandable given how art is taught today in high school and college. Pyschology has become popular but disliked, a sort of second career for many, oddly. (I know personally five or six people who once worked in the arts and later became accredited therapists, and several of them I think are very good, but still, its an odd phenomenon). Philosophy and the classics are almost obsolete in terms of numbers for post graduate programs. English literature and the humanities are very low, but business school has a long waiting list. But even the idea of evaluating how the public feels about something, based on surveys and polls is itself a symptom of what is wrong.
Tim Gardner

Tim Gardner

The presumption of polling and surveys is that people have some degree of self knowledge. Never mind that in certain restrictive contexts polling can be very accurate, but those are specialized circumstances. Polling is largely manipulation, and usually paid for by a corporation of government agency that is looking to buy validation. But the secondary sale is that of opinion itself. And this takes us back to those comment threads in cyber space. People shop for ideas the way they shop for everything else. That the vast majority of Americans think Castro is an evil dictator proves only that propaganda works. Very few people will answer poll questions by saying they dont have enough information or knowledge of the topic. This brings up Horkheimer’s observations again. Today sociology, a badly corrupted version of the discipline, is what shapes policy for most of what affects people’s daily lives. Including education.

The public looks at history, and historical figures, as if they were the same as you and I. Scratch the surface of anyone and you find the *family of man*. This is the pablum that fuels opinion makers, and it is what shapes kitsch history and biography. As Michael Parenti wrote ‘history’ is written to “enforce the existing political orthodoxy”. It is written by the privileged classes and it presents their value system. This is all sort of obvious, but what is more telling, in a sense, is that the background to historical study, as one finds it in textbooks, is that of a kitsch ‘family of man’ model. Certain rulers were *evil* because they were, well, evil. So pedagogical resistance means firstly, I think, giving up any bureaucratic institutional setting, and secondly, starting with philosophy and the arts. It may be that we’ve had enough science for the time being. This is not to suggest that science be abandoned, but only that it be freed from its corporate research based and sociological base. My fascination with CERN has to do with the fact that what is going on with the Halldron Collidor is probably closer to philosophy than it is to what conventional thinking terms science. I want more of that and less research on how to extend the shelf life of candy bars.

I want pedagogy without textbooks. I am not sure that anyone who has not recently opened a U.S. textbook knows just how horrifying these things are. I do not want children or anyone opening textbooks written in a mind numbingly bland prose, ahistorical and predicated on sociological premises, that teach generic history and social truisms divorced from all political awareness. Why is that the goal? When did this thing happen in which *not offending* anyone became the goal? When was it decided that giving offense to a few people was bad, was terminally bad? Sociology simply measures things that shouldnt be measured, or counted, or statistically analysed. It may have been a useful tool at some point, when it seemed oppositional to dogmatic state narratives, but today, textbook sociology is a brain eating protozoal infection whose generalized grammar obscures rather than reveals. Open schools must offend, must drive some off, must never be bland or generic. Better to be wrong.

Albert Renger-Patzsch, photography. Zeche Bonifacius, Essen 1948.

Albert Renger-Patzsch, photography. Zeche Bonifacius, Essen 1948.


The presumption of self knowledge is a fascinating topic. It implies this person, this self, with abundant self awareness and willingness to comment on any question asked of him or her. It implies that backdrop to our lives from which we pluck available data when needed. This is a large topic and I will return to it in another, later, post. But, for the sake of thinking about pedagogy, it is important to realize that, for example, the Malala Yousafzai and her winning (co-winning recipient) is a fable straight out of a kitsch Conrad. Edleman PR represents Nestle, Oracle, Microsoft, and Hewlitt Packard among others. They handled the *Malala story*; which was essentially her rescue from an evil Muslim menace. Her story is getting to meet the President, and Angelina Jolie….er….Dame Angelina Jolie, and a photo op with David Beckham. This is white society rescuing third world girls. Nobody in the teary eyed audience in TV land USA stops to think, how come Malcolm X. never got one, or Huey Newton or Subcomanandante Marcos, or, even Dr. Mads Gilbert. Of course who the fuck wants this diseased blighted trophy anyway, one that sits on the mantle of several war criminals. Chavez didn’t get one, neither did Castro. Why? No, a teenager rescued and brought back to *civilization* gets one. This is marketing, a sentimental narrative of white compassion, and tolerance. The girl herself is manufactured as an image, a symbol, of moderate Islam, and a friend of the U.S. Mostly she is shown in photo ops with white men. All of it a feel good distraction because, of course, the bombing continues even as the applause dies down. This is all very obvious. And yet, it works. A resistance to such manipulation seems almost the first goal of pedagogical resistance.
Marco Maggi

Marco Maggi


Malala serves as a fitted component in this background ideology. This ideological backdrop is also an image, and a grammar. The story is inseparable from the political reality manufactured by corporate media and the government. This is the *real* against which all entertainment takes place, and all narrative. I suppose in a sense what Derrida did with the Collège international de philosophie is one version of what should happen all over. It is crucial that from kindergarten onwards the role of authority be transformed. Authority is repressive because of how it is practiced. After that the individual should be allowed to attend, or not attend, and to study what they want. If someone chooses to remain illiterate, I’m not sure that’s bad. Not many would so choose. The sociological system demands answers, it privileges answers over questions. It is an anti-philosophy. Answers are fine if ask the right questions. Heidegger, while still studying theology, suggested that the modern individual’s concern for his or her own problems ‘unfolded’ in a way that tangled them with the alienated world. Hence only ontological intellectual pursuits served personal development (of course for Heidegger this later came to mean exterminating Jews and Gypsies and anyone not German, with a Germanic ontological orientation). The constant assault of literal and allegorical clutter was turning pedagogy into intellectual housekeeping.

Peer relationships change. This is my idea of socialism. Self regulating. Class is abolished. I want universities that won’t inspire Tommy Hilfiger. I want no more Tommy Hilfigers. I want no more PR firms. But to reach that place, amid the violence of the state, police and military, much would be to change and I can’t even begin to imagine that happening. I imagine only small autonomous zones of such little importance to the Imperialist power that they are left alone. Reading Mao, reading Lenin, reading Marx. After that Freud and Adorno and Fanon and whoever you want— the point is, read those who worked to make life better. Once that’s done with, choose who you want to read, what you want to study. Start building, tending bees, and gardening. Then read Freire on pedagogy. That is about as Utopian as I can get anymore. Teaching people to *see* and *hear* is the first thing. And then to stimulate the mimetic in relation to all of it. To relearn narrative and story. That is the beginning.

“He who thinks and does not learn is in great danger.”
Confucius

As a footnote to discussions of aesthetic resistance, there is this:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/07/creative-writing-killing-western-literature-nobel-judge-horace-engdahl