“…a profound change of outlook…that has taken place in Western thinking in the course of the last centuries. For a long time….the view asserted the existence of reason as a force not only in the individual mind but also in the objective world….great philosophical systems such as those of Plato and Aristotle, scholasticism, and German idealism were founded on an objective theory of reason. “
Harmony was reasonable. Proportion, both emotionally and materially, were a form of the reasonable. One could see the harmonious man or woman, the harmonious culture, and the harmonious dwelling.
The emphasis was on ends and not means.
Molly Klein’s comments on the previous post stimulated a return to the topic of snark, representation, realism, and to reason. For as she pointed out, was not the era of 1789 to 1848 the formation of forms that became the ancestors of today’s genre art?
As Horkheimer wrote; “there is a fundamental difference between this theory, according to which reason is a principle inherent in reality, and the doctrine that reason is a subjective faculty of the mind”.
Objective reason was not focused on means, or aims —- but on concepts, ideas, theory —even if, as Horkheimer suggested, some of it sounds rather too mythological. It may be that today mythological has come to mean children’s books, The Night Kitchen, or cartoons, rather than what it meant even as recently as 1944.
The current notion of ‘reason’, the new tyranny of the subjective, leads logically to the over-valuing of opinions. And the weird insistence (reactionary…and more on that in a minute) on the opinions of others.
As a side bar observation: a common refrain from those without real political maturity of any kind is to say ‘well, I read right wing and left wing news….I want to know what everyone is saying’. I always want to scream, read it ONCE for fuck sake, you don’t have to read fascists more than once. Once, and then you know what is wrong.
How often has one heard, ‘oh, its just your opinion, it all subjective anyway.
Where this leads of course is the management of the status-quo. Snark is the posture of smugness. The snarkiness is saying oh, pah-leeeze, that was so fifteen minutes ago last autumn. There are horizontal factors entering the discussion here. One is a basic anti-intellectualism, and the second is the infantilization of the culture. The primary narcissism of the infant and young child — and thinking on both Freud, and Leclaire, later, here, the role of the “picture of the real”, the parental construction of an image of the child, for the child — an unconscious wish of the parental authority. But, however it is shaped, and that is a pretty cogent dialogue to have, the fall back position of snark, it foundational backdrop is realism. But a particular sort of realism. The rationalist’s realism.
The white male western world view loves to congratulate itself on its rationality, while at the same time condescending paternalistically to less “developed” cultures (which means less wealthy). Lack of an iPhone usually means backwardness.
“In most cases, to be reasonable means not to obstinate, which in tern points to conformity with reality as it is.”
The snark stance is consonant with the hierarchical world of white power, white male power, and unreality (fantasy, which is very feminine….sort of sissy stuff, actually) can be tolerated only if it is either pathologized (a mental illness, a hallucination) or it is pure decoration (the feminine again). Men drink their coffee black, steaks rare, and etc etc etc. And there is a deeply entrenched belief in instrumental thinking, in logic, in the linear forward moving logic of Manifest Destiny, the internal combustion engine, and the assembly line. There is something yet to be tweezed out in this having to do with tools. With the direct hands-on making of *things*. For in such acts, and impulses lie several registers of contradiction and paradox.
This brings me back to this idea of defining realism. It cuts to the heart of both the creation of kistch aesthetics as we find them today, and to the world structure of global capital. At what point, historically, did the very idea of “realistic” gain traction? I don’t believe the goal of verisimilitude was consciously pursued prior to the late 1700s. And perhaps, really, the industrial revolution was a marker for a specific quality of “realism” emerging.
The question of genre, which I raised last time, cuts across all of this. When I read James Cain, now, it strikes me as closer to Noh Theatre than to kistch realism. The sense of formal rules of expression, in which the subjective is closed off, in a sense. The psychologizing that took over at the end of the 19th century, infused novelistic narrative with the primacy of the subjective (though Dostoyevski’s subjective is not today’s subjective). And with instrumental reason, per Horkheimer. That trajectory, from Romanticism, and tragedy, from myth and ritual, toward the subjectivist reason of the Enlightenment, and on to the belief in progress, linked up with Capital and Imperialist conquest, and the domination of nature, all sort of coalesced into a junk science form of rationalist withdrawl from self. It was the objectifying of the self. The colonial master of all HE surveyed. The bougeoisie, in their desire to emulate the men of wealth, the captains of industry, connecting it all up with an emotional deadness, of emotional witholding, and a hyper-masculinizing of culture, applauded and canonized this psychic distancing.
Now, even within this trajectory, aberrations and anomalies occurred. Or rather, that secret utopia posited by Adorno and Horkheimer, could be detected. The near religious discipline of a Jackson Pollack, or Rothko, or the proletarianized version of that discipline, secular yet by virtue of its fundamental refusal of the status quo, in pulp writers like Thompson and Cain, became a working class Kabuki act — or the monastical meditations of Carl Dryer, Bresson, or Ozu — these all expressed through the rigor of form, the ceremonial dimension of a pre-rational antiquity.
They all embodied a male stoicism, but served within that sensibility, as commentary on the truth of an alienated populace, lonely and confused. The truth of cynicism was suffering.
The snark factor denies the suffering and feelings of impotence, in a brandishing of cosmetic superiority. In comedy, the shared pain of a Keaton or Chaplin, or even Burns & Allen or Phil Silvers — in all of whom the echo of (as Adorno put it when describing Shoenberg) the cafe fiddler is still heard. The trace elements of vaudeville, of Yiddish theatre, of exile, still lived on. It slowly gave way to the snide and sadistic impulses of an Adam Sandler or Jerry Seinfeld. The white snark was expressed in “being an insider”, one of the cool kids in the cool clique.
I’ve often wondered at the rise of the “behind-the-scenes” segements of TV fan shows. We will show you the tricks, let you in, behind the scenes, to be one of the cool kids. It’s all just tricks and illusion, and once that is internalized the sincere engagement with the artwork, with the narrative, is distanced even further.
So, as Molly Klein said in those comments, what was left behind; the fantastic and delirious, the Dionysian, the folk art traditions, marionettes and puppets, the spontaneous, is really the birthplace of genre.
“The crisis of reason is manifested in the crisis of the individual, as whose agency it has developed. The illusion that traditional philosophy has cherished about the individual and about reason — the illusion of their eternity — is being dispelled.”
Kenneth Noland :
“When you look at a great painting it’s like a conversation. It has questions for you. It raises questions in you…. …Being an artist is about discovering things after you’ve done them. Like Cézanne – after twenty years of that mountain (St. Victoire, fh) he found out what he was doing.”
The elite hoard things, their power is usually expressed by a control of ‘things’. The more preoccupied one is with holding onto that power, the less human you become. The more autistic, the more like an automaton.
In what way one refuses the system, is the determining factor in aesthetic autonomy. In resistance to the Spectacle. For the kitsch refusal looms here, as well. The various new age mysticisms, the fetishizing of foods and diet, an exclusivity that expresses class antagonisms as much as anything else.
Snark is the desire to adjust to a pre-fabricated reality. It is the adaptive impulse mediated by marketing and advertising, by a growing police state surveillance system that renders everyone just a ‘subject’ on CCTV. The idea of individuality is worn down when all you are is a voice on a machine, recorded by powers you never see.
The engineer has given way to the programmer and manager. Means and not ends. People are instrumental digits, and their behavior predictable to some degree. Predictable enough for the manager anyway. For the power system to operate smoothly. The glorification of professionalism is really just the privileging of white male power, of a hierarchical system of domination — and the snark posture is available for any occasion. One size fits all. It is the erasure of difference. The establishing of kitsch psychology turned the original exploration of psychic pain into an adjustment therapy, from the enemy within to the enemy without. Snark is reactionary and fascistic.
“The real individuals of our time are the martyrs who have gone through infernos of suffering and degradation in their resistance to conquest and oppression, not the inflated personalities of popular culture…”
Popular culture by virtue of its very popularity, today invalidates any secret utopia that might have been lurking….though likely it cant be there anyway. Nostalgia is always reactionary. Nostalgia is kitsch memory.
The sentimentalizing of narrative is really a form of false consciousness. The sentimental can only exist in the most reductive of world views. Pepsi commercials can make you cry, but that doesn’t change their inherent triviality. The well adjusted purveyors of success, the careerist artists must, at some point, always choose. Madness or slavery (Artaud). Aesthetics can contain no formulas or recipes. For the impulse toward truth is predicated upon a rejection of forumla.
There is much more to say about the history of the idea of realism. This serves the briefest of intros.
Realism (as it is meant today in common usage) is the subtraction of everything that cannot be explained, catagorized, or which is somehow empathic. The clarity of Bresson’s vision, the ignoring of availability to popular acceptance, the sense of practicing each time anew on what was both an experiment in form, and a test of truth telling. A meditation on the form that film presented him. Those films are not realistic.
But what are they? Perhaps uncanny.
Dostoyevsky today reads more like James Cain, than he does Zadie Smith, or Jonathan Franzan, or whoever is literati du jour right now with the establishment. Genre retains the gesture of labor, of suffering, and of community. It raises questions. It does not suggest palliatives or panaceas. It holds to the sound of its origins in some fashion, while interrogating those origins. Genre is contained within the form, but by virtue of that, it is not enclosed by the Spectacle. There are paradoxes to all of this, all the more reason to examine it further. Corporate science, artistic naturalism, realism, are now serving a disinfecting and trivializing of the mysteries that allow for individuality, and the truth such formulations are all illusory anyway. The marketing of individuality is there to ease the realization that it’s really conformity being sold. The pulp crime novels, the noir films of post war America, the books of “ghetto” writers such as Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, all of this work grows in stature by its excising of snark. Dryer, Bresson, Fassbinder, these are the practitioners of genuine empathy, sincerity, and honesty. There are others, and categorizing is a losing gambit anyway…that’s the point. Where does one put Genet or Bernhard? Or Faulkner and Hemingway or Flannery O’Conner? In the pantheon, is all we can know or should care about. Snark cannot tolerate the sincere. Sincerity is wounding. Snark cauterizes that wound, the better to obscure the humanity.