The Night Sky

tonopath test range, hangers, pagalen

I have been finding a sort of crypto-reactionary critique surfacing in places that purport to be either leftist or “progressive” (and yeah, I don’t know what that word means either) or at least liberal. And it seems a new class of apologetics has joined left leaning but corporate owned publications.

The largest problem, or at least the one I want to respond to, has to do with aesthetic critiques. Take for example, this piece on Arrested Development by Peter Queck and Bhaskar Sunkara.

This is fairly typical of this new crypto reactionary apologetics. Now, first, I happen to believe that Judith Butler is right ….(I take this quote from Eilif Verney-Elliots fascinating piece, ongoing, on gay male porn…from his blog, link below)….

I oppose the notion that the media is monolithic. It’s neither monolithic nor does it act only and always to domesticate. Sometimes it ends up producing images that it has no control over. This kind of unpredictable effect can emerge right out of the centre of a conservative media without an awareness that it is happening. There are ways of exploiting the dominant media. The politics of aesthetic representation has an extremely important place.
Judith Butler , Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal (Interviewers). “Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler.” in: Radical Philosophy. 1994.

Indeed, increasingly, I think what Butler says is true, while at the same time, there is an increasingly totalitarian feel to corporate culture. But back to the Sunkara and Queck piece.

Here is the first sentence:
“Humans will always have needs. What we won’t always have are unfulfilled needs.”

Well, I know they cant meant to be taken literally, right? Not even in the *advanced* west is this remotely true. So, what might they mean?

Well, lets continue…

“Throughout history we’ve faced a world defined by scarcity and lived in response to it. We’ve connived, killed and exploited one another, and struggled to even imagine a better way of living. But 10 years ago, Mitchell Hurwitz’s “Arrested Development” managed to conceive of what an escape from such a world might look like. “

Burns & Allen TV show, 1950-1958

Burns & Allen TV show, 1950-1958

OK, so, somehow or other, the belief driving this inane TV criticism (sic) is one that simply ignores climate change, water shortages, GMOs and factory farming, as well as militarized domination of populations and and increasing prison gulag — no, all that is beside the point, because its possible utopia is right around the corner (we wont always have unfulfilled needs) and this Utopian dream sort of resembles a sit com.

It gets worse…they suggest ‘ensemble comedy is inherently communist in form’…. well, no it’s not. Comedy has an historical context, laughter comes from a shared recognition of suffering, in fact, and the laughter is often based on a shared sense of cruelty, both of others and of, tragically, ourselves. Buster Keaton knew this, Chaplain knew this, and even George Burns knew this. Ensemble comedy is a sort of vague term anyway. If they writers mean, and I am guessing they do, that an ensemble cast (in a network TV comedy primarily, since that is the limit of their understanding) is communist because…..I dont know….because there is not one *star*? Was “I Love Lucy” an ensemble comedy? Was the “Dick Van Dyke Show”? Reading further….they reference Seinfeld, and Friends…(of course, because this is the middle brow sensibility on display). What is glaringly missing here is any notion of exactly what the forces of production are behind these corporate products. “Friends” was a witty enough show if one could suspend one’s revulsion at the dishonesty inherent in the premise. This is not a truthful reflection of working life in the U.S., especially, a reflection of rent costs for most workers. Queck and Sunkara mention in off handed way, “scarcity free” as if that is a mere trifle that might get in the way of their fan boy enjoyments of this crap. The word “scarcity” has a sort of Marxist flavor anyway.

At this point it’s idiotic to go further. One does sort of wonder why the Washington Post published this junk? How does that work? If I were paranoid, I would suspect psy-ops. But, I’m not paranoid…, really, I’m not.

Bedouin mother, 1948

Bedouin mother, 1948

But here is one more snippet…
“More than any other show, “Arrested Development” drew economics into its texture — harping on the corporate scandals of the day and constantly building plots around the Bluth family’s financial juggling.”

Well, no, economics is NOT drawn into the texture, except by superficial reference. Financial juggling is a way of saying, in fact, economic hardship is invisible in this show, as it is in almost all network TV. The apology goes something like this….oh, this is JUST a comedy…etc. Perhaps bland mention of Enron qualifies as a drawing of economics into the texture, I don’t know. But the continual conflating of the spirit of Marxism with the spirit of this kistch network pablum is not just dishonest, but almost sinister.

Here is the final paragraph in this review…

“We’ve dealt with a lot over the past years — jobless rates over 10 percent, cuts hampering the social services we rely on, the massive burden of debt and foreclosure. Now that pain has come to one of the greatest comedies of all time. The spirit of “Arrested Development” is the recession’s latest casualty.”

“We’ve” dealt with a lot? What does that mean…we the TV audience of clerks to Empire, the fatuous fan boy elite who write this shit? The reality is, of course that unemployment in real terms is closer to 22%, and cuts havent hampered social services, they have all but eliminated them, causing the most dire suffering, and last count, the US has something like 42 million people defined as ‘food insecure’. Har har har.

This is essentially prose and content suitable for Entertainment Weekly, but with the word “communism” tossed in. It is blatantly dishonest courting of the status quo.

Then over at In These Times (where Bunkara is a senior managing editor) we have Sadie Doyle’s pseudo feminist piece on violence and misogyny.

The problem is again, that this is essentially conformist prose and a middle brow aesthetic, tricked out with radical accessorizing. The other problem is holding up David Lynch as somehow the paragon of authenticity. However, it is a “review” and that is the essential flaw here. For the form is that of a consumer guide to cultural shopping. It is interesting, though, that mention is made of the U.S. version of the originally Danish series, The Killing. A show with almost no violence. The death has occured before the show begins, and what transpires over the entire season is a character study of alienated single mom Detective, Mireille Enos, and her recovering crack head partner Joel Kinneman. I mention this because the show was not renewed, a decided NOT hit. This suggests the point missed by Doyle, and that is that the countless (Hawaii Five-0, CSI franchises, Rookie Blue, Southland, etc etc etc) police state apologies are the real normalizing of authority worship, AND of misogyny. The Killing is one of the few programs that mitigates the idea of police goodness as an absolute.

But there is more going on here. Each day there seems to be another news story about out of control cops beating someone to death. Innocent everymen, beaten for no reason.

Mirielle Enos, The Killing

Mirielle Enos, The Killing

Fear is rarely a theme of Hollywood’s unless it is fear of Vampires or Aliens. Fear of cops? I cant think of any examples. One would have to go back to films such as Straight Time, Ulu Grosbard’s 1978 crime drama based on an Eddie Bunker book. The sense of institutional irrationality, of blind authoritarianism at work, as rarely been as well captured as this film. But then, Eddie Bunker wrote it, and Bunker always wrote from the p.o.v. of the criminal. Of the outsider.

Straight Time, 1978, dr. Ulu Grosbard, w/ Dustin Hoffman

Straight Time, 1978, dr. Ulu Grosbard, w/ Dustin Hoffman

But back to fear, as it appears in cultural product. The difference, they say, between anxiety and fear, is that one knows the source for fear. Anxiety is vague, undifferentiated. Often there is a sort of cognitive incongruity and sense of dread, almost confusion. Fear is more direct. One senses that the societal disintegration that is all around citizens of the West, has culturally disappeared to the degree that *fear* rarely appears in narrative. Anxiety does, and that is an entire subject unto itself, but fear does not appear except in very specific ways. Fear is fear of aliens, of criminals, of zombies or monsters. There are few films or television shows that depict fear of the state, and yet, that fear is palpable in daily life.

Here is a 30 minute film on the new surveillance state:

Cultural depictions of this sort of totalitarian apparatus are pretty rare. One can think back thirty years or so, or forty, to films such as The Conversation, or The Parallax View, to find expressions of justifiable paranoia and fear. The violence in culture today, at least in corporate film and TV is cleansed of existential grounding. It is almost entirely a violence that resembles cartoon violence. It is interesting that amid this tidal swell of daily orgies of violence, real photographs or video of violence are still too upsetting for the public; there are no photos (or rarely) of actual dead bodies, and when a video does appear, such as the one wikileaks released of men massacred from above, it has caused great discussion, and remains highly disturbing. When police violence is captured on cell phones, the sense of pain and the real destruction of the human that stares back at the viewer is cause for much public dialogue.

The violence in a Stallone of Willis film might go on for fifteen minutes, body counts in the hundreds, but nobody blinks. One man in a cell phone video being beaten is collectively disturbing. The background sound track of daily life is one of TV explosions, screams, crashes, and gunfire. It is now simply the grammar of mass culture. The paradox is the near Puritan prohibition on images of real death. Lethal injections by the state are not televised. In fact, state executions are highly controlled in terms of image. Dead or maimed soldiers in Iraq are rarely shown. The Pentagon makes sure of this. What studios and networks do, in collaboration with the Pentagon, is present an idealized, almost wholesome, heroic brand of violence. Abstract, in the very manner that drone murder feels abstract. In terms of aesthetics, this is a crucial point. Death remains something avoided, as if it were the result of some failure of the system. As if it were an aberration.

There is something else creeping into popular entertainment, and that is a more formal voyeurism of violence. HBO’s current Game of Thrones in a recent episode included a beheading (both heads dumped out of a sack) and the severing of a penis. It was counter-weighted by equal amounts of female nudity.

christmas_04 parke

In exactly the way that violence is cleansed of emotion, is removed from existential grounding, so is critical writing removed from actual life under State mediation, and in related manner, the accompanying loss of aesthetic acumen is then unable to differentiate articles and products of resistance co-opted and pre-digested by the courtiers of Empire. The pseudo left represented by Zizek, or on a more parochial plane by Jodi Dean and Sunkara and the like, are really writing critical prose that is the equivalent of a Bruce Willis film.

One of my favorite artist/photographers is Trevor Paglen. I bring up Paglen because in a sense, what he is doing is the opposite of this erasure of existentiality, of the genuine emotive dimension of narrative and image. It struck me this week, as I looked at some of Cindy Sherman and Geoff Crewsdon’s work, that something always nagged at me when I looked at their work, and I left the engagement feeling as if I had been taken on a seductive but manipulated tour of subjectivity. In both cases, I feel there is stuff going on, and it is not without value. But I thought of Paglen then. Paglen has sort of pointed his camera(s) at U.S. military bases, secret sights, government activities (mostly connected to the military) and also found the flotsam and jetsam of the Pentagon’s global activities. The result is never manipulating, it is haunting, though. It contains the inexpressible edges of a vast horror. One can feel it.

Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen

What he does is not agit-prop. The narrative is obscured, elliptical and in fact, what one is often left with, in Paglen, is a palimpsest, an erasure, or just a fragment. It is presented, though, with the austere respect of a cabalistic, recondite offering. The emotion connects to the mortal — to oracular pronouncements the answers to which we will never hear. In fact, silence is a constituent part of the experience of his photographs. They are silent.

Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen

In “Other Night Skies”, Paglen worked with amateur astronomers and photograhers to track secret satellites and space probes. In the series “Limit Telephotography” he adapted the super-strength telescopes, normally used to shoot planets, to reveal top-secret U.S. governmental installations, often forty, fifty miles away; and covert bases, secret and remote and usually unseen by the unaided civilian eye. In all of this, Paglen’s sense of aesthetic is extraordinary, for one is never not reduced to silent contemplation. There is no message. There is nothing for sale. There are only the ghostly hermetic images of the U.S. death machine.

Here is a long exchange in an interview with Julian Stallabrass:

“Stallabrass: That’s something that intrigues me about your work, the apparent disjunction between process and visual result. When you photograph secret
military installations or black sites from very long distances, using extreme
telephoto lenses, in one sense you seem to be spying for citizens against
unaccountable power; yet, softened and distorted by heat haze, the results
evoke painting or pictorialist art photography in a range of “styles,” from
Edward Hopper to color-field painting. How do the apparent art-historical
references and the process of producing the work come together, and do
such art-historicalreferences work towards bringing out the politics and relations ofseeing that you talk about?
Paglen: You’re bringing up two really important aspects of my work. On the one
hand, we have what we might call the politics of production. By this I mean
the kinds of relational practices that are behind the work and go into its
making. On the other hand, we have things like the visual rhetoric and aesthetics of an image: here we find more of the questions about spectatorship,
art history, and so forth. Taking both sides of this seriously is fundamental to
what I do. If we’re talking about the politics of production, there are a lot of
things going on. On the one hand, I might be camping out on a mountaintop taking photos of a secret military base, determining the location of CIA
“black sites”so I can go photograph them,researching front companies used
in covert operations, or working with amateur astronomersto track classified
spacecraft in Earth orbit. These are all relational practices and they all have
various sorts of politics to them. Photographing a secret military base means
insisting on the right to do it, and enacting that right. Thus, we have a sort
of political performance. Finding CIA black sites means, well, finding secret
black sites. Working with amateur astronomers has a politics of collaboration
to it, as well as something I think of as“minoritarian empiricism,” which has
to do with experimenting with radical possibilities of classical empiricism.
All this happens long before I even think about making a piece of “art” and
putting it in front of other people to see.
When we get into the question of what the image actually looks like, I use
a lot of art-historical references as a way to suggest how contemporary forms
of seeing (and not seeing) rhyme with other historical circumstances that
artists have responded to. I look at a lot of abstract painting as a response to
its historical moment. In someone like Turner, we find a vision of what the
nineteenth century’s “annihilation of space with time” looked like; in Dada
or in some of the smarter Abstract Expressionists, we can find responses to
some of the twentieth century’s greatest horrors suggesting the utter failure
of representation in relation to the bomb or the Holocaust, for example.
There was something radical and profound—at those historical moments—
in the kinds of abstractions some of those artists came up with. We’ve moved
way beyond that, however. Some contemporary artists have retreated into a
sort of pseudo-Greenbergian abstraction, and Ifind thatreally disingenuous.
All in all, I think we’re right to be suspicious of representation right now.
The days of believing that there’s something out there in the word that can be
transparently represented by a photograph or image are over. Certainly that
notion has been over in philosophy pretty much from the start, but it has
taken popular culture and vernacularforms of seeing a long time to catch up.
Artists and photographers have always “manipulated” images—there’s no way
to make a photograph or image without manipulating it, partly because
there’s no “it” prior to the image. This poses a useful challenge to cultural producers: how to work with images or visual material in a critical way, given a lack of faith in representation. Some folks are talking about affect and nonrepresentational theory (Nigel Thrift, for example, in human geography) as one
way of moving beyond representation, and others are taking up different flavors of “speculative realism” and ontology. I’ve certainly learned a lot from these thinkers, but I often find my thought drifting towards contemporary
variations on old-fashioned Frankfurt School criticaltheory.”

Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen

To return this, then, to what I continue to label the kitsch culture of corporate product, of studio film, and network and cable TV. Indeed, Judith Butler is right, and sometimes they don’t know what they produce. Most often, they do. The problem then, aesthetically speaking, resides in two areas. One is (as Paglen put it) the politics of production. The other is, the commodification of artworks, the consuming, the shopping. The second problem, branches out into many sectors, but since the subject of David Lynch (and Cindy Sherman and Crewsdon) has come up, I think the problem has to do with the creation of the “weird” as a catagory. Lynch creates the weird as his, almost, entire raison e’etre. By creating work that posits a category of ‘otherness’, the implication is that the viewer is NOT weird. The viewer is part of the normal — safely contained within a world of capitalist white patriarchy. I always feel as if Lynch’s work is a sort of safety valve for adolescent boys — and older — undergrad, hell, post grad, males, to provide a place to point. To point and say, oh that is not me. My friends are not THAT. *That* is weird.

Someone once asked me, as a cocktail party parlor game, if you had to divide the world into two camps, what would they be. I said, the serious and the not serious. I still sort of like that answer.

Paul Bowles was once aksed why he chose to live in Tangier, on the edge of the desert, and he replied, ‘to be close to the absolute’.


I have detected something else that seems to be running alongside the new totalitarianism of Zizek and Badiou, and that is a new revised form of “New Age” mystification. It is almost always, it seems, coupled to ecology somehow. It is also, at least in the versions I’ve seen, announcing itself as a corrective to Enlightenment thinking. It is anti Darwinian and anti instrumental logic. This is the danger in a sense, for instrumental logic is the logic of domination, of the Pentagon and Manifest Destiny, and Colonial privilege. It is dangerous because it de-politicizes the critique of instrumental logic. Of Adorno and Horkheimer, and even of borderline reactionaries like Habermas, or of Marcuse and Debord, and Delueze. But this is a serious topic, and taking the politics out of it by suggesting minerals have feelings, or water has memory, is rather a problem. And it is not a problem because water *doesn’t* have a memory — we would have to spend a lot of time deciding what those words mean in this context, but FIRST, one has to prevent the ruling elite from owning all the fucking water, and owning all the food, and most of the pollinating insects. The impulse to reject corporate dominated science is justified, but an embrace of mushy headed mysticism is not.

Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen

I think in general there is a desire for refuge in the populace. The system offers more and more faux refuge, while simultaneously ridding the world of ever more of real refuge. The commons, both physical and metaphorical, are increasingly colonized. A new militarized police intrude and dominate the urban landscape much as telephone poles once seemed an intrusion, and metaphorically the culture industry provides constant fantasy distractions. To confuse these distractions with anything serious is the cultural problem for pedagogy. This is what aesthetic resistance means, a learning to identify those rogue images or narratives Butler referenced at the top, while also keeping clearly in mind the politics of production (as Paglen put it). But there is the natural desire for refuge. The daily assaults of hyper branding, of constant propaganda, and all of it embroidered in the grammar of fear naturally create a longing for a safe haven. Of fear and anxiety. The non-stop buffering of the psyche with the narratives of violence, of punishment, or revenge. This is a culture that has been purged of compassion. There has been an increasing tendency toward a Manichean model of black & white, right and wrong, good guys and bad guys, winners and losers, and a parallel encouragement toward never forgiving. In the culture industry, nobody accepts apologies. I’m sorry. That’s not good enough. Revenge is stamped as an approved emotional compass. Forgiveness is weakness, is for losers.

Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen

A quick final note on the American sit com. One of the changes seen in comedy (and I touched on this before) has been the disappearance of humility, of the tragic. If tragedy appears, it does so in the cloaks of the freak — it is Andy Kauffman. The anger of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor is now the snark of Seinfeld, or the arrogance and elitist codes of an Adam Sandler. In some respects, Sandler is the bench mark for absence of talent being no obstacle. Comedy became a strange spectacle or ritual of self abjection. There is no more gruesome psychic abattoir, no den created by the Inquisition, no site of mental torture that quite equals a trip to a Comedy Club. It may be that there are, dialectically speaking, currents of mental health that emerge from these vestries of humiliation, I don’t know. But the evolution in U.S. society, and even U.K, as to what is funny, reflects something of the fall out from Reagan and Thatcher’s revolutions. Laughter is now a nervous laughter. The American sit-com as it evolved, has reflected this. To watch Phil Silvers or Burns and Allen today, is to watch something that still connects to Comedia and folk community, to Yiddish genius and to Vaudeville. The death of those last connections to an earlier model of funny…Milton Berle and George Burns, and Jonathan Winters this year, means what remains developed under the aegis of marketing; in the rapidly rising tide of the three camera laugh track formula, and of careerism, of the constant repetition of formula competing for limited corporate slots. But if The Honeymooners at least retained a sense of real working class life, shows such as “Friends” were simulacra of life, not idealizations, just pure invented attitude and as far from working class reality as its possible to get. In a sense, Arrested Development is the Mannerist stage of what is already a cheap motel print. It is so divorced from communism, to bring this back to the start, as it is, probably, possible to get. But who cares, its the attitude anyway. This post gonzo prose of snideness and glibness as political.

This is the petit bourgeois left today, the post modern dissolution of real Marxist analysis, replaced with elitist codes of cool, or branded diversity, or co-opted feminism and gay rights. The reality of corporate production, of the white male dominated corridors of cultural power, isn’t somehow incidental to what is on the screen. It is exactly productive of what is on the screen. What is on the screen (99% of the time) is a vision reflecting the values of the people paying to have this crap made. SONY, Time Warner, FOX, News Corp, Vivendi, Disney, Viacom…..these are billion dollar entities, and they made Arrested Development, and they didn’t make it to resemble communism.

Watch that surveillance documentary. Think about Time Warner/AOL, and FOX, and SONY, and think about the integrated communication system, across various platforms; phone, TV, computer, etc etc….and that just Time Warner’s revenue last year was in the neighborhood of a hundred billion dollars. In 1983 there were around 250 media corporations, and today 6 control over 90% of all media. In other words, 229 media executives control the culture industry for an audience of close to 280 million Americans (this doesn’t count overseas audiences). It is worse than naive to forget this. And the new totalitarian white supremicist quislings like Zizek (and really, Molly Klein was one of the earliest writers to recognize the fascism lurking in Zizek’s writings), are the court eunuchs for Imperialism and not, as advertised, radical critics of Imperialism.

One of the problems with cultural consumer advocacy (engaging as a ‘fan’)is that it is hierarchical, and duplicates the existing structures of Imperialism. The substrata of appreciation is now terminally linked to pre-existing structures as defined by, really, the state. One of the real problems is how enclosed our very language has become by corporate culture. These are patriarchal, white and imperialist. Resolution in plot, the emphasis on message, on rationality and logic, and not just the obvious worship of authority and the normalizing of police as a necessary ingredient in daily life, all express these underpinnings. The unsettling fear though, is because deep down most people know, or are learning, this is not true. Cops beat people to death. Cops are by and large not punished for these crimes.

The kitsch violence of network TV and film has a numbing quality, and its very distance from daily realities contributes to a cognitive state in which I suspect real coping mechanisms are short circuited. There is a more immediate experience of helplessness. Does this relate to the increased use of anti-depressants? I’ve no idea, but I suspect so.

National Reconnaissance  Office, Chantilly VA. Trevor Paglen

National Reconnaissance Office, Chantilly VA. Trevor Paglen

I leave off with Paglen, from that same interview…

“The utopian aspect is the not-so-secret secret of negative dialectics, as I
understand it.Ithink it pointsin the direction of unfulfilled forms of freedom
and justice, but only indirectly and obscurely. This is related to what we were
talking about when the subject of avant-gardism came up in our conversation.I
really do want to believe in a more just world.I often think of Fanon, who insisted on a “new humanism” without ever really articulating what that might look
like. I’m not sure even what it might mean to articulate that as a meta-theory.
Perhaps that’sthewhole point of it—which leaves us again in the space of negative dialectics, no? For me, this is what art can do—orient our seeing and suggest practicesin waysthatsuggest (even negatively) liberatory forms of being—
but it’sreally hard to say what those forms might be.”

and the link to Verney-Elliot’s blog:

Electronic Warfare Facility, Halligan Nevada, Trevor Paglen

Electronic Warfare Facility, Halligan Nevada, Trevor Paglen


  1. Indeed, John there seems to be – especially embodied in Arrested Develop – a type of elitist ‘fall from grace’ that is also at the same not real. For the ‘fall’ produces very little change for many of the members of the family – the matriarch is still in the penthouse. The ‘sensible’ son moves to ‘save the business.’ The charity-credit-card-eating sister and her husband the psychiatrist-cum-unemployed clown (which sometimes are the same), continue buying and buying and travelling and throwing ‘charity’ balls. What’s more is that the continuation of this ‘Southern California’ (mainly white parts of Orange County), is that it induces a really, risible and bland performativity of the Same. I can’t think of anything more lobotomising than Arrested Development except for maybe Jerry Seinfield … There is nothing to ‘take’ from it to remake it.

    On the military piece of your article, I think that the serious and necessary assumption that all is incredibly linked to the militarised cultures is essential: from the Net (created by the US military) to everyday language in English “war on poverty” “war on drugs” … etc. There are tropes that are taken up. “I’d shoot a bitch” is unfortunately common slang if we can call anything ‘slang’ anymore for it is all a form of slang-boomerang and bomb-bang! And here I sit, militarising my mind on the Net… There is no ‘pure’ place to run to except death. Wonder why Chinese factories are installing ‘death nets’ to catch people-workers (robots?) jumping out of their ‘dorm housing’ … Wonder why the trains in the super-rich, super-capitalised nation of Japan are routinely shut because of a business man jumping in front of a train? Teenagers cut themselves to ‘feel real.’ No, there is no ‘speculating’ on reality unless you have a comfy white, straight middle/upper class life. There is the speculation… Socrates and the Slave State: The ‘thinkers’ sit on top of us all, and we in the middle-class/lower-class West are implicated too.

  2. Guy Zimmerman says:

    Wonderful, John. The Paglen work is remarkable and judging by the interview material, you’re using it in a way he would embrace. His comments about Dada and Abstract Expressionism made me think of Phillip Guston’s haunting paintings, by the way. But the images are chilling and also gorgeous and the whole project seems heroic in the best sense of the word.

    It’s true – the American corporate oligarchy is attempting to desensitize the population to violence as fast as it can because the staggering violence that sustains the regime will be forced out into the open as it ratchets up even more over the next decades. The violence is a deep commitment made by every American to one degree or another, and so as things tip out of balance on the environmental and resource front (no more oil!), the regime is being forced to call in its chips. The violence expresses itself strongly in socio-economic and political registers but is ultimately ontological, or at least onto-political in nature and has to be defeated at that level. The fact that this is almost impossible to imagine is not germane – the long list of indigenous cultures that have been decimated over the past four hundred years by the behemoth of the “enlightened” west are our forebears in the struggle, no? And yet, as I imply above with the word “commitment”, we have, all of us, been formed to a large degree by that same violence (I know I have), so resistance has a self-deconstruction aspect to it also. The way our identities are grounded in violence is why work like Melville and Cormac McCarthy resonate so strongly – it’s what they insist we look at.

    In terms of Lynch, I agree with you about the way he is assigned to the category of the “weird.” To me, Lynch is not a major director – more of a kind of Asberg-y also ran – but there are moments in which the violence you’re describing shows up and registers as violence. I’m thinking of moments in Lost Highway, but it’s there in most of his work that I can think of. I never really want to watch his films, but when I do I find I’m glad they exist, if only because they seem like authentic expressions of a singular (rather than a corporate) sensibility.

    Also I’m, in general, impressed with Deleuze’s analysis of what it means to be non-fascist – what is required to be non-fascist – so I can’t agree with you there (no question there are some regrettable Deleuzians out there, but when is that NOT the case with any thinker?) A Deleuzian reading of Melville and McCarthy, for example, is a pretty fertile and interesting one. But these are minor points of contention and more or less off-topic given how much of what you are saying here I would co-sign without reservation.

  3. John Steppling says:

    I quite like Deleuze…i think my sentence structure was flawed there. I mean habermas as the borderline reactionary, not Deleuze or Marcuse certainly.

    But I think that what you say about violence is right. Basically, you can see the trial balloons of one sort of another over the last decade or so…..Katrina, Iraq, Somalia, and certainly the Balkans. But also as the infrastructure disintegrates the US will more and more become this battlefield — the prison complex is going to be extended to FEMA type camps, etc. So the need for desensitizing is acute. What is tricky, though, is how one uses crimes and violence in art. I thought of No Country for Old Men….which is about exactly what you describe. Our own complicity, and our own senses of self having been shaped by this — we are all complicit on some level in slavery , in the genocide of native americans. We are all shaped and complicit both. But….this is where I think the ontological aspect enters — my Lacanian or Freudian reading partly — that our identity is always going to be linked to transgression. All stories are crime stories. Its interesting artistically, that European writers…Broch and Bernhard, and painters like Bacon and Kiefer…and then Celan, and all the way up to Handke….they responded to WW2 in a sense…..and of course the first world war before that. For Americans we had slavary, and genocide of our own….the ethnic cleansing….but one can feel melville emotionally is in sync with a Dostoyevsky…and Kafka….and later McCarthy with Bernhard. This is the enlightenment psyche in self demolition…controlled demolition…. in a sense.

    and yes, Paglen is just fantastic.

    you are so right about language…….no child left behind….and the war names …using Blackhawks for example……genocide creator……all of life is infused with military code and symbol. And everything is also metaphorically criminalized….KILLER storms…etc.

  4. Once again I could spend forever replying. Let me start here “. Comedy became a strange spectacle or ritual of self abjection. ” And this really goes with the dehumanization..the sadistic spectacle. Jerry Springer was not a sitcom but the humiliation and the abjection was adopted into sitcoms. With AD there is the alibi that the loathsome people are the rich, but it’s that suggestion – humanity is just repulsive, why shouldn’t humanity be evicted (Big Brother) or eliminated? The smugness of comedy now is startling – Ben Stiller, Sacha Baron Cohen. Mike Meyers is often funny but he partakes of it too. Ruling class contempt for humanity. Coen Bros. Now Girls. I saw the trailer for Frances Ha – its literally all about real etstae, see the website, its about gentrification, a developer’s ad like “Desperately seeking Susan” only a million times moreso, with nothing else -a styory of gentrification disguised as a kind of quirky indie movie – and here the victory of the juvenile is declared. Total infantile femininity. Just adulthood abolished. And so this sadism is all thaty’s left. Sadism and contempt, fascism, schmittianism…all that these films and shows can say I Love This! (squeal, clap) and I Hate That! (kill, splat.) Humiliation and derision or stupid addicted adoration. Authorian personality – obedience and sadism.

  5. (And thank you for the acknowledgement of my contriibtuion to the mission, Zizek Delendo Est)

  6. John Steppling says:

    I wanted only to add a couple thoughts.
    I think there is now a natural sort of division of representations of violence. There are “action” films…which means cartoon violence and mayhem, and then there are more formal (usually quasi prestige products) where the violence has more verisimilitude…and almost always is more purely sadistic. Then the violence porn of *Saw* and the like. Audiences know the codes now.
    As for humor…I think those observations are right. I remember when Big Brother came to London…i was living in London at the time….and it was huge, and clearly was expressing all this latent aggression toward neighbors and the like, but also the new culture of shaming. It was an offical sanctioned scapegoating. And it was applauded. Jerry Spinger is a fascinating and somewhat contradictory show. But it was also the start of people acting these parts assigned to them. The exhibitionistic sort of self flagellation that seems to be embedded in an obedience culture. The authority was what? WHo was the authority in big brother? The network.

  7. Yes the playing to type – people want to be in the minstrel show. A desire to gratify others expectations. We’ve all felt this I think that impulse – you probably to be laconic gunfighterish, me to be JAPpy…I know so many gay men in entertainment or fashion who start out doing a kind of exaggerated campy thing as a joke and it comes natural. When I was living in Bath Spa I worked more yiddish and cmments on clothes into my speech than I ever did before because i felt this expectation of performance, and then it probably did just take hold to a point and become me. This is not particularly sinister but it higlights a means of maniupulating all of us spectators that is really troubling and the consciousness of which is discouraged by mockery. But it is not just the tv and an individual – it is the permeation of the whole social world and the reinforcement socially. We interact through the entertainment commoditiues – nearly every relation is routed through them, as we talked about re Weeds…

    One reason why this
    “It is dangerous because it de-politicizes the critique of instrumental logic. Of Adorno and Horkheimer, and even of borderline reactionaries like Habermas, or of Marcuse and Debord, and Delueze.”
    is so important now (and I would add Aimé Césaire, Silvia Federici, Sylvia Wynter); we have what Parenti always describes as the cunning scientific deployment of irrationality, or irrational manipulations. Racism in the 19th c, the biologistic schemes of five races that fantasized “pure stocks” like dyes or something, failed, it was unweildly and inflexible,. This pseudo science that tries to trick the reason, to fool the rational person by sophistry, doesn’t wrk. What wrks is giving people stuff that is absurd but entertains them – they love it and that’s why they accept it regardless of its absurdity. Clerks love the stories of White House and Law Enforcement “bungling” because it entertains and flatters them, and so they “believe” it or rather “make believe” it despite the failure (the impossibility) to be convinced rationally.

  8. john steppling says:


    it seems to me there are always (or often anyway) two contradictory memes, or tropes or whatever….two versions , two narratives applied to the same theme or topic.

    Islam is backward, dirty, cave dwelling, anti modern, and tribal.
    Islamic mastermind evil diabolical and cunning geniuses (that live in caves maybe).

    The police are advanced super hi tech near omnicient — or
    CIA is uber hi tech, can look into any hotel room in any obscure city on the planet at a moment’s notice.

    The police are over bureaucratized and top heavy and get in the way of real crime fighting individuals (often vigilantes). The CIA, the same……in need of “individual” heroism.

    Technology solves everything.
    Technology is the cause of all problems.

    and see, the technology theme is treated with great ambivalence. The entire zombie post apoc narrative (almost always including a reconstruction story) is an expression of elite contempt for the masses, but also an expression a mass desire FOR the possibility to start over. The desire to be rid of mortgage payments, car insurance, salaried work, alimony, lawyers, etc. I happen to think this is a very strong longing right now. A sort of fantasy of agrarian simplicity. Its a very almost absurdly reductive fantasy….but its there. It plays into the feelings of powerlessness…..the need to feel of ‘value’….. to be recognized. This is a huge need I think. Mass culture, no matter how much PR money is poured into the marketing of “individuality”….you can shop your way to inidividual specialness……people feel anonymous. And they feel alienated. And so this post apocalyptic landscape seems like a place where one can have value in the community. Its really an expression of community. Look at how many sci fi shows and films are built around this. Now this is hollywood, so the future is always capitalist………and its also as you pointed out, a desire for real estate. People can just walk into a city and squat in an apartment on Park Avenue. People can just go walk into a car showroom and pick a new BMW and drive away. Its pure fantasy built on this idea of shopping. Still, in contains elements of a more deeply buried need for actually doing work that has value in the community, Of people discovering hidden talents. This is a big secondary theme in all these shows and films. I have talent and strengths I didnt know i had. If just given the chance…..

    There are so many secondary themes at work, though. Anger….and the reconstruction always feels unsatisfying. I think there is such a bankruptcy of imagination in hollywood writers — they cant really imagine what farming or sustainable community would look like. And so you get diluted imitations of the current reality. But the shows and films are always really mostly about shopping anyway, and the chance to be rid of one’s life as it is constituted today in the west.

    And science is treated ambivalently too……it often caused the catastrophe….and it often is seen as the possible savior. Its not much different really than Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I think there is a sense in the public now, that junk science has really taken over….people’s lives are so stressed and so precarious and so insecure….and science hasnt helped…they have no real access to science anyway. And so the love of science and technology is very ambivalent……people love their gadgets……but increasingly a sense of enslavement is taking over the narrative. Its fascinating how marketing and the culture industry colonize even certain words now. “Simplicity”…..this is a huge marketing hook now. A return to simple things. Of course as we spoke of before, this is the province of the elite….who can pay to avoid the machine. For the majority of people, technology increasingly feels like a burden.

  9. “is an expression of elite contempt for the masses, but also an expression a mass desire FOR the possibility to start over.”

    exactly but it is the elite’s expression that coopts and vitiates the mass desire and sells it back to us/them as commodity.

    it is never an expression of mass desire, it records this desire, plays upon it, exploits it, but culture commodities are not made by their audiences.

    that’s my position – gm foods are not expression of mass hunger; they rely on people needing to eat, on this desire, on that hunger and the needs of human metabolism. the stuff has to be edible because of the limits beyond which the desires can’t be manipulated. But the modification is not an expression of the appetite of the consumers.

    but yeah this fit with the zombies and apocalypse generzally – it is useful to prod the desire for the clean slate; it is ambivalent in people and people can be manipulated through this fantasy, at the very least into paying to see visions of it, that then are freighted with all kinds of demonizatiosn, all kinds of poisonous supremacism. I’v mentioned a book by Charles Strozier called Apocalypse (i think) about pentacostals etc and JWs in the lead up to 2000, the expectations of rapture and apocalypse; people mainly enjoy these visions for the liberation (yes the freeing from debt, which was the lure into fascist masculist womanhating, white supremacy and neolib “austerity” puritanism in Fight Club) but also for revenge – they want to see their boss burning up suddenly in the office, on fire and tormented, to be xcast into hell, wxhimle they are rewarded. The revenge loomed very large in people in US talking about the apocalypse – even larger than the relief of the second coming and the end of labour.

  10. like this!

    “in Dada
    or in some of the smarter Abstract Expressionists, we can find responses to
    some of the twentieth century’s greatest horrors suggesting the utter failure
    of representation in relation to the bomb or the Holocaust, for example.
    There was something radical and profound—at those historical moments—
    in the kinds of abstractions some of those artists came up with. We’ve moved
    way beyond that, however.”

    of course we’ve been 15 rounds on this already but you know I have to take issue with it, because it is too imprecise. What we find is a *preference* on the part of a certain clique and class of artists to eschew reference and even responsibility (randomness becomes significant in music especially); a certain kind of artist, who is selling to the bourgeoisie, chooses to be be mum. They have nothing nice to say about the status quo perhaps so they choose not to say anything at all. It’s a commonplace abotu abvstract expressionism, that it has these ideological aspects – it replaces engaged art (its the anti Picasso or Guernica, the anti-Rivera, antiflesh and antihistory), it celebrates the individualist creator, it elitist in that its valuations will be completely in control of the elite cliques of collectors and appreciators, critics, capitalist funded institutions, the bourgeois state. This is not to say its not great art. It’s just crap politics which is common in great art. But it this self assertion and refusal of responsiblity that we find in abstract expressionism in NY and in the avant garde composers of this period was marking the future of this abolished adulthood. It is childish/childlike in an aggressive way – demanding admiration for creativity but refusing any adult responsibility for the content or the intervention in reality that results. It is one thing to have a self questioning white male avant garde elite artists asserting their irresponsible individuality like this, in a kind of ecstatic tantrum like Max has in Where the Wild Things Are, (it is hard not to see in the best Pollacks the ejaculation for mommy’s fridge door,) but its another to then allow huge corporations to usurp this posture and pass it on to Empire itself – this innocence and brutality. Eventrually this becomes the bumpkin baby badass that is Amerikkka.

    For a while it seemed that the tools developed for interpretation of represetnational art were adapted to treat abstract art as the refusal of or coded substitute for representation; but now with cocaculture, representatrional cartoonish comix violence spectacle is vended with an accessory of hermeneutical practice that demands it be treated as simply accidentally figurative abstract art. With historical reference, reduced to articulations of the play of chaos and control (this is what the art dealer says of a two sided Kandinsky in Six Degrees of Separation and what all the reviewers said about Dark Knight which was not coincidentally a private equity financed thing basically telling the story of its own financing as the plot).

  11. “Still, in contains elements of a more deeply buried need for actually doing work that has value in the community, Of people discovering hidden talents. ”

    its interesting how this was really the commonplace in the action film or disaster film, the humanist era of these films (Spielberg) and how it is now used to mythologize the billionaire (Iron Man, Batman); a bright teen I know picked this up about Iron Man – saying its collapsing labour and capital to flattery capital as “industry” itself, the actual social labour the billionaire coopts is erased and in its place we get the vision of his personal talents and labour, his gadget geekery, his strength and knowledge, his craftsmanship. Production and creativity is attributed to capital. So this longing for rewardng labour and the exercise of creative skills is still being stroked and fed by these spectacles, but increasingly poisoned with this Ayn Rand Nietzschean Foucaultian Sadean vision of the elites. Avatar did this as well – people were fooled by the “primitive” trappings of the Na’Vi to suppose them standing in for indigenous in a revolutionary way. On the contrary they are a pure tribe of supermen – blue, the Blond Beasts of Nieztsche, the healthier ancestors of “us” the proprietor race ebfore we degenerated (its all Junger Rosenberg style fasho stuff) – who are in control of telecom and energy technology by birthright. The trick in feeding this ideology and vision of utopia of elites to those who are deemed defective and unworthy of it, to the undermen of the self declaring supermen of Global Media, was to portray “pirates” who want to log on to Pandora without paying as the degenerate bureaucratic military sheister Empire. Their excuse of need for this energy is treated contemptuously, need is no excuse for violating these natural copyrights natural property rights to the universe’s resources. It is fascinating how intensely this film affected some people, and how there was a rash of mlourning in people who realized they could never go to Pandora, never live in that edenic condition.

  12. john steppling says:

    Ok….let me work through these…..

    from the top…the desire FOR a clean slate. See, this is where I think you get confused about art and culture and it plays into the second comment also. The audience is constituitive to some degree….thats the weird dialectic of performance and audience. Now….in the case of film, one part of that is removed. The audience is passive. Still….those writers and directors are not martians. They are part of the soceity as well….and they are reading codes, tropes, news, and it becomes very hard to know exactly the role being played by Studio heads in this. It is large….its a large part, but its not absolute. Culture is not food. Culture is different, thats the problem with a comparison….culture is NOT the same. I think the left has continued to miss this……consistently, and i think its because its very hard to grasp from within. Adorno …when you read Aesthetic Theory…..he clearly was focusing large chunks of that book on just this issue. Culture is our own psychic history, its our biological psychic history….its our childhood amnesia…..I mean all of this enters into the discussion and Benjamin was right (even if adorno argued with him) about language….and its been my belief that text is this huge factor in all this. Food has no text.

    Now…..i do agree that whatever this desire, or longing is…..and I think there is a sort of mass longing of some sort, a sense of at least escape….and sure, its being fed to back to the public in these fascist parables. Again and again….I Am Legend, or Book of Eli, or Falling Skies now….these are pure fascist storytelling. SHows like Revolution….and now Defiance….pure fascism….militarism, worship of authority. And as such, they are quite dangerous. But i think there are others that reflect something else….something besides just the contempt of studio executives for the masses. A show like Survivors, in the Uk…2008, was a remake I believe of a seventies show. But there was something lurking around the edges in that series about identify and community, and paranoia…..I dont feel as if I can lump it with Falling Skies …..or Revolution for example. The sense of a dream , of being caught within this societal nightmare/dream was quite powerful in places….even if the show was in the end pretty standard plot wise. Why is this? Well, thats the big question. But let me move along…..Ill come to back to this………, yeah, the desire for revenge….I said this somewhere….huge factor, the revenge model. And so most of this IS made by white men….so most of it reflects a white male fantasy world. Im suggesting, though, that the recent durability of post apoc narratives is saying something about the mass audience for it. Its not JUST expressing the inner malice of studio execs.

    now…… for ab ex……….man, Ive been arguing this for thirty years, i swear. NO….NO NO NO….ab ex was not about giving up responsibility—and the thing that is most wrong is this idea of “engaged art” in mexican muralists, etc. I want to tear the flesh from my face. This is just not how it works. Its simplistic. Its binary. Its wrong. Lets start with “engaged”….what does that mean? It means it has obvious overtly and easily readable themes. Ergo….a lot of is actually pretty bad. The left L O V E S to gush about this stuff…….loves it. There is not a single community center mural not aping diego rivera or Orozco et al. And I think its been this weird convenient leftist reading of culture. What Paglen said is exactly right i think….but Ive found artists tend to look at Pollock and Rothko as important……mostly…thats a terrible generalization, but most writers and painters and dancers I know love abstract expressionism and I think its because its the final art of sincerity. After that came irony. And I think the Riveras and Orozcos and Siquieros…and god, Picasso…..these were all in some ways, artists who had retreated from what they sensed was an end of an epoch that started, probably, in the 1860s. The last gasp of modernism, maybe, of avant gardism. Pollock and Kline and the rest sort of tried a non retreat….and maybe that IS masculinist (with which i have no problem in this context)…but it was also a foreshadowing of and borrowing from (stealing maybe) of Islamic art, chinese art, and of caligraphy……and of japanese art in general and more, of Japanese aesthetics. Their non retreat was an embrace of those *form* questions raised in Islamic architecture, and in japanese artworks and design. What Paglen said about post ab ex work, abstraction, is right too… cannot but be ‘design’…..its wrapping paper, but that is because its also ironic. But part of this has been the mis reading of abstract expressionism, in my opinion. It is not some referendum on Picasso, or on George Bellows — it was also not the anti anything. That is the sort of cheapo narrative attached to this stuff by a left that in general has no taste. In film its the same impulse that makes leftists love Clockwork Orange or something….(and lets not resort to quoting John Guare…..geeesh….speaking of middlebrow…..OF COURSE he would have a character say that…..) –ok, end part one

  13. john steppling says:


    for me Kline and Rothko and Pollock are far MORE political than Rivera. Painting a figure of Lenin is not political. In the same way a Che t shirt is not political. Its a visual slogan. Kline for example, who is my favorite in some ways, was expressing something very deep about work and mortality. Did he write sentences like barbra krugar or ruscha? no……see, Rivera in a sense, and orozco and even picasso and others…..were a perfect funnel into pop and eventually warhol. For in a sense, the nihilism was buried within Rivera, not within Kline.

    To suggest that a Pollock is childish and refusing responsibilty is akin to suggesting that somehow Rockwell was responsible…..why is rockwell different than Rivera in this context? Because one painted Lenin?? A pollock didnt just one day throw shit on the wall. This is interesting though because it raises a question about a “body of work”…..and it applies to beckett, too. If you look at Beckett’s play where there is a breathing mound of garbage….its a minute long play. That play is only meaningful if looked at in the light of thirty years of his writing plays. The whole fatuous preppie east coast liberals like Shanley, Guare, lanford wilson, etc…..this was to theatre what norman rockwell represented….it was theatrical illustration. Beckett and genet and pinter and Kane and mednick were sincere………they were Pollock, and melville and Kleist and the book of job and the old testament. >Shanley is Thackery, and the new testament and Saul Bellow (and look, i am amused by bellow and thackery both…..cant say i love them though…..)……..anyway………this leftist reading of ab ex is actually inverted. Its the exact opposite…..but it has been difficult for this reading to exist because as soon Rivera was officially a communist…..all other narrative interpretations went away. AND…and, because pollock and kline are not easy to talk about. That was part of what Adorno understood… 12 tone………this is the post hiroshima and aushwitz world in which meaning is , as he put it, being put on trial…we are going to have to question hermeneutics. And this is exactly the place I have always gotten off the bus with the left. Because its a crude reading of what art does.

    now as for *work*…..its important to read this in terms that apply on a community level I think. It is simply that embedded within an artisanal framework, a certain kind of work is, at least partly, liberating. That reading of Iron Man is brilliant, actually. Thats right…and the ayn rand part of the fantasy was when the narrative ratcheted up the aggression —- that somehow labor was rewarding when it was sadistic. Or even masochistic! I think, though, and i dont know….honestly…..that this idea of hidden talents is very significant……but Im not sure how it works, exactly.

    back briefly to the mass desire question. I mean basically, yes, studio product is made by huge corporations. And those huge corporations are mostly rich white guys…..and they have elitist fascist politics, by and large. I said this last time….speilberg to me is a fascist. But…..i do think this longing for wiping it all away…..a death wish sort of finding identification with a coupe of crap post apoc films, then bred a decade of imitations…..I dont think there is a single studio executive who would say to you, I made this because i know the public desires the end of the world.
    They think the opposite. They’re not smart. They also have their own unconscious desires…..which I think are expressed in aspects of this stuff too, probably in the themes of mutiliation I find more and more.

  14. john steppling says:

    one afterthought.

    The academy embraced abstraction for the exact same reason the left had trouble….in a sense; the hermeneutics proved difficult. But private art schools, conservatories, universities, wanted paying rich kids who could come in and do anything and call it art. Film schools run a parallel path….but…, the working class loved murals in which they saw themselves, images, bigger than life. Oh, great, now art was illustration and the metaphysical disappeared and spiritual rigour was not even a question —–so how does one look at, say, graphic novels and graffiti? Well, one thing is that the elite curators and mandarin collectors and so on, came scavenging and sampling and stealing and they could anoint a Basquiat (who i think is good, for the record) as a gesture of paternalism, and still keep damion hirsts stuff in galleries….and there is even some Hirst i think good.,., not much….but…..anyway…….but, anselm kiefer is there, and one might look at him as the reconciling of Pollock and Rivera..and perhaps Bacon, too.. And in another sense, in photography, I think that is what Paglen does.

  15. I’m sure a more lengthy response to some of these issues will come in the future, but what’s your take on someone like Roger Scruton John? Does he fall into the fascist, reactionary category, or is he just a naive Romantic yearning for the past?

  16. ” Kline and Rothko and Pollock are far MORE political than Rivera. ”

    But its crap bad evil politics, right? I mean the defence of this individualist usually is that the politics is irrelevant to its judgement as art, no?

  17. Ok skip Rivera, say Ensor, Chagall, Kokoscha, everyone else but the abstract expressionists

    “To suggest that a Pollock is childish and refusing responsibilty is akin to suggesting that somehow Rockwell was responsible”

    Well in a sense it is taking responsibility for itself, for its crap politics. And i think Pollack does exhibit this same childishness as Nabokov…its this refusal to acknowledge determinations and intervention – the social. Hyperindividualism is fine, solipsism is fine – its all interesting; The bad politics really is supplied by the reception that demands respect of a certain sort for this kind of performance.

  18. I disagree that they are more political – but it is surely different politics. And the very idea that aesthetic gestures are a sufficient politics of any sort is reactionary. I lmean this is what we are getting with the avanguardia – a stage in the shift to spectacle and spectators.

  19. I think you are reductive about Rivera… and metaphysics is fine for art but is very dangerous in politics. We don’t want those politics. We don’t want to get our politics from that kind of art.

  20. “Culture is our own psychic history,”

    We’ve been through this, you say for example Dark Knight is your psyche and everyone else’s living, but you won’t acknowledge tgat your psyche is also producing all the stuff you don’t like and don’t watch, Girls and Sex and the City is not your psyche is it? What’s your psyche have to do with Zero Dark Thirty?

  21. “Ok skip Rivera, say Ensor, Chagall, Kokoscha, everyone else but the abstract expressionists”

    Where does someone like Edward Hopper fit in?

  22. and i thiink there is a huge obvious problem with critics like Adorno who were determined to use a psychanalytic power play to blame the working class for fascism, blame the victimls and people who gave their lives fighting fascism, in order to absolve the culture they loved and the class they belonged to of this startling crime and antihuman politics. And that’s where we get this assumption that we can blame audiences for cocaculture when there is an industry with a very despotic structure and monopolistic control of distribution that makes this stuff

  23. john steppling says:

    I think the problem is that you insist on your reading of Pollock (or ab ex)…..and so you say oh its crap politics because its about individuality —– thats YOU….I dont see ab ex this way, and its a terrible misreading of them. This is why Rivera is a minor almost kistch artist…..visual sloganeering. Art is not political in THAT sense….its not an essay….one does not extrapolate from a critics analysis of a painter (or dancer or composer or playwright) a political critique. And really, its the *form* anyway….and the form cannot be isolated as if it fell out of history. This is where the left always trips over itself about culture in general. Like soviet social realism……is that great politics? Because its shit art.

    To say ab ex is about the inidividual is just to accept Greenberg’s take on it. And its really not what any of them said, far as I know…..the ‘gesture’…in the sense of what was borrowed from calligraphy, does not lead to an endorsement of the individual in that sense. Its like the left demanding politics come from culture…..the *leftist* film producer will have a poster of a Ken Loach film on his wall, or Battle of Algiers….and not Bresson……..because Bresson isnt obviously read that way…..its crazy…..its not what art is about. Its just a crude analysis, Im sorry. Its this demand for political coherence from an artwork. The FORM dictates the political, really, if we follow adorno…..I mean Ive read critics discussing Lord of the Rings as communist (or Arrested development!!!)……its just a basically reductive and instrumental (!) logic being applied to this. Its where we are not going to agree and its where I despair, truly, with the left vis a vis culture………or really, maybe, most anyone these days. To say the defense of the indivualist is to make politics irrelevant and apply that to a rothko, is just to terribly miss the pont of rothko. Its like saying, oh, Buddhist meditation, dharma, is reactionary politics…………not all human activity is political organization, and some of it does mean individuals improve or awaken AS individuals… a precursor to the development of social responsibility. Rothko sensitized, in one sense, his viewer to color…and shape….but within an historical context that reacted to Hiroshima etc…….that we are reduced in our ability to accept decoration, or color as an element of conventional narrative. Look.,…all criticism of art falls short of the art. That is why we have art. If you can analyse it, then you dont need it, just cut to the analysis.

    adorno *pyschoanlytic power play*??? seriously. First off, show me where that occured, because its incorrect. In fact I can think of few thinkers who did that less in fact.

    Adorno needs to be read more……….Aesthetic Theory most certainly does, because it is in that book that he most deeply tries to untangle how culture works dialectically with the political. I know I say this over and over, but its true………….99% of writing on culture is reductive. It just is.

    Adorno contradicted himself more than a few times, too. I think he had a very ambivalent feeling toward sociology — and often toward some of the more cabalistic esoterica of Benjamin……and often because he saw this failure to read cultural output correctly.

    Now….as for blaming the audience….who is doing that? Are we, however, in some way complicit in the violence……yes. We are battered by it from the first minute we breathe. We are shaped by the violence done to our mothers even before we are born… cannot escape that. And until the left starts to look at that, it will continue to produce doug henwoods and these other anal sadistic little bullies (who never leave their apartment).

    @remy……Hopper is a good question. I mean hopper was sort of this weird anti Rockwell…….but he came out of bellows and thomas hart benton (who was pollock’s teacher directly) and he was very close to illustration, but never sort of slipped over into that. And I think his work remained connected to both the sense of alienation coming our of the US, in urban life certainly, this intutition that there was something life dulling about the experience, and the sense of this missed moment….its why the Lacanians (margaret iverson for one…not zizek and his clones) find him so absorbing. Its not the lonely guy at the counter, or the woman at the filing cabinet (though there is a social critique implied) but the blackened windows off to the side, that suggest another parallel critique in a sense. Hopper remains awfully compelling I think.

  24. john steppling says:

    Now….this is not to say, clearly, that art does not have a political dimension. In fact is it is a HUGE dimension as a year of this blog sort of testifies…. but….. Why did adorno say Beckett was more revolutionary as an artist, than Brecht? Well, because of form. That to slip into that didactic hectoring,, almost of the later brecht was, in its form, to be reactionary. Guy had written something about Jungle of Cities…and i answered…because i think that and Baal are Brechts best work, finally. I love mother courage….but Im not sure its as good as Cities and Baal. —- but yeah, sure, this is where text enters our discussion though. ANd its why music is so separated from other mediums in the writing about it. For it has no text. And painting doesnt either — though it has a narrative. Music might have an emotional narrative, if we stretch the point. But I think all image implies, at the least, a narrative.

    “we dont want to get our politics from that kind of art”.
    We dont want to get our politics from any art.

    But our politics has a dialectical relationship with culture, certainly. Nothing is ahistorical.

    The petit bourgeois form of tom stoppard or shanley is going to eclipse that work, regardless of how many clever leftist things they say. Sarah Kane remains strangely radical regardless of what she said……….though a few times she did sort of say political things….sort of…..maybe. Or…I dont know…..early Pinter for example……why is that radical feeling, clearly, when caryl churchill never is?

    Various artworks work various ways and include our own histories in different ways…and some not at all…..etc.

    In that piece I wrote touching on the essay on Deleuze….and touching on Badiou….that was my point there, too. A character can say in a film….”Workers of the world unite”…..but be reactionary. For what is the camera saying? Hell, there is a final scene in a steven segall martial arts cop thing where Segal delievers this pro ecology speech at the end. The speech itself is actually great……its amazing, but you cant really hear it……and its a reactionary bit of violence porn in the end. Part of that is also ths studio not giving a shit about that speech because they have hegemonic domination — its not a threat..and on that level they have no threats. The form is saying *violence is what makes us noble….authority is good*. NO matter the speech asking for compassion for mother earth and asking for ecological responsibility.

    There is a danger in sociology vis a vis culture. In that documentary *Class Dismissed*…..this was the problem…for sociology generalizes. When they spoke about Beavis and Butthead, it was just a terrible mis reading of what was social critique… the one guy sort of said that, as an aside. But what Paglen called politics of production is crucial…..its just that it doesnt always have to be the primary reading of an artwork. Dark Knight cost 80 jillion dollars…….its more likely to more directly reflect the ruling class paying for it. An independent film costing ten thousand hasnt the same dynamics at work in production………but its likely to ALSO reflect something more of the psychic formation of its creator. Not always, but probably because that director had fewer people looking over his shoulder. Now if he is a hack whose deepest aspiration is to become chris nolan……then, thats one thing. Bresson never could get funding. It took him seven or eight years each time to raise pittance. I mean there is a dynamic between budget and content…..and we see a different version of this in the art market for fine art. And in the way the academy produces writers and painters and filmmakers. For the academy is increasingly beholden to private and corporate donations. But *blaming audiences*..? no……but….audiences do respond to some things more than others….why do some TV shows get high ratings or why do some films make more money? I mean marketing is a big factor….but the film content plays a big role, clearly. And one can sense this fatigue now regarding violence. The saturation is total. And the audience can no longer process it. I really don’t think they can. And i dont know the real implications of that, because I think they are three or four fold.

    This is interesting because as capitalism expands and devours the outside… capital is running out of places to exploit…..they cant blow shit up fast enough to rebuild it. In the cultural sphere, the marketing now targets five year old girls …..make up for infants is soon on the way…..and guns for little boy toddlers…I mean its almost there already. Gender stereotyping, and class propaganda, is embedded in even toys desgined for four year olds. And they have run out of demographics…..and its all sort of coalescing into this implosion….and thats the fear advanced capital has…..those guys at the tri laterial commision, and bildeberg, the NSC, the Pentagon, those secretaries of trade policy and under secretaries, and all the think tanks, and all the CEOs of Forbes 500 companies……they know the system is failing. And global capital is failing to maximize profits the same way. So the culture in the form of the academy, or marketing firms, of news outlets…..they have run out of ways to intensify the same violence and sex — the same camera angles, the same shots, are now so familiar as to be mind numbing. They have run into an audience that just cant look anymore, I dont think.

    I think to suggest anyone is blaming audiences…or adorno blaming those who died fighting fascism is unsupportable. And that premise cant be supported by anything Ive said, nor will you find it in adorno. Or the frankfurt school writers. But ……at the other end, I feel you want to absolve the mass audience of any responsibilty for what is one the screen. And i think that is equally dangerous. In some way, what is consumed is digested……….and audience taste intersects with education and with marketing. Its complicated. But we cannot escape or step outside our society…our language has an ever harder time doing that…..and its always sort of a rear guard action to resist those pressures.

  25. john steppling says:


    as for roger scuton. Well, I mean he is an arch conservative. If not exactly fascist, he is pretty close. This is the elitist sort of white hierarchy being articluted as a virtue. I guess he is older than a niall ferguson but as fergie is to history so scuton is to culture and art.

    I mean he wrote that sort of famous homophobic critique of sex and desire……and i know he well insinuated into the corridors of cultural power. Beyond that, I stopped reading him after the first chapter, as i recall. But he is just an upper class reactionary — a royalist by temperment….public school sort of posh racist.

  26. Okay but this is always were I dissent because it seems to me there is a shell game about the politics here. I don’t want to dispute the “great art” thing; does it or does it not require great politics? If you say Pollack is more political than Ensor, fine, but as you concede these politics could be all kinds of evil shit. But if we get to defining what the politics are they are suddenly declared insignificant and too vague to describe. I think sometimes you say the gesture of aesthetic innovation is a political good.

    as for this oparcular stuff somehow registering trauma of auschwitz as if languages fail or whatever, this seems kind of a cheap bid for profundity and wrong. Thgez work is anything but mlacking in confidence in value – it advances idiolect as confident as Nietzsche could have dreamt and it performed nthe work of organizing labour superbly well. Its very successful and was collected and elevated by a liberal establishment of a ruling class as evil as any on earth, the legatees of the fascism its suipposed to be the traum of. If anything it signals a trivializing and indifference to that flare upo of capitalist barbarism, a confidence that this too can be capitalized and the added panache thje avanguardia got from being attacked as degenerate can be coopted by arrtists who repudiate the actual political expression of those persecuted and their culture (Marxism, anarchism) and who transform the anguish of that modernism in the face of isolation and fragmentation and commodification into the triumphal elite individual’s entrepreneurial amorality.

  27. I mean if there is any relation at all between abex and Auschwitz it is the celebratory and exploitative one this stuff has with American empire; this stuff celebrates world market, abstraction, anticommunism, and intellectual property.

    That’s the politics of this stuff. It is the art loved by the liberal intelligensia of the post war American ruling class for a reason. And its a specific minority direction taken from the general crisis of plastic arts and “art” that Benjamin described so well under the pressures of mechanization. And it was the direction of capital literally – of the creation of artist personal identity’s capture of labour to create capital assets. It was the ultimate in this. It’s a kind of heroic capital, broken from the banausic significantly enough that conceptual art is inevitably next.

  28. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel it’s inevitable that any great work of art that acquires recognition is going to be co-opted by the white supremactist intellectual establishment for the simple reason such an establishment values credentialism. So if embracing an artist makes you appear sophisticated you’ll embrace him or her. I think you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a truly great artist who emerged before World War II who has yet to be embraced as a “serious, highbrow artist you should know about and be able to quote if you want to maintain your intellectual integrity”. Perhaps there’s one exception that proves the rule. Only filmmakers have managed to resist this, but I’m sure that will change. The establishment couldn’t care less about Bresson, nevermind someone like Rivette. Faulkner, Proust, Stravinsky, Bartok, and all the others from that era, however, are embraced.

    For the record, do you think someone like Otto Dix has any importance?

  29. Another thing I wanted to bring up that perhaps relates to this on some level is I’m often wary of the reverence for filmmakers such as John Ford and Hitchcock, as great as they both were. I love Rear Window and My Darling Clementine, but I feel like the way in which they were appreciated by Bazin, Godard and co. is completely lost upon the modern-day white supremacist, “anti-pretension” brigade. They get the satisfaction of embracing works of cinema that have been accepted by high culture without having to contend with the “arty, Euro pretensions” of Godard, Pasolini, and Antonioni. It’s sort of like “look, see, great films don’t have to be “high-minded” and incomprehensible”.

    This article is sort of what I’m talking about:

    ^^I feel someone like Sarris paved the way for articles like this, which is why I’ve often been wary of him despite his positive attributes.

  30. Tied into this is the sort of Kubrick/Almodovar/Kurosawa worshipping film student who completely accepts and acknowledges the importance of The Searchers and Hitchcock while giving lip service to Tokyo Story, Sunrise, Rules of the Game. Maybe they’ve seen 8 1/2 or The 400 Blows, and maybe they liked them or didn’t.

  31. john steppling says:

    @remy & molly:

    Yeah, I think these are legitimate questions, molly — but then Remy sort of gave part of the answer I was going to give. So the real issue becomes this vast consuming of culture, of all culture (because everyone from DeKooning to warhol, to Twomby, to Lichtenstein to Polke, to the photo realists are hanging in the lobbies of corporate headquarters all over the world) — and the only reason Rivera isnt is because of logistical problems at this point, and maybe there is some credit to be given for that — and the fact that the Rockefellers didnt want a portrait of Lenin…..but if thats going to be the criteria for appraising what artworks do, then its all pointless, anyway. I think its wrong and incorrect to single out ab ex as somehow possessing some exclusive quality that allowed co-option — everything has been co-opted.

    Ive never said the aesthetics are insignificant and too vague. But by positing that question, you yourself engage in a shell game of sorts by pointing to this accreditation of an artwork by the way the Imperialist powers use it or buy it or own it…….as if without a clear *definition* of political meaning, it cant be good. Thats the whole issue here. You continue to demand this concrete and specific reading of an artwork. This model that says, the artwork must mean something that can be defined. And defined in concrete political terms. You are asking for kitsch, for sloganeering and agit prop, essentially. By that standards John Phillips Souza is the greatest of all composers. —- and I do think on one level, the meaning IS vague….in these terms. For if it were clear, if it were easily defined and described, what would you have? Socialist realism essentially.

    and no, thats NOT the politics of this stuff (as you put it…meaning ab ex)……thats the politics YOU ascribe to it. And there is a serious danger in doing this, because it sort of begs for artworks to exist primarily as a ‘message’ — one of anti corporatism or anti fascism…….and again, what work of art that is has any value, can be so described? The connection is far less direct — and this, i will admit, raises a host of questions that pertain to the end of modernism, and to the whole architecture of electronic media, and de centralized power, and de territorialized labor, etc. Those works were created sixty years ago — and I think somehow they are being judged as if they werent……I mean Goya hangs in the halls of empire, now, too. And so does Rembrandt and Titian. The art market is opportunistic — and clearly there was an embrace in the late fifties , or mid fifties, of abstraction……but that entire story has become something of a fairy tale leftists love to tell so they dont have to develop any critique more sophisticated. Christ…..i know of few artists who have not accepted funding from corporations or the state. I certainly took the money the NEA gave me….four times I took it. I even signed that paper promising the work produced from this money would adhere to community standards. I wrote a play in direct violation of that. But this is pretty meaningless at a certain point. The politics of culture is just not that direct or one dimensional.

    what you describe as this minority capture of labor etc etc…..was true of not just ab ex…..and thats the problem here…….which Remy pointed out I think…….EVERYTHING was suddenly being absorbed….everything created at that point and onwards from there was in play within a suddenly accelerating art market. So its true that culture was being purchased and used, in a variety of ways…..but the idea that this then defines the politics of Rothko or whoever, is only true to the extent it was true of everything…..CULTURE was being consumed and digested and spewed back out in whatever neutralized form the marketing and PR people deemed useful. That is the real question, and how that dynamic has affected culture since. I think Bernhard was well aware of this dilemma………as an example. I think Genet was aware of it.

    I think ALL culture was reacting to Auschwitz….to WW2…..that is what culture does, no? But this was the end of a certain bourgeois cult of genius —- the Benjamin critique was extending far beyond anything he imagined. Avant gardism was over…..the role of mass commodification had altered how the viewer of culturre, or artworks, was able to engage with the artwork. Abstraction ‘was’ a response….and a legitimate one…..but because you impose this narrative on it, in which it plays some special role as proto capitalist anti communist propaganda, you create a problem that I have addressed for a long time, now. For that narrative leads to robert wilson…among others. That there must be a return to the figurative, never mind that figure was a cambell’s soup can. This reading has been really detrimental in my opinion. The legacy is seen in the crappy murals on community center walls, in the dead decoration of third generation abstraction, in the empty posturing of Abramovic and the endless installations….in Ruscha (who did some good work mind you) and in the scleorsis of work done under the auspices of the academy./ end part one…

  32. There is, however, what seems to be a misunderstanding between the establishment and what might be termed the “revolutionaries”. The former values technical skill while the latter prefers personal expression. Someone like Frank Kline doesn’t even lend himself to being judged in terms of technical skill the way say Andrew Wyeth or Alphonse Mucha does. I’m not sure how you feel about the latter two. I do find a few of Mucha’s paintings somewhat compelling, but I’d say he was ultimately an illutsrator. Does the valuing of technical skill have its place, along with the distinction between what would be termed amateurs and professionals? I think that’s largely what many find so problematic. Much of the work which emerged from modernism didn’t lend itself to judgements based on perceived ‘talent’ or ‘technical skill’. Should personal expression and ‘talent’ coalesce, or is the concept of the latter dictinctly bourgeois? Prior to modernism, artists were “trained as painters”, and as a result their work exhibited a certain level of “professionalism”. This applies to people like Ingres, Delacroix, Vermeer and so on. Of course, many modernists were “trained as painters” as well. But is something lost if we devalue Ingres-like ‘professionalism’ when it’s exhibited in more contemporary artists?

  33. People, especially “upper middleclass, educated” people seek to keep up appearances and put on airs. As a ‘for instance’, artists are often judged by their chosen form of expression. With this in mind, there’s no difference between Ian McEwan or Toni Morison and Dostoevsky, Faulkner, or Virginia Woolf (who I actually think is good). They’re all people of letters and, therefore, all culturally respectable. Warhol and Lichtenstein worked with canvases and are, thus, just as worthy of one’s time as Degas, Vermeer, or Morisot. It will never occur to them the most well-known Impressionists, such as Renoir or Monet, are the least interesting among them. Rivette and Fassbinder, however, are lowly movie directors.

  34. john steppling says:

    Remy mentioned….any artwork that gains recognition.
    Ah….but how does it gain recognnition?? Pollock had the misfortune to become the poster boy for Greenberg’s messianic criticism and greenberg had huge influence. I mean its as if the New Yorker suddenly comes out and says, so and so….zadie smith…..whoever….is the future of the novel. It could just as easily have been someone else —- except that now, writers like Smith are in the positionn (have positioned themselves) to garner this “recognition”……its not the same situation as 1955. The institutionalizing of culture has developed into a particular shape that demands work conform ….at least literature…..(text again) to certain messages. It is why its all bad. I mean virtually nothing of any value comes out of post graduate writing programs at this point, if it ever did. Flannery O Connor to McCarthy have all articulated this dilemma — and in the art market, there is the need for new product….much like a new shoe line….the spring collection, to be put out there. Innovation has always been an overrated quality, but now its just fashion. Curators function like Hollywood producers.

    So….yeah, the politics can be manipulated. They almost always are. I remember the san francisco mime troup………they were doing interesting agit prop. It was fun….it was cool, it was destabilizing and Im glad they were doing it. But……do i think that work has any lasting value? No. Do i think work HAS to have lasting value? See, thats the sort of question that creates a false narrative. Its a loaded question —- what do any of those words mean in that context? What does “value” mean? What does meaning mean? Again, i mention Adorno…..because this was something he wrote a lot about in Asethetic Theory, and why the book was never completed. It couldnt be answered. I know that when I teach aesthetics… the film school for example…..i always asked students why those cave paintings at Lascaux, were painted. Some….in some places, are very difficult to see….you have to crawl on your stomach to an inner chamber to see them. Who were those painted for? I dont think this is a facile or silly question. I think its a vitally important question, in fact. The reactionary critic, like Scuton for example, insist on removing the social or civic from any discussion —– and its problematic to do so. Art for arts sake….all that stuff is subterfuge……THAT is the shell game. It is today very hard to any of us, I think, to look at culture without seeing the politics of production first. And that is because the mediation of daily life by the forces of domination is almost total. The master narrative even shapes our counter narratives.

    See, I dont think ab ex brought you concept art. I think these false narratives brought us concept art…..the demand for a narrative to be imposed on “work”…..I mean Kline was painting what he painted for different reasons than Pollock or Motherwell painted. How do Noland or Johns fit into the narrative? Ive no idea, to be honest, except that I think ab ex…since we talking about them….was a legitimate expression of the crisis in the arts following hiroshima — and the uses this stuff was put to, could as easily have been something else. How does one judge Rothko now, then? So i think its a false profundity……I think it was in some way profound work.

    Well, I dont know…….but I think contained within what ab ex was doing were radical perspectives, and remember that the general public made fun of Pollock….jack the dripper……har har……there was the counter trend of ‘expertise’ …..which leads to Rockwell. But it also led to warhol. In a sense its why I sort of think some of the super realists are quite interesting. It was another reaction to this apparatus of reproducibility. Again, the cult of genius, of the great man, was being digested as this pretended masculinist laborer. And many, Donald Judd (who i love, actually) appeared as laborers……dressing blue collar etc…..there was a sub-strata crying out for “authenticity”….for the trappings of legitimacy, because there was a feeling of illegitimacy layered over the entire culture, over culture itself.

    And I think, Remy,
    that you are right about the loss of what Godard and Melville originally meant their criticism to be. Sarris had value for a moment, but he was always …if one scratched the surface…a pretty conservative critic (though he did have consistency I have to say….and that was valuable).

    So I guess finally, I think the political is imposed on everything now….from above. I dont know, for example, exactly how theatre can reinvent itself. Everytime I write a play I wonder at this. But I think there is something important in the question of “realism”……of how that idea is treated. It may be the most important thing in fact. And for me, the ab ex painters contributed something significant to that question. I just resist this imposition of a political narrative that feels so simplistic. I mean david hockney….there is another example. He has tried in his later work to react to what was made of his earlier work. But its a losing battle. I think a better gauge of value is what resists being made into advertisements.

    And remy….what you describe is this manufactured populism. Its very reactionary. Its that clown, the novelist…Safrin Foer I think…..calling fred astaire the greatest artist of the 20th century. Its anti intellectualism……look at the roll call of junk…jorie graham, amy tan, sharon olds….i mean the list could go on and on……..its all unreadable to my mind. So…….there seems no escape from this mediation of culture by vast corporate america. And in a sense I grant you that this all began with the art market in the fifties.

  35. Just out of curiosity John, would you have an opinion as to why almost all great painters and composers were “students” of art and music, respectively, while next to no great writers and other artists of letters or filmmakers were “students” of their chosen medium? There are exceptions with film, of course. Claire Denis went to film school, for instance.

  36. john steppling says:

    a last addendum to the above comment of mine.

    I think ab ex did have a narrative. That’s the thing. It may not have been the one supplied by the state dept though. And it is in that highly elliptical fragment…..the interrupted gesture almost, with its echos of calligraphy and islamic architecture, and a few other things….african masks…. that the viewer’s mimetic reading was directed. These were questions being asked by the work….for it was decidedly a reaction. And the reaction was to things of a societal nature….and by extension political. The scale of the work was a questioning, as well….and in that sense, they shared something with the muralists. Thats my interpretation anyway. If i look at abstraction by the time of Stella…..Ive stopped seeing a narrative, and I think that was partly Paglen’s point.

  37. “and no, thats NOT the politics of this stuff (as you put it…meaning ab ex)……thats the politics YOU ascribe to it. And there is a serious danger in doing this, because it sort of begs for artworks to exist primarily as a ‘message’ — one of anti corporatism or anti fascism”

    rthenj what IS the politics of this stuff?
    and no i don’t think i advocate art be scriptures read like the bible nor do I see art as a “message” – its a praxis, it is productive process, that takes materials and makes something else, and intervenes in the world. Interpreting art as a productive process generating meanings does not require one to ascribe a message or moral to an artwork. I don’t think we should be intimidated by a disavowed l’art pour l’art; and the response that everything which has a reputation gets purchased begs the question. The issue is how does art get a reputation? I know you have to be the last person to say everything good necessarily achieve commercial success. And artwork’s “recognition” is the product of professionals in designated institutions – the museum curator who acquires somebody’s drawings makes the reputation.

  38. “was a legitimate expression of the crisis in the arts following hiroshima ”

    But how is this incredibly commercially successful art product a crisis for the arts? It’s still making money. And what specifically is it’s relation to Hiroshima? It seems to me if anything is one way in which a bunch of people in NY exploited that mass murder and the position US empiore achieved from it. It certainly hasn’t instilled in anybody who owns this stuff any convinctions we would welcome regarding Hiroshima, wms generally, the murderous uses of technology or anything. So what kind of reaction precisely is this to Hiroshima? Is it bnecessarily one we want to applaud and to perpetuate? It seems to me we want the opposite actually – we want finally to stop this class of people, the producers, celebrants and owners of this, exploiting and sublimating all this mass murder and domination.

  39. I must admit, in the midst of the current scene, it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between middlebrow artists and victims of co-option. For instance, there’s no doubt in my mind Van Gogh was a truly great artist who has simply become a victim of bourgeois co-option. But how about Sartre? I can’t tell sometimes whether he was ultimately a pop philosopher or simply a victim of co-option, since by this point one can’t even pick up a copy of Sartre without being perceived as a poseur.

  40. Something like Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is a great work that’s just been co-opted up the wazoo, even diluting it of the desired impact.

  41. Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, on the other hand, is middlebrow. But sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference.

  42. W>e should also though remember Van Gogh desperately wanted success, he wanted to sell paintings to rich people. Sartre wanted to become a household name and have all his ideas become common sense. This is what the effort was. Miles Davis would have liked a more educated audience by his criteria, not no audience;

    But also re “message” – I don’t want to accept this though as dogma, that art can’t make statements. IU think certainly novels often do, especially those which are made by artistists committed to l’art pour l’art ideology. What is Lolita but this assertion; “this work is meaningless and that’s why it’s great!” But enegaged art also can deliver assertions; plenty of forceful arguments about how the world is from Kleist and Dumas and Buchner. And Steppling.

  43. “W>e should also though remember Van Gogh desperately wanted success, he wanted to sell paintings to rich people. Sartre wanted to become a household name and have all his ideas become common sense. This is what the effort was. Miles Davis would have liked a more educated audience by his criteria, not no audience;”

    That still doesn’t necessarily change the fact Van Gogh and Miles Davis were great artists. Sometimes we need to separate the art from the artist.

  44. john steppling says:

    “what is the politics of the stuff?”

    see, thats a question that Im not sure is deserving of a short answer, and maybe not of any answer, exactly. It didnt have a direct political statement. Those guys, by and large, were not politically motivated. That doesnt mean one cant or shouldnt look at the political implications of their work, as a group.

    here is Barnett Newman….
    via irving sandler….
    . “When Newman was asked what his painting “really means in terms of society, in terms of the world, in terms of the situation,” he responded–in a phrase which became famous, “if my work were properly understood, it would be the end of state capitalism and totalitarianism”.

    Newman was an anarchist –politically.

    Morris Dickstein writing on Greenberg and Rosenberg (and at the time., Rosenberg was the second most influential of art critics)…
    ““A heroic phase of Modernist innovation . . . was soon to come to an end,” writes Morris Dickstein, “once the new became a marketing strategy rather than a life-altering encounter that mattered in its own terms.”

    Its interesting to really go back and realize Rosenberg was more important in the 40s for championing the ab ex guys than Greenberg. That later changed. Its also interesting to note that Rosenberg wrote his famous essay in 1952,,,,on Action Painting….

    “: “At a certain moment, the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, or ’express’ an object. . . . What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” And more: “The big moment came when it was decided to paint . . . just to PAINT. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation, from Value-political, esthetic, moral.”

    Rosenberg was the leftist follower of merleu ponty and sartre….and he saw in the ab ex painters the ambition to be allegorical and mythic. That action, the gesture, was to instigate a reverie…..and Rosenberg favored DeKooning, and rothko more, and greenberg Pollock. For greenberg I know the idea of coming ‘down’ from the easel from important…..and the removal of illusion. The flatness. In that sense, it foreshadowed post modern obsession with surface. Rosenberg wrote of Greenberg’s criticism….” “Formal criticism has consistently buried the emotional, moral, social and metaphysical content of modern art under blueprints of ’achievements’ in handling line, color, and form.”

    Here is the later Rosenberg….

    “As Stevens says of poetry, “it is a process of the personality of the poet.” But the psychology is the psychology of creation. Not that of the so-called psychological criticism that wants to “read” a painting for clues to the artist’s sexual preferences or debilities. The work, the act, translates the psychologically given into the intentional, into a “world”—and thus transcends it.

    With traditional aesthetic references discarded as irrelevant, what gives the canvas its meaning is not psychological data but role, the way the artist organizes his emotional and intellectual energy as if he were in a living situation. The interest lies in the kind of act taking place in the four-sided arena, a dramatic interest.

    Criticism must begin by recognizing in the painting the assumptions inherent in its mode of creation. Since the painter has become an actor, the spectator has to think in a vocabulary of action: its inception, duration, direction—psychic state, concentration and relaxation of the will, passivity, alert waiting. He must become a connoisseur of the gradations between the automatic, the spontaneous, the evoked.”

    It is important to realize that Greenberg was the formalist…..and politically closer to a weird sort of anti communist….he didnt say that, though. he saw himself as anti stalinist. But it became clearly anti communist.

    Rosenberg…..”Many of the painters were “Marxists” (W.P.A. unions, artists’ congresses)”.

    The “act” was a liberation from what they saw as an increasing insitutional conformity in post war america. It came from the impulse to destroy a petit bourgeois set of definitions of taste. Hoffman, Gorky, Kline…all of whom I happen to lean toward….as I say, I think Kline was the best, finally, came at this as anti conformist, anti institutional, anti state. And most importantly, anti authoritarian. Its why I find it ironic this kitsch narrative brought to the public and scripted by the state dept via greenberg is so accepted.

    here is rosenberg again at the end of the later essay:

    “With the American, heir of the pioneer and the immigrant, the foundering of Art and Society was not experienced as a loss. On the contrary, the end of Art marked the beginning of an optimism regarding himself as an artist.

    The American vanguard painter took to the white expanse of the canvas as Melville’s Ishmael took to the sea.

    On the one hand, a desperate recognition of moral and intellectual exhaustion; on the other, the exhilaration of an adventure over depths in which he might find reflected the true image of his identity.

    Painting could now be reduced to that equipment which the artist needed for an activity that would be an alternative to both utility and idleness. Guided by visual and somatic memories of paintings he had seen or made—memories which he did his best to keep from intruding into his consciousness—he gesticulated upon the canvas and watched for what each novelty would declare him and his art to be.

    Based on the phenomenon of conversion the new movement is, with the majority of the painters, essentially a religious movement. In every case, however, the conversion has been experienced in secular terms. The result has been the creation of private myths.”

    It was dionysian. Greenberg was an appolonian. A rationalist. Now there was a strain of midwestern puritanism in Still, and Pollock and a couple of the others….but it was also that sense of space…..the expansive western sensibility. Which i identify with as a westerner….its something Shepard and I talked of once…..and its the big sky and the sounds of the deserts and plains. Anyway………..the politics in short were not sectarian…they were not formally anything, other than anti insitutional. The majority of ab ex painters were jewish immigrants, actually. (end part one)

  45. john steppling says:


    ” He wanted the ineffable in all behavior—he wanted it to win the streets.

    The test of any of the new paintings is its seriousness—and the test of its seriousness is the degree to which the act on the canvas is an extension of the artist’s total effort to make over his experience.”

    speaking of walt whitman ….

    ok….and this i think is relevant……

    “Unhappily for an art whose value depends on the authenticity of its mysteries, the new movement appeared at the same moment that Modern Art en masse “arrived” in America: Modern architecture, not only for sophisticated homes, but for corporations, municipalities, synagogues; Modern furniture and crockery in mail-order catalogues; Modern vacuum cleaners, can openers; beer-ad “mobiles”—along with reproductions and articles on advanced painting in big-circulation magazines. Enigmas for everybody. Art in America today is not only nouveau, it’s news.”

    That was the moment…..the ascension of marketing…..and the Mccarthy hearings……HUAC…..of the new TV culture…..but the origins were in the late forties of course…………but this was already all in play, I think.

    serfe guilbaut…..
    “n a way that will undercut his own aspirations.
    An impact of WW II on art was the creation of a middle class that had money to spend
    on art, and wanted to buy American paintings. It also wanted emotional paintings and
    paintings that were “new.” Buying audacious modern art instead of academic paintings
    functioned as a form of elitism which allowed the upper class to distinguish itself from the
    middle. Art becomes, in this respect, an “object of desire,” to be advertised along with fashion
    in current magazines. A final impetus for the new art was the sense of destruction,
    incomprehension, power, etc. associated with the imagery of the atomic bomb, and seemingly
    captured in Pollock’s all-over painting style.
    The end of the war and the detonation of the atomic bomb brought disillusionment to
    radical intellectuals and artists who now turned to anarchism, rather than communism which
    no longer appeared to offer a viable form of hope for the future. Once again, these more
    radical artists saw in the use of myth an alternative to the aesthetics of the nationalist Popular
    Front. At this point, however, myth assumed a different character; and the nature of myth was
    less the archetypal Jungian myth than the myths of primitive or native American art which was
    believed to suggest raw and unenculturated responses to horror. These artists wanted their
    work to be more than artifice; they wanted to respond to the horrors of the modern world;
    and their attraction to primitive art resulted from what they saw to be its “demonic” and
    “brutal” imagery. The direction of the abstract expressionists, by the late 40s, was therefore
    not an a-historical one, and it was only a-political in the sense that they were not aligning
    themselves with liberals or conservatives, but they were clearly intent on making a statement
    of some sort about the world. To this end they rejected pure abstraction as being “purist
    constructions” and pure surrealism as being “personal tragedy.” Yet, as the period evolved,
    Amererican politics became impossible for radical intellectuals who began to desert politics
    entirely, and to assume a nearly nihilistic stance.”

  46. john steppling says:

    so finally………….(that was serg….) and
    more….from him again…

    the development of ties to France in order to prevent communism from gaining the upper
    hand, the export of American culture receives renewed support as a political strategy of sorts.
    But for many artists, alienation starts to be seen as a viable mode of existence, rather than as a
    form of deviance, because alienation is equated with liberty and privilege; consequently, the
    American artist works to develop an art which can depict or express alienation.
    In popular culture, an interesting phenomenon begins to emerge – abstract
    expressionism was associated with elitism, being unusual and different from the middle class,
    and was a sign of prestige. For the middle class, it was an object of scandal which perversely
    guaranteed its success. In the taking up of abstract expressionism by the political center,
    Pollock was hailed as a cultural hero who could be the catalyst for the acceptance of the new
    American “school.”
    The value of this narrative lies precisely in its explanation for the co-optation of abstract
    expressionism and its ability to serve as a corrective to explanations which are rooted almost
    entirely in formalist observations. But it comes up short in terms of explaining the particular
    look and nature of abstract expressionism, especially in its variations from artist to artist. This,
    however, tends to be a weakness of most of the narratives – they are guided by the
    assumption of stylistic connections among these artists, and at times they assume or posit
    likenesses where none actually exist.”

    I think the point here is this……………greenberg’s anti communism was used by the state dept BRIEFLY………..the rise of the market though was in full swing. And that included everything, not just ab ex. Was it held up briefly in two exhibits overseas …conducted by the state dept-… personification of american individuality? Yes.

    which leftists are addicted to….its just fucking astounding to me…………its not a big moment in all this at all, but again, its a way to avoid thinking about a complex and difficult aesthetic moment. And it was a fulcrum, a shift, and it was complex., But somehow, these immigrant leftist painters and radical weirdo midwesterners, who got together in new york, working for the WPA, and wanted a new step away from conformism, to break out of a dead figuration, and who were in the shadow of fascism and WW2…..have become in this lefty narrative a group of proto capitalist elitist reactionaries….and I find this unfortunate. Ab ex….Rothko, Kline, Gorky, Pollock, Hoffman…..were the last dionysian non ironic movement in american arts.

  47. “see, thats a question that Im not sure is deserving of a short answer, and maybe not of any answer, exactly”

    Okay but if this stuff is not political in any particular way but it is generically mysteriously political then we are advancing a notion of the political that is mystical.

    “That doesnt mean one cant or shouldnt look at the political implications of their work, as a group”

    This is what I am doing, and not originally.

    “The big moment came when it was decided to paint . . . just to PAINT. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation, from Value-political, esthetic, moral.”

    Well eactly. this is the Nietzschean autoeroticism, and then the painting is valuable – ironically not ironically – by the assertion of elites favourable to this actj, as the documentation of this event of the individual’s jouissance, which presents itself as wholly original, creative, independent, refuses all acknowledgement of determinations or social inputs and all intepretation.

    That’s a politics – its this politics of American masculist individualism and it is celebrating an infantile solipsist posture that is adopted cynically because of courts ethe stuff is made to be famous as objects and to create a famous artist as value accumulator.

  48. john steppling says:

    and I think thats a very reductive description of Sartre….and a disservice, really. Thats leftist cynicism.

    Miles was complex….but finally, a terrible elitist and narcissist. And probably since he was from a very affluent background, and since he never alligned himself with the ghetto or poverty or civil rights……he was a pretty reactionary character….but….also a genius I have no doubt.

  49. Okay, but I don’t think coming from an affluent background by itself should ever be held against an artist. Godard, Pasolini, and Antonioni all came from money, but they were hardly reactionaries.

  50. Pasolini and Godard were probably geniuses, but they were also products of their privileged upbringings. Someone like Godard would never emerge from the “lower, uneducated” classes. And in fact, many great artists do emerge from the privileged classes, because they have a certain amount of free time on their hands they can use to dedicate to their art, free of financial responsibilities someone from the “middle class” would have to take up.

  51. I guess it seems great artists are almost always either renegade children of bankers or sons of green grocers and garbage men. They don’t have happy, modest childhoods in Merrick, NY.

  52. A lot of people, even fans of his films, tend to feel Godard is an arrogant narcissist, but I disagree. Ingmar Bergman, Fellini, Picasso, and Dali were all narcissists, but Godard is just a tragically misunderstood man, and that doesn’t necessarily pertain to his films but rather to the man himself. And it really is tragic the extent to which he’s misunderstood as a person.

  53. “A final impetus for the new art was the sense of destruction,
    incomprehension, power, etc. associated with the imagery of the atomic bomb, and seemingly captured in Pollock’s all-over painting style.”

    okay but it makes this look nice and harmless, a benevolent gift from the ecstasy of this creator, and sells it. Which is in line with the creators of the original event.

  54. I mean if Pollack ios registeroing that mass crime, then he is doing so in a way that trivializes it and makes it very palatable and cheerfully profitable. Are we really to think of this work this way?. As some kind of mimicry of Hiroshima? As such it would be kind of despicabnle – I mean it’s not adequate to that at all. And its insensitive. I think this is kind of post-hoc imposition of the crudest kind of reflectionism – splatter here, splatter there. I mean in what way does this stuff in really evoke that horror? Or is it a vision of split nuclei, energy? On the one hand it emphasises in the ‘record of this ecstatic painting act” the intregrity of the organic body, the indivual artist, his health privacy and leisure to do this; its in tension to the say the least with any kind of reference to the distruction of Hiroshima. And if such a reference is there is it suboprdinated to this celebration fo teh actiuon of the action painter; the painting isd a record of his life and his life dance: it is the trace of his dacning around the canvas. and this is what i mean by pushing toward the another kind of work, say teching hsieh, whom i really like – his time clock photos are just the document of the work which is his actually wholme existence and life in the time period. Pollack’s canvases are already there – they are finally the mere documentation of the artwork which is the work of the artist, his living being as he creates, and beofre and after too. It is the artist that is the calue. And ironic restoration of value from commodity to labour power. But cynical. A little like what ends up in Iron Man (that is good isn’t it – a 16 year old bronx science student’s reading)

  55. john steppling says:

    Yeah, well , I just spent two hours finding answers and context….and have had it reduced to pot boiler kitsch dismissal. Im done. Its really irritating and its what is EXACTLY wrong with the left. And its the problem that so many have. I cant do more. YOU have an extraordinary arrogance about this……and you claim this absolute set of definitions. OH its masculinist and infantile. Im sorry…. It doesnt even rise to the level of refutation. Its arrogant and its jingoistic. And its a position I have experienced before….the left has no taste. Its just the truth, sadly … and you know how I know that? Because they have been able to see any importance in culture. Never…Time and time again….there is a curious reluctance to engage art ….. because it is easier to fit it into these sort of reductive formulas. To fit things into one’s agenda, politically. Art resists that. *Infantile*? No, no its not infantile. That list of artists are not infantile. I think what is infantile is this failure of and resistance to culture. You have always insisted on this. So, no for the record, thats NOT the politics. . And it speaks to the failure of aesthetic understanding. It speaks to it directly in fact. This is what i hate in china melville, in proyect, in a dozen others……..richard seymour……they have no taste. None. Not even bad taste….>(well, proyect has bad taste).

    “Well eactly. this is the Nietzschean autoeroticism, and then the painting is valuable – ironically not ironically – by the assertion of elites favourable to this actj, as the documentation of this event of the individual’s jouissance, which presents itself as wholly original, creative, independent, refuses all acknowledgement of determinations or social inputs and all intepretation.

    That’s a politics – its this politics of American masculist individualism and it is celebrating an infantile solipsist posture that is adopted cynically because of courts ethe stuff is made to be famous as objects and to create a famous artist as value accumulator.”

    none of that, not a single sentence, is accurate. First off, that was a quote of rosenberg……writing sixty years ago remember……and he was never the prose stylist greenberg was. But this is where you fail dismally to understand art. You do. You have done it repeatedly. Its a strange blind spot. I mean, its like one wonders then —this is why the left has produced such shit art. Bad murals, crap plays, boring BORING films, full of doctrinaire proclamations….or I know you like Stoppard….thats another great example. Its just sort of this spectacle of confusion. And its ahistorical. I mean, its a strange blindness to what artists actually “do”. And its been clear for a while, that what aesthetics do is something you would rather just dismiss.

    *Auto erotisism*……..i mean what does that mean? Seriously. But you will go down insisting on these things…..and Im beyond tired of arguing it with you. Its like banging ones head against a wall. I tried to address this question………..and did……………..because its complex…..its not anything you can summarize in one petulant paragraph. First off, masculinist is not a perjoritve statement by itself. Infantile? no, its the opposite of infantile. Solipsistic? no….and its clear to me you know thats not true (Rosenberg gets solipsistic to a degree though) . But its an easy posture to assume. If you go back…if ANYONE goes back and reads the last sections ……the last fifteen comments or so, I think it will be obvious thats incorrect. — But this is the problem…..because the jargon addicted left will never value culture. Its always elitist…it is always somehow not pure enough….and Edward Said noted this….when he wrote about Conrad. But Said loved art…and saw its value…..but today i find few in the left who do…. and that is sad, I think. This was not stuff made to be popular…….certainly not at the start….no more than any artist makes things desiring of an audience. Shit I desire an audience. Id love to make some money off my writing…..ANYONE, any artist does. For fuck sake…..what is it you think??? Its cynical to make money as an artist? This is some bizarre reactionary romanticism……artists should starve? Oh, they made shit to be bought…….wow….how horrible and fascistic of them. Diego Rivera did, too. ALl artists do. Goya did.

    And i can think of new less cynical a group of artists. I mean this is really depressing, because its like trying to argue with some aspergers patient. Its just always the same answer. I could find that same paragraph applied to about fifteen different topics over the years.

    its american masculinist individualism and cynical and infantile.

    its like a stock reading.

  56. I think part of the issue with Pollack or Donald Judd is one needs to understand their “intent” in order to appreciate their work, whereas a Dostoevsky novel or a Vermeer painting can be appreciated without understanding the “artist’s intent”. So here we find ourselves being at liberty to justify any work of art provided the artist’s intent can be justified. I’m asking this rhetorically, of course, but what’s more important, the end result regardless of what was going through the creator’s mind as he or she was creating it or the “artist’s intent”. That’s where I feel things can get dangerous.

  57. “This was not stuff made to be popular…….certainly not at the start….no more than any artist makes things desiring of an audience. Shit I desire an audience. Id love to make some money off my writing…..ANYONE, any artist does. For fuck sake…..what is it you think??? Its cynical to make money as an artist? This is some bizarre reactionary romanticism……artists should starve? Oh, they made shit to be bought…….wow….how horrible and fascistic of them. Diego Rivera did, too. ALl artists do. Goya did.”

    I was planning on saying essentially the same thing at some point. Artists are human beings, and like all humans they have egos.

  58. john steppling says:


    i agree, some great artists were wealthy. But it is worth noting. Miles is a weird unique case. He started out sort of being charlie parkers errend boy. I give miles immense credit. He was, however, a very vain elitist, and eventually it began to eat up his vision….by the time he was driving around the upper east side…well, west side…in his ferrari….he knew he couldnt find something that he once had…..but thats all beside the point. His upbringing though did affect his music ….though Im not sure how to really evaluate that or describe it. The intersection of addiction with all those guys’ music is a topic yet to be written.

    Yeah for intent. I mean…..I don’t know. There are no rules, really, for these things. Sometimes writers are very articulate about what they do….a number of poets…Bly, james wright, Roethke, even lowell…..and some prose writers…..Flannery O Connor, and Bowles….and others are not. At all. Most painters and musicians and composers are not. A few are. Most dont know, and its not an accident they ended up in the medium they did. I think sometimes…per this whole thread…..that the biggest reason I wanted to do a blog was to talk about the value of art, finally. Its very hard…harder than ever….to find a vocabulary of appreciation for culture now. Its a highly cynical culture. People I think, in general out there, live …certainly myself included…..ensnared in this web of marketing and branding and of the degrading of language…. and in fear. And so…..there is so much to criticize……so much corporate crap, advertising, and commodified shit, that I think the left in particular has just forgotten how to express their love for things. And maybe they no longer feel it. Enthusiasm……said marx…or maybe he said excessive enthusiasm, is a revolutionary emotion applied to culture. God i have to find that quote. My old friend and mentor Terry Ork used to quote that all the time. And the Cashiers critics at a certain point stopped publishing criticism. They only published articles on stuff they loved. Im not advocating that, but I understand the impulse.
    So….in the end, Im not sure what is going on in terms of intention matters all that much……mostly because Im not sure we ever know. We guess….or make estimates…..and was it Hughes who said, we know too little about Velasquez and too much about Picasso.

    Velasquez does rise up as a sort of enigma at a certain point……one’s admiration is stopped just a bit short. On the other hand, the endless cheap bios of the famous……are just in the way. And coupled to that is this need…both in the left and the right…..of discovering the evil, the flaws, the hidden secrets of the “famous”……and I often have wondered at that…..if I were to become famous….man, all the shit people could find to say about me. Its a staggering thought.

  59. Who would be some of the leftist filmmakers you’re referring to? Godard always tends to be associated with leftism, but he certainly doesn’t fall into the category of leftists you appear to be criticizing, since the man has lived and breathed art like few have. I can see how Pierrot Le Fou or 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, for instance, could be construed as leftist filmmaking, but that’s certainly reductive. Or would you say Godard wasn’t even a leftist to begin with and that labeling him as such is reductive?

  60. john steppling says:

    not Godard. I mean godard has been the model of radical integrity for forty years.

    I think Mike Leigh is a good example….who is just unwatchable….but I have to think further on this — —

  61. This all had me thinking about the time I was at the Alphonse Mucha museum in Prague. I must admit art nouveau isn’t my thing. With that said, I was amused by the way it was glowingly stated in some film being shown at the museum that he was invited to the White House when he visited the US. Would Godard, who has certainly been co-opted to some extent, or Henry Miller ever have been invited to the residence of a Western head of state? Velazquez may have been a court painter and many classical musicians court composers, but that was a different era.

  62. john steppling says:

    for some reason, the second comment just appeared on my thread….@molly. But the same response applies. And again, your comments are disingenuous ….

    I” mean if Pollack ios registeroing that mass crime, then he is doing so in a way that trivializes it and makes it very palatable and cheerfully profitable. Are we really to think of this work this way?. As some kind of mimicry of Hiroshima?”

    now, do I have to explain this? No. No, because its a snide sarcastic response. You know very well thats not what is being suggested. Its pointless to go and break it all down AGAIN….because all that one gets in response are paragraphs like this.

    But maybe you DO think this is possible….maybe…because you have such a literal reading of artworks. I guess I shouldnt be surprised. Its what most people think about art. Endlessly. It is its taught at most universities….It is so deeply entrenched. That to suggest this Pollock painting was an artistic response to mass crime is befuddling to most . I mean, the point (do i really have to go into this?) is that such crime is inexpressible. The narratives fail, the imagery fails..trivializes etc. So, the only response is look elsewhere…but we arent talking about ONE painting, but about a thirty year period of a thousand paintings by thirty or so artists.. But since you basically do not engage with artworks…..this is the sort of response one gets. The artwork…in this case we are focusing on a pollock series of canvases…or a body of Pollocks work…or maybe action painting as opposed to color field……is criticized as infantile and solipisitic and now trivializing of mass crime. One does wonder what artworks you think are not infantile. I dont remember…..what fine arts post WW2 are relevant and non trivial?? I suspect you dont think culture works this way……I think mostly you read things from a marxist perspective and little else. Its not different than anything else. And ive come to hate that reading in the left. Its TEDIOUS in the extreme, but more, it leads to a kind of totalitarian blanket set of cultural readings.

    You are entitled to a critique that says Pollock is trivial. Fine. You cannot however, with any validity, impose a political reading as if its somehow factual….historically materially based….and expect that this level of simplistic bromide is adequate. You asked for what the politics were….and I answered that firstly, such questions are false…..they are the product of the very instrumental thought you claim to be attacking politically. —- And then I did provide as much context as I could….correcting your kitsch narrative of Ab Ex as some anti communist creation….. You can claim its masculinist blah blah blah…..thats’ interpretation’. It seems to be the one you impose on 99% of artworks…but ok……….the problem is suggesting somehow this reactionary political meaning in these sort of crude simple reductive terms and a pov that denies, really, what art and culture do.

    . Whatever, as a movement, those new york painters were doing, as a response to WW2, to cultural institutionalization in the US, was varied and multi faceted. You really do refuse to engage with this topic in any good faith. ANd Im telling you, its fucking tiresome. Because its dishonest and I would be surprised if anyone bothering to read this thread not feeling that bad faith. Its agenda laden……oh Im going to make poiints about politics and Im going to apply that to fucking everything because thats what i do. Its a robotic and tedious set of stock answers. They are applied to almost all artworks. I cant think of any you havent applied them to, really. And there are certainly areas worthy of analysis…..white supremicoism, and fascism, and the culture industry. … the corporate hegemony of mass culture, today, and rise of the marketing apparatus, etc. Its just that, to apply them retroactively to work that wasnt kitsch, wasnt mass culture, wasnt produced by TIME warner in an era of a very different art market…..ends up badly missing the point, and missing something critical in understanding the American psyche I think, in understganding the desperation of the white privileged class today. And it does a sort of spiritual violence to the very idea of art.
    When you paint it all (sic) with such a broad un-nuanced brush, with such a crude sort of defensive snideness………its a very reactionary action. And that snideness is terminal, apparently, on the left. I dont think you realize it. I guess most of the left doesnt. Sincerity is a kind of vulnerability in this moment. Its almost a form of retardation. Such are the nearly inexaustible layers of snark that have accumulated. The tiny defeatist left political contests. There will be no progress from that very undialectical self branding.

  63. I didnt’t mean to make a stock dismissal but a point of contestation: I appreciate all this argument and just have to reply in pieces. If it seems simplistic perhaps it’s because it is obvious!

  64. ” The artwork…in this case we are focusing on a pollock series of canvases…or a body of Pollocks work…or maybe action painting as opposed to color field……is criticized as infantile and solipisitic and now trivializing of mass crime”

    I think it is celebrating an infantile/aggressive posture, a autoerotic hyper individualism rejoicing in an illusory independence and will to power power, as Nietzsche does, as Sade does. As for trivializing a mass crime, I don’t think the Pollacks do this – I am bringing this forward as a basis for rejecting this reading of the work as somehow expressive of a trauma consequent to that mass crime; it is a critical reflex that is suspect. I think this is working a tenuous resemblance – big (hideous horrifying distressing) mess here, big (beautiful desirable comforting) mess there. Point is if it were some kind of response to that crime it wouldn’t be an adequate or admirable one. Certainly not necessarily.

  65. I’m not trying to be irritating and childishly obstinate; i really am convinced that the elite culture of the American/global ruling class has produced an anthropology of a supreme proprietor species, an anthropology of capital persons. And I think the “great art” most favoured by the intelligensia participates in this more than mass culture even, in an uncompromised way ideologically. Not as “messages” from the artist wrapped in discrete works but as movements, decades long, and the whole of the process of producing vending and disseminating works and standards and values and methods of appreciation. I believe this art is as committed to that mythology of proprietor individualism as strongly as the great art of the Baroque was committed to Catholic reaction. This kind of gesture of aesthetic machismo is not politically neutral and the question for me is why can’t we discuss of the politics of this stuff without constantly dahvening to it? I mean it’s appreciated – its some of the most valued stuff on earth. There’s no chance in hell that any discussion of it can bring it down of this pedestal the status quo of value has created for it. Why can’t we just accept that its famous, its great, its awesome, etc, and bracket that, and discuss hwo it intervenes, is produced by and produces human affairs?

  66. john steppling says:

    “I think it is celebrating an infantile/aggressive posture, a autoerotic hyper individualism rejoicing in an illusory independence and will to power power, as Nietzsche does, as Sade does. As for trivializing a mass crime, I don’t think the Pollacks do this – I am bringing this forward as a basis for rejecting this reading of the work as somehow expressive of a trauma consequent to that mass crime; it is a critical reflex that is suspect. I think this is working a tenuous resemblance – big (hideous horrifying distressing) mess here, big (beautiful desirable comforting) mess there. Point is if it were some kind of response to that crime it wouldn’t be an adequate or admirable one. Certainly not necessarily.””

    You think.

    You think it does this…..OK. But this is based on a kitsch cartoon personality test. If…..if you were told african women painted these paintings…..after seeing genocide in their region, you wouldnt construct this kitsch biography of the artists . Now….we know though, this didnt fall from the sky. Abstraction began in the 1930s. So… it reductive to suggest final action and color field work as a response to WW2? Only if you suggest one layer in this cartoon horoscope. In a sense, WW2 did mark a terminal moment for avant gardism. Now thats a big topic….one would have to write at great length on the subject. But what creeps into this is an agenda…….because its ONLY within this sort of horoscope of these male painters that one can unearth anything of this will to power (??):……i mean, where does one find that if not in the tabloid level biographies……and really, I keep hearing Pollock . They were mostly immigrant painters…Gorky, Rothko, Kiline, DeKooning……hoffman was german born….and in fact what Im rejecting is this ersatz pseudo narrative of “engaged” or socially conscious as somehow progressive, and the abstract painters as reactionary…..or somehow more expressing “autoeroticism” (huh?)….. The reality is that the abstract painters were more influenced by russian art….and to a degree bauhaus…but certainly Kandinsky and Futurism. And even cubism, but also….at least in the area of sponteneity, the surrealists. This was a logical conclusion and hastened as a reaction to a ratcheting up of social repression and conformism. The problem was with the way in which it was embraced — and then marketed by both the state dept (briefly) and the art market. The rising post war middle class ….and im not sure about this at all….but thats one narrative….saw this as special and different. Well, maybe,…..but the art market did, and partly this was because of the dead end reached by figurative art of the time, the so called “engaged”. I dont hear you apply your horoscope to Sisquieros and rivera? Equally macho men. Why? Because they have “acceptable” leftist (simplistic and easy to decipher and decode….in fact, no decoding required…..just like cartoons) themes. This is the *real* problem for leftists and their literalized reading of culture. Oh the muralists are engaged because they put Lenin in the picture, they paint noble peasants, etc. And because the art market had no use for murals. Believe me, even in the cold war, had those murals been easy to transport, they would have been sold.

    So while there may have been some who saw abstraction as easier to sell in the climate of that era, this wasnt the primary driving force for the art market. And i think its simply that new york had recently (remember this) become the center of the art world. It was no longer Paris. So….even some critics (Greenberg mostly, but Rosenberg and others….) embraced the large space of the canvas as expressive of a uniquely american sensibiltiy –and i can buy that –but then additionally comes a sort of comic book narrative which says, “this is infantile and an aggressive posture” —and I think there is exactly zero basis for this outside of this kistch horoscope. Rothko was a mystic…a cabalist…..others marxists…..and Gorky, who openly said the armenian genocide influenced his work, his turn toward abstraction, saw the work as additionally expressive of allegory. This is what is conveniently left out of these leftist narratives. Gorky like less krasner, rivera, rothko, pollock , worked for the WPA. The point is that the reliance on an idea of dreams links ab ex directly with surrealists…..and with dada……with the avant garde movement(s) of the late 19th and early 2oth century. The auto eroticism could as easily be applied to man ray or Ernst. But it doesnt fit the agenda. So we apply it to ab ex and ONLY because of a coalescing of forces in the post war art market.

    Additionally………Paglen’s comment is right. Its simplistic, but most of these artists would have agreed. Gorky and rothko and Kline for sure. In fact, Kline…an orphan….expressed the great depression as a motivating factor…..the brutality of industrial space on the working class. But….hey….that doesnt fit either……we need portraits of Lenin !!!! God I hate how idiotic the left is about culture and art.

    as for this ruling class anthropology — which is YOUR construct. OK….but why does that single out ab ex? I can tell you why……..because it fits this agenda politically……its as if the rest of the history of art were bracketed out…..lets just focus on this juxtaposition between mexican muralists and ab ex painters. Then lets bracket out the facts of what these ab ex painters thought about their work, and lets bracket out the historical precedents……and THEN we can create this narrative…….oh male (bad), auto erotic (invented out of thin air) and aggressive (in fact the opposite) but then it all adds up somehow.

    My point is that this has actually, much of it, been the reading of the left toward abstract expressionism, action painters and color field. Ive had this discussion until my brain hurts and its frustrating because it privileges a needed (!) political narrative over the facts, and over a more nuanced appreciation of the art itself. So, no, its not obvious, its just inaccurate. And its politcally simple minded and a disservice to aesthetic resistance….which I fear is impossible on the left.

  67. john steppling says:

    “aesthetic machismo”………Im laughing actually, thinking of the machismo of the muralists.

  68. “And I think the “great art” most favoured by the intelligensia participates in this more than mass culture even, in an uncompromised way ideologically. Not as “messages” from the artist wrapped in discrete works but as movements, decades long, and the whole of the process of producing vending and disseminating works and standards and values and methods of appreciation. I believe this art is as committed to that mythology of proprietor individualism as strongly as the great art of the Baroque was committed to Catholic reaction.”

    Well yes, maybe, but this seems to be a ‘glass half empty’ way of looking at it.

  69. But the reality is at some point one just has to bite the bullet and be an unabashed “intellectual elitist”.

  70. I don’t deny the machismo of the miuralists, its just advancing something other than spunk to show mom. It offering more than a discussion of the artist’s ecstasy – something much less self-involved.

    But if you can pronounce Guare whatever, reactionary, trivial, even though it’s Great Art according to the same institutions that have determined Pollack’s reputation, how can you just disqualify this kind of remakr for stuff you personally like? What difference is there between Pollack and Guare – two showmen working for the same class. Giving that class what they like. Have a degree of mass popularity, but limited in the same way. What is the difference between the politics of Guare plays and Pollack canvases? They seem to function in concert in fact to create the politics of the NY based liberal intelligensia – that is, they serve to provide a mysticism of value that promotes Wall Street’s hegemony, which includes its “social liberalism” and its excellent taste in luxuries. I enjoy Guare’s plays although I find them offensive and untruthful politically, socially, sociologically.

  71. ” Id love to make some money off my writing…..ANYONE, any artist does.”

    yes of course so my point is there is no reason to label success “co-optation” as if the popularity of the works are some kind of public misuse.

  72. *Auto erotisism*……..i mean what does that mean? Seriously.

    It means its masturbatory. This art is about this man and his paint.
    There is no model, for example. This is a gesture in a history of art production, of this medium.
    about showing the independence of the artist, his enjoyment and meaving the traces of his experience of his own mastery and sensuality in the absence of other people or even the notion of other people; It’s about an assertion of a fantasy of self creation and self fashioning. The artist simply expropriates what he needs, but asserts his work as original in a profund way (falsely).

  73. the action painting is *avowedly* masturbatory. It’s the whole point – that the painting is a record of the artist’s own solitary behavior, relating only to himself, spilling paint as the trace of his spilling, and not relating to anything else. The painting is not even a record of his vision, of that sociality of sense perception of something – light, shape – it is a record of his varfing, of his self-stimulation. That’s what it is avowedly, admittedly, that’s how it is advertised.

  74. “You think.”

    goes without saying yes these are my views.
    but that the action painting is about the trace of the painter’s action is also corroborated by the artist, not that he knows better what he is doing that I do. I’m the critic. The customer. I trump. But I am commenting on all this process – the objects and what is said about them and done with them by those concerned in their production and dissemination.

  75. ” Ive had this discussion until my brain hurts”

    I think to a point you are dissolving my comments into a supposed left line, something out of Tim Robbins’ movie (pretty good movie really), about this stuff when in fact I am satying something similar – I accept those remaklrs about the evasion of representation and also about the stores of capital that can be created by capital institutions (look how Pace Wildenstein has created James Siena, who was a kind of failed painter until late in his forties, and now these works are just means of tax free profit as capital assets,n whgatever tyou may think of them) – but I also see them as vehicles of an anthropology and a mysticism of elites. Art is not inert socially and politically, we agree. It has effects. It impacts on people and it also functions as property. If that is so that how it acts in the world can be seen and described; And what I am doing is describing what I see;

  76. “OK….but why does that single out ab ex? I can tell you why……..because it fits this agenda politically……its as if the rest of the history of art were bracketed out…..lets just focus on this juxtaposition between mexican muralists and ab ex painters.”

    No I think there’s something really obvious about the NY School: its very different kind of work than Russian abstract artists. They are both populist in a way, but absex populist/§elitist, a cooptation of populism, but its actually conveying different content and postures and intervening differently in the world – why deny this works have any meaning? Why deny mleaning is something one perceives? And i suggested we put aside “Mexican muralists” (whom you dislike, and I think judge very reductively, but I wouldn’t throw a kniption cuz your dissing stuff I enjoy) and look instead at Ensor or Chagall or Dix or Kokoschka in contrast to the direction of American high Cold War trends.

  77. john steppling says:

    I am going to stop this debate if you dont stop shit like this:

    “why deny this works have any meaning?” ( i assume you mean* these* works).

    WHO SAID THAT? WHERE DO YOU FIND THAT???????????????? Nowhere is the correct answer. It is just this sort of slight of hand, misdirection, that I find so irritating. Nobody fucking said anything of the sort. Nowhere, never., and you cannot find it anywhere in this thread. I defy you to find anything even remotely suggestive of this. Go ahead. Im waiting.

    You dont actually respond to much of the evidence Ive given. I get it must be frustrating to confront factual contradictions. But in fact, the action and color field painters were directly connected to the russian painters. Some even trained with them. But my reading of mexican muralists of course you find reductive, for it contradicts the horoscope narrative. Now you want to talk about ensor and chagall and dix — ok….except Dix never came to the US. So, now you want to discuss european artists….fine. But that wasnt the topic I thought. But fine………… europe you had Ensor…..who died in 1949. His best work was thirty years before that. SO we you want to talk about european work from the twenties and before? Or Chagall… chagall is a curiosity in a way, for he never really figured in any movement. He painted decorative sort of ( i find saccarine and overly pastel and no wonder he did well desiging sets for ballet) flaccid neo primitivist. But fine, he came to the US for around, i dont know, a decade, and then returned to france. I think probably i find it hard to know where to stick Chagall and Ive not tried because I find him so uninteresting. But……..the topic was post world war 2. That eliminates ensor, and if you want to champion Chagall, please go ahead. And it eliminates Dix. Now i love dix., but im not sure what the relation is to post ww2 movements and art? He and Grosz and Beckman were terrific painters, and probably the last non ironic figurative painters I can think of. But that was all pre WW2 in fact…or most of it. Again, there is not a signal figurative painter I can think of, that doesnt feel trapped within that. by the end of the second world war….but this was a watershed for fine/plastic arts. If you find ab ex “wanking” that puts you in comfortably in a camp with tom wolfe and bill buckley.

    You cannot profitably approach culture with agendas……you have a hard on for ab ex because of a feminist agenda vis a vis what you see of their reception, of for some reason (ive no idea what exactly) of a hyper masculinizing (masculinized perhaps….PERHAPS…..but why hyper?) and then you find (as you just said) abstraction to be wanking. I would argue that almost 99% of the left agrees with you. And Im betting 99% of them love rivera and dix. Why do you think? The answer is because the left has scripted itself a kitsch narrative for the arts. Nothing like being predictable. And they read it as property-.. And as i said above (several times now) there are these naughty words for the left like spiritual. Anything that suggest transcendent qualities to culture, mystery or metaphysics…even garden variety allegory, is treated with derision. That has been my depressing and fatiguing experience for forty years now.

    then we have this:

    “I don’t deny the machismo of the miuralists, its just advancing something other than spunk to show mom. It offering more than a discussion of the artist’s ecstasy – something much less self-involved.”

    oh, right, its advancing noble peasants and Lenin’s image. So… be clear, maschismo is ok it its sort of agit prop illustration?

    But when you say showmen working for the same class…..thats really beneath you, molly., Really. I mean its intellectually lazy and its just sort of this snide attempt to win the contest. Its like twitter wars. Im so tired of it. You know very well thats not true, its reductive and its stupid.

    tim robbins? huh? Fuck tim robbins.

    @Remy and the glass is half full is sort of on the mark….

    which does lead to something else…… have an irritating sort of strategy here. And you will note, I dont do this. And that is to make these asides, as if they are givens….as if everyone has already agreed upon them. I do NOT agree on your reading of ab ex. I think its sort of primitive and chauvenist and opportunistic for a good fit with the sort of pop psychology narrative at work here…..oh, i dont accept psychoanlysis, except when i can make derisve jokes about pollock jerking off for his mom. THEN its ok, THEN i can accept it.

    yes, your opinions on abstract art are duly noted. Abstraction is only a MAN and his paint. Well, what about helen frankenthaler or the countless other women abstract painters? Agnes martin or eve hesse or louise bourgeois…..? So then its a WOMAN and her paint? And its still wanking is it?

    You see, if you fail to read the political content…..of form….and this is the essential failure you and most leftists writing on culture make…….you literalize a *message*….and for the left that message, in order to be valorized, must be morally instructive and promote the politics you share. In fact….as Adorno never stopped pointing out, the radicalism in an artwork, is in the form….the radical form. Hence a Rothko is more radical than Rivera..More revolutionary. Now….you may argue and think Rothko is wanking for mommy……or whatever it is the color field painters did…(see, its always about pollock isnt it? Interesting, that)…..but even if you argue that rothko or Gorky are bad….that the artworks fail for whatever reason… can even argue that abstraction per se fails…that you must establish a recognizible “real”.to be a valid artist……but you HAVE to (unless you want to remain in the box with tom wolfe and louis proyect) examine this dialectically. I have spent my whole life fighting against these reductive jingoistic cultural readings. I guess I will die still doing it. FORM FORM FORM FORM FORM FORM.

    you want to know why Guare is bad? Because the form is petit bourgeois. Why Pollock is great? Because the form is not petit bourgeois.,….and even today, for all the canonizing by different insitutions, it remains radical.



    Not the fucking message…..and you see, in 1920-…..Dix’ form was radical….but by 1948 the artworld felt figurative work was in need of some paradigm shift…..and many were sort of attempted……and they came from several places…..Bauhaus….Union of russian artists…the austrian group…*Mir ikusstva* or something, and the Blue Rose group…these were the precursors at the start of the century. I mean it was a period when movements formed ….of avant gardism as a principle of rejection of the state. Fauvism, Der Bruke (which Ensor was part of)….and on and on….Christian Schad, Marino Marini…..but then cubism had this huge impact. Maybe i will just write a whole post on this — but the point is, none of these painters were reactionary. All of them rejected in various ways, the beliefs of the academy. All of them, at some point in their career were (not all, many died in poverty actually)….but many many ended up making money, and all of them made art dealers a fortune following their death.-

    So, you and tom wolfe hate abstraction. Or you both clearly , lets say, hate the NY School.

    fine. Duly noted.

    the politics of it though, Im going to argue. Because the left is always going to be stupid about art, apparently. Its part of an agenda laden sort of mission. And its destructive. It really is.ø ANd i think to read over this thread is to see where the mean spiritied snide and snark comes from. That anyone can ask why Guare is bad, proves I have not had enough of an impact on aesthetic education. The court fucking clowns remains……and almost all leftists cannot tell the difference. 6 degrees of seperation………IS BAD WRITING, ITS A BAD TERRIBLE MIDDLE BROW PLAY. But……if the message is sort of, oh, progressive…..just like with a drawing of lenin in the middle of the wall, then its ok, its good, comrades. This is the failure of the left. Culture.

  78. john steppling says:

    here…..from a guy i usually like (sort of)…..

    another bad leftist cultural analysisl…

  79. What’s your take on Dali or Miro? Are they irrelevant?

  80. “He and Grosz and Beckman were terrific painters, and probably the last non ironic figurative painters I can think of. But that was all pre WW2 in fact…or most of it. Again, there is not a signal figurative painter I can think of, that doesnt feel trapped within that. by the end of the second world war”

    I’ll have to stick up for Edward Hopper here. By the way, I’m presuming you have nothing to say about someone like Andrew Wyeth.

  81. “You dont actually respond to much of the evidence Ive given.”

    I am trying to respond to it – its a lot, I am trying to focus on the dispute!

  82. “you want to know why Guare is bad? Because the form is petit bourgeois. Why Pollock is great? Because the form is not petit bourgeois.”

    No on the contrary. Pollack is the absolute model of petty bourgeois in form and practise. it’s absolutely petty bourgeois. And middlebrow.

  83. What could be more petty bourgeois than a painting? Is the contention its too big to be petty bourgeois? It has to be in a large room? That’s just what awes and pleases the petty bourgeoisie.

    It’s easy to make these kinds of statements.

    Bourdieu proved in Distinction that the avant garde generally is the taste of the urban petty bourgeoisie.


  84. And I am bending the stick yes but when you say that it’s inappropriate to ask what the politics of this stuff is, and you reject my interpretation not because of anything specific but simply because it is an interpretation with content that can be expressed in language, you are least are implying that there is no meaning to discuss here.

    I admit some of the later comments I am reading like through my fingers like watchign a violent movie because you are so angry. So I proibably am taking in things in fragments. But I am also trying not to go off on a tangent but stick to this thing, Paglen. I mean what is he doing citing these “speculative realists”? That’s just bullshit really, it is silly. It is absurd and fake. And it does this same kind of fatuous move as he is making with abex as the expression of some kind of Jungian collective mind, without history, just like our species has one big psyche, even though this typer of stuff was produced by an extremely narrow social circle, a handful of men with a lot in common socially and ideologically.

  85. “But when you say showmen working for the same class”

    well this is what they are doing! it does determine them, it sets all the limits. Why is Pollack putting paint on canvas and then giving it to a gallery to sell? He didn’t invent this practice. It’s an established business and craft.

    And many people love John Guare and all kinds of shit on HBO. We love Weeds!

    Tim Robbins I just referenced as now the populariser of this history of abstract art’s promotion by Rockerfeller and Mussolini.

  86. Yes, but the reasons the petty bourgeoisie would embrace Gorky or in some cases Godard are entirely different from those for which they would embrace someone like Toni Morrison or Ian MCewan, or Guare for that matter, who I must admit I was entirely unfamiliar with until he was brought up on this blog here.


    Well so what? Does that mean that it has no politics? That it can’t have the same shitty supremacist racist politics as most great art? Does only Great Art have the capacity to promote false anthropology, misanthropy, misogyny, hierarchy, authoritarianism, infantile individualist machismo, liberalism, fascism? I think even tv ads can participate in the production of the this same ideology as the art you and I love.

  88. You have to ask, what are the reasons an Upper West Side yuppie adds L’Avventura or 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her to his netflix queue and attends a Gorky expo at MOMA. Is his reading of McEwan motivated by the same impulse as his participation in the two former activities?

  89. People go to Gorky and Pollack expos to put on airs of culturedness. They read middlebrow literature to feel vindicated.

  90. Remy what do you think are the reasons the petty bourgeoisie embraces Toni Morrison? (I know Steppling doesn’t admire her; I do especially Beloved, Jazz and Paradise). And what about Pollack appeals?

  91. “Remy what do you think are the reasons the petty bourgeoisie embraces Toni Morrison?”

    collective guilt

  92. john steppling says:

    @remy and molly:

    OK….well, we disagree about Pollock. Clearly. You see it as middle brow and I see that perception as middle brow.

    Second…….you cannot say, they are working showmen. Because if you do, then EVERYONE is. And maybe thats true, but if it is, there is no reason to single out pollock. Or single out anyone.

    I think its not that it can be expressed in text. Its that the text is so lame. There is always this assumption that (on the left in particular) that art should be discussed the way you discuss mortgages and tariffs and shipping containers.

    I dont think you should. I think its critically important to respect culture…..and try to approach it as if it demands a serious and careful analysis. This flies in the face of the crude marxist i have always known. Its the sensibility of factory marxism even from those never remotely close to a factory.

    Now….your take on Paglen is just….I dont know…..bizarre to be kind. I dont know how to answer it, because I cant make sense of it. I think the idea (and this is an interview for fuck sake) that image, that the creation of image by artists, is linked to some collective perception is perfectly correct. But such is the extreme fear of the left (I mean IVE HAD THIS DISCUSSION many many many times) about things that cannot be instrumentally defined, they ridicule it. That is the paradox at the heart of much new left criticism. Oh, instrumental logic is bad, its the logic of gender oppression, its the logic of junk science and militarism…BUT….when someone tries to avoid it, strangle christ, they will be attacked as mushy brained fake and Jungian (gasp). I think that Benjamin is the guy I return to on these matters.And it is because he so clearly grasped that intersection of language….and here is where culture becomes allegorical….its symbols and its mimetic narratives become linked with material history, and with personal history. The reason ron jacobs is so clueless in that review is that he doesnt take crime fiction seriously. The fact that you, molly, havent even mentioned the photos of Paglen says a lot. There is not an engagement…..they dont matter to you.

    Now thats fine….but when someone cares less about the artwork, and more about the critique……there is a problem (for me anyway).

    hopper…..i think Hopper is actually great…but I dont quite know what to do with him. You know, there were certain surrealists….Paul Delvaux….a lesser known (Belgian??) but I think an important painter, and one that was sort of prophetic in his imaginging of a space — or Lorentzon, also very sort of forgotten. And both, if you look at them now, seem sort of visionaries of a psychoanalytic space that later Adorno and Benjamin wrote to each other about….one saying it was theatre space and one filmic space (i think its theatre space)….and Lacan later wrote about, briefly, those letters. And when lacan spoke of the unconsious like early morning in balitmore……this is what I see. A Lorentzon or more, Delvaux kind of dream. I mention all this because i feel there has been this sort of mis-reading of the idea of the collective mind ,……maybe in Jung, I wouldnt know ……but in Freud you have this idea of an archaic memory. Now today we get a lot of sort of weird…rupurt sheldrake and others…..mysticism of sorts….its like Mdm Blavatksy meets terrence Mckenna or something. Im more sympathetic to all this than I once was. But i bring it up because I think in fact it is true one cant ever really capture, textually, something of the engagement one has with the artwork……but thats not to say one shouldnt provide material critiques…or to try. But i think the comment…..the petit bourgeois embrace of whats for sale doesnt depend at all I dont think on what it is, as long as its in the showroom.They buy gorky for other reasons…thats probably right .-

    But sure pollock put paint on canvas to sell it and so did goya and so did bernini- We’d have to go back to the cavemen to find artists not being compensated.

  93. john steppling says:

    but was that the primary reason pollock (or reinhardt or deKooning et al) painted? Would they have painted if nobody was buying it? Of course. I dont think one can blame painters for the art market.

  94. guilt about what?
    (Have you read any Morrison?)

  95. john steppling says:

    Let me say something here. About Toni Morrison.

    This is why I get depressed. Its why, and I dont mean to be ofrfensive, why I say you have a cultural blind spot. Morrison is perfect market creation. Obama loves toni morrison. She is safe, she is a domesticated black intellectual. She can be mildly controversial………..but a charles burnett, and a film like Killer of Sheep, will never be screened at the White House. These are the court jugglers. No Robert Beck, just Maya Angelou. And no hip hop…..i doubt rosa clemente gets invited to report on the innauguration, right? Ok, well, because her politics are too radical. Same with cultural radicalism……and Morrison is like august wilson are domesticated…..polite, bourgoise. Amiri Baraka? naw….no thanks.
    Now… a certain point, you cant compare art markets and theatre markets and music markets, or film markets. They have all evolved in very distinct ways relative to both economic preconditions, but also to the nature of the medium. Theatre exists off on some siding where nobody goes anymore. Largely. Poetry is a token art form for the system. Painting and film are big business.

    But its still useful to look at what the Man finds offensive enough to block .

  96. “i think Hopper is actually great…but I dont quite know what to do with him.”

    I think that’s part of the issue. Sometimes we’re all trying to create a linear narrative of art, but some artists can’t really be pigeonholed into a category that would serve and preserve the desired fluidity of such a narrative. Just to give an example, when people create a film canon there are all the usual Oly Hollywood titans like Hitchcock and Ford, along with Bresson, Ozu, Godard, Dreyer, Bunuel, Antonioni, Murnau, Mizoguchi, Renoir, Ophuls, and so on. Then again, where do you put Czech New Wave, Miklos Jansco, Glauber Rocha, Chantal Akerman, Chris Marker, Varda, Resnais, Oshima, Imamura, or even someone like Tarkovsky who can’t easily be pigeonholed within the linear narrative that accomodates Hitchcock, Bresson, Renoir, and Godard? That’s just an example mind you.

  97. But then again, if one doesn’t know ‘what to do’ with an artist then perhaps it just proves he or she is incidental and not truly pivotal to the development of a given art form. Who knows? Of course, I remember reading on another one of your blogs you didn’t care for Renoir, but I’m going to presume that’s just a blind spot on your part.

  98. I’m not trying to start a drawn out discussion on certain films and filmmakers, I just think artists can sometimes get accidentally short thrifted when they’re not easily “pigeonholed” within some linear description of artistic development.

  99. Simply picking up where the artist who just preceded left off doesn’t always work. Look at all the current ‘serious’ filmmakers on the festival circuit trying to imitate Bresson and Antonioni. They’re suffering from diminshing returns, unbeknownst to themselves. It’s like they’re all trying to hang on to this tradition of the “old school foreign arthouse filmmaker”. Their goal isn’t to be radical or to revolutionize the form. More than anything, someone like Ceylan simply wants to cultivate this image of himself as an “arthouse filmmaker”.

    I feel artistic development, if you want to call it that, is a cynergistic or cyclical process where an artist should return to the ‘source’ and branch off in his or her own direction.

  100. It may not be as stark in the painting or literary sphere, since the status of canvases or novels as legitimate forms of artistic expression isn’t so tenuous, but on the film festival circuit there’s this sort of manufactured anti-mainstreamism where a film positions itself as a “serious art film” diametrically opposed to Hollywood schlock. That’s the difference between Fassbinder or Pialat and Ceylan or Bela Tarr. I’d get killed and lambasted as a philistine for expressing such sentiments in certain circles, but the purpose of many of these films is to remind the viewer of their seriousness through achingly slow pacing and lack of ‘action’.

  101. It’s this deliberate avoidance of what they perceive to be the sort of middlebrow recognition someone like Haneke or Almodovar gets, and I’m by no means supporting the two aforementioned fillmmakers. I just think there’s a difference between sincere artistic expression and deliberate attempts to make one’s work unappealing to the “masses’ so as to cultivate an image as a ‘serious’ artist only tackled by ‘highbrows’.

  102. john steppling says:

    “Well so what? Does that mean that it has no politics? That it can’t have the same shitty supremacist racist politics as most great art? Does only Great Art have the capacity to promote false anthropology, misanthropy, misogyny, hierarchy, authoritarianism, infantile individualist machismo, liberalism, fascism? I think even tv ads can participate in the production of the this same ideology as the art you and I love.”

    I dont know again what you mean. But we’ve sort of beaten this to death. I think we cant define (obviously) great art. We can probably all agree whats more or less in the canon. But I think you are free to enjoy anything. We all do. I think that what I consider important art is part of a process of awakening. That process includes political or at least fosters political implications. @molly: the argument is always over what YOU consider with great certainty to be the politics of something (i..e. Pollock ). I happen to think you share a lot of this with a good many leftists. Im too tired to keep arguing about ab ex……ive laid down what i thought….. and the same about “great art” which I dont find nearly as uniform politically as you seem to……….but more germane is why we have art at all, and what is it society expects of art?

    I think, as i say, that its telling when so little is mentioned (except for Guy) about the Paglen photos….even as they are reproduced here. Artists generally would, I think, discuss the photos themselves. ANd there is particular judgement about this……but……as I say, if the left is ever to awaken from this instrumental paralysis — it has to be theory to different uses vis a vis artworks. Because as it is, there are simply endless snark attacks and twitter wars and small isolated pockets of sectarian defensiveness. And I do recognize my own defensiveness, believe me. But….again….if the master narrative remains hyper violent kitsch….and a sort of corporate white supremicist misogynistic imperialist formula….the culture will further solidify around these values. There is a dialectics here.

    Now….i think ab ex was poltically radical. The art market is not. The painters…any artist, cant really be held accountable for the co-option of their work…otherwise there would be nothing left that wasnt sort of sanctioned by the leftist thought police. The right of course, the fascists, control the narrative. But the counter narrative has to be able to differentiate between toni morrison and real writing.

    @Remy………..I think you have made great points. First with hopper……I think he was on one level a sort of minor painter…..except for the fact that he sort of captured…at least in a number of paintings, a very specific historical moment, and he seemed to intuit the reasons for it. Iverson in Beyond Pleasure has a great discussion of Hopper.

    As for those directors……I found when i was at the film school and ran the cinemateque…..that certain films I hadnt seen in years suddenly looked very bad…and others surprised me, for looking even better than I had remembered. The english new wave mostly (Mostly) looks less impressive now….but Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner is a startling exception. But Losey, for example, went on to make very very interesting films. Where does one put Losey, if one were making lists? I dont know. I dont know in a particular way, a particular way of not knowing that is interesting because it has to do with Losey’s relationship to text. Same with Reisz. Or a Skolomowksi. I love Shout and Deep End…but the rest of his work,sadly, isnt really very good. But knowing his story, one can see the battering he took, in the form of neglect, and his left politics were anathema in Poland, and he is resented for making mostly english language films etc. FIlm is so mediated by finance — and I feel like many directors have never come to terms with the echos of what film first was, (a seaside novelty). Because you’re right about Kurosawa……a guy who made films perfect to win festival awards. (do you know kenji Kurosawa? the ‘other’ kurosawa). I think there are guys…..Ozu for example…..or even a Sam Fuller….where its very hard to know how to approach that work. The cool insider post modern love of Fuller is one thing, but then……you dig a bit deeper and i often dont know if I like him at all. I think I do.. but let me rephrase that…..”like” is a word to avoid…..I come to see he had importance…and his influence was huge…but a Peckinpah is another. So……this is why film is so complex to discuss. The studio system, the blockbusters, the endless repetition of the same, is where today, the discussion cant help but shift to a political analysis first….as a dissection of production, of media consolidation, of pentagon cooperation — and of the constant reinforcing of this neo imperialist master narrative.

    But sure….renegade product emerges and its important to know it. And more, to give it a deep reading, a close reading. Yet there is always this danger of succombing to a set of structural principles that are really only a reflection of the logic that allowed their production in the first place. Being a “fan” is highly dangerous approach. We all do it… one degree or another. But this is where theory actually matters in a direct concrete way.

    ok…..Im going to move on to the next entry…..feel free for final comments though.

  103. “She can be mildly controversial………..but a charles burnett, and a film like Killer of Sheep, will never be screened at the White House. These are the court jugglers. No Robert Beck, just Maya Angelou. And no hip hop”

    NWA were invited to the White House in 1990, not long after being threatened by the FBI. Former crack dealer Jay-Z – and various hip hop cronies – hang out with the current president, with little more than grumbles from Fox News.

    As for Morrison – it’s not about being “safe”, it’s about having a very high international reputation and an pretty much flawless ouevre. I seriously doubt the Nobel Committee judge authors by what the US state dept digs (do they still read that kind of stuff anyway?). However, abstract expressionism was very much the hype product du jour when it came to imperial agendas after WW2. The CIA needed something to sell to half-commie Europe as ‘high culture’ and macho existential beat masturbation gave off just the right image, of a more ‘cultured’ side to rugged American individualism (that still refuses to go away). Marlboro Men for urban pseuds. McLintlock meets Guggenheim. VERY petit bourgeois – particularly the Europeans they were trying to seduce (though not a successfully as they seduced the aggressively narcissistic US-PB itself). Not a conspiracy theory – it’s been widely documented on TV and newspaper features. I doubt Ab-Ex was any more political than anything else regarded as art then really. Maybe Rothko, but certainly not Pollock. And anyway, the former probably served as a vague, relatively “safe” comment on the horrors of “totalitarianism” (ie. Germany up to 1945, Russia after that, a shitload of Africans and Arabs now). None of that violent, visceral kinky stuff like you’d find in a Bacon or Picasso either.

    How the hell do you KNOW Charles Burnett wouldn’t be screened at the White House?? Killer of Sheep makes a lot of all time ‘best’ lists. To Sleep With Anger may have been just the kind of film a young educated hipster like Obama would have watched in his youth. Chances are the Clintons may have seen it too.

    As for Miles Davis – it wasn’t the audience that made him petit bourgeois. He devoted his career to doing that himself. Of all the jazz legends, he had the most small, self-regarding spirit of them all. It’s there in his playing. This is a guy who got to play with *Charlie Parker at nineteen* (embarrassing as a fill-in for Dizzy btw), had unprecedented artistic control and royalty deals (for jazz), was weighed down with medals and awards from many nations throughout the decades – and still ranted he wasn’t getting his due shortly before his death. Though, to his credit, he had the distinction of stealing ideas from his white musicans – perhaps subverting the standard narrative of black American music. Very much the masturbatory post-war PB macho poseur, like Pollock in many ways.

    There’s a lot of barely-veiled mythologizing about the Great American Expanse and the Heroic Artist’s relation to it here (Melville and the white canvas – puh-leaze!). It’s in danger of falling into a certain racial essentialism (as though black artists must be “dangerous” to be good. Apolitical talent alone is whitey’s luxury) and national chauvinism (the end product of all artistic nostaglia). The lists you and Remy are rattling off are a dead giveaway, frankly.

  104. PS. I LIKE Miles Davis and Mark Rothko. However, Pollock is the proverbial nude emperor, a shambles. And anything I like about Godard may not necessarily have anything to do with his politics.

  105. John Steppling says:


    This narrative is clearly never going to go away. (Ab ex promoted as individualistic corrective to communist conformity etc). The story has been widely repeated…..but in fact, ab ex existed long before the end of WW2….it only found its sort of final formation after the war…though even many of those paintings had been done earlier. The state dept funded two shows…internationally….i forget where… they had very fucking little to do with this because they havent, finally, much interest in art. The art market on the other hand, DID have a lot to say, and followed Greenberg’s championing of pollock (in particular). Rosenberg seemed a DeKooning guy more. And there were reasons for that. Were any of those reasons a Greenbergian anti communism? Maybe. He was something of a cypher on a personal level, but I dont doubt it. — Now…..did the art market….exclusive lux galleries and curators and patrons have an agenda, politically, in fighting communism? Hey, I dont know…..I think unlikely. But your comments prove my point about the narrative’s popularity with the left. This one suits the leftist master narrative about culture. So it is promoted. Disproportionate to its impact on anything. Its perfectly in the comfort zone because it elides more complex critical analysis. And i have to say, my brain hurts now from the tossing out of the term “petit bourgeois”. I think Im going to stop using it all anymore because it now so meaning. Its just like saying Fuck.

    I dont KNOW killer of sheep wasnt shown. Ive not heard that it was. Do you know if it was? Please enlighten me if it was.

    And no I very much doubt the Clinton’s saw it. This idea (and i think its created by the clinton PR firms…starting way back) that they were hip cool pot smoking sophisticates is bullshit. I think you dont realize how weirdly remote the corridors of power are.

    Your final paragraph is, with respect, itself a cliche. This is again, a way of not having to engage with art. Oh….”its mythologizing”, “nostalgia”… etc. Well, perhaps at times…..but the anti-cultural bias of the left is pretty clear id say. These remarks are the sound of reductivness and snideness (those lists are a dead giveaway)…..this is a sort of churlish anti intellectualism, and its a defensivness clear on the left pretty much all the time. Its almost as if a terror of culture exists, and Id have to ponder why that is, but thanks for proving my point.

  106. Toni Morrison is personally a soc dem, far to the left of Celine and many other novelists you like; her novels are anything but easy or comforting. Oprah likes her, she also like the loathsome Cormac McCarthy’s antihumanity cheap sensationalism and fear and disgust mongering, she has eclectic tastes. Her operation is not merely to vend crap but to coopt and exploit the products of artists for her own reputation and the status of her brand.

    Feminists theorists have often tried to claim Morrison because of her radicalism on subjectivity and analyses of power and exploitation, tho’ she rejects the label; her novels are some of the last great American monuments of language, a wedding of realism and the avantgarde, formal exploration and sociohistorical engagement, the most significant products in the US of narrative trends originating in the near periphery that engage with the complexity of empire. The Obamas like her, maybe – how do we know they are not just posing like everybody you disrespect who shares your personal tastes? can we really say the drone assassin and torturer, the re-inslaver, the recolonizer of Africa, connects with Morrison’s .exquisitely painful production of humanity’s experience under the boot of such dominators? – they also like the Wire which you like too. And Kerry liked Stendhal. And I have no doubt they all adore Pollack the celebrated American artist and creator of enduring capital assets (not sateen dura lux!). The largest private Cézanne collection is in the hands of the Ron Lauder who has superb taste (he has the same taste as you) in art. The people who buy adore celebrate Pollack are the same people who make people like Obama put them in the white house. I think you are being somewhat opportunistic about how you use this kind of evidence about personal politics of the author and official imprimatur to condemn art that’s simply not for you just as much of the art you cherish is not for most of us – I can’t sit through the dark knight literzally feel as though i am being murdered by boredom.

    If you look at the kind of politics in American scenes and milieux in which Toni Morrison is a cherished and valued novelist, a monument of a certain revolutionary feminist culture, we can say this is plainly; incontestably, glaringly more consistently radical revolutionary and on-the-side-of-humanity, anti-capitalist, anti-ruling class by far than the circles of abex fandom or the canonical modernist avanguardia which much more avidly court power’s protection approval and imprimatur

    yes of course i only advance my own views. I don’t see why I oughtn’t have that confidence that everyone who is brought forward as having a different opinion to mine has uncontroversially. I don’t think this stuff is ineffable and mysterious and I don’t doubt my ability to observe how it works. When somebody declares Pollacks work related to atomic destruction they are not hesitating in advancing this view even without any apparent basis except this loose superficial homology. I don’t see artists as demigods or vessels of any kind of divine force beyond my comprehension and generally I think Terry Eagleton’s old althusserian Criticism and Ideology gives the best general account of the determinations of literary production there can be and that something close applies to single-author handicraft plastic arts. (And not to huge expensive mass culture commodities which are too often treated as if they are the same kind of object because the interface with the consumer – “a story”, “an image” – is similar)

    I also think the way certain aestheticist postures try to cow people into feeling awe and irrational reverence for these capital assets are reactionary, and over time inundating populations with this has made them submissive and gullible. And from these same circles we often see the contempt for accessible entertainments that aren’t misanthropic and sadistic and everything kind of channeling toward sheer power exhibition, the bravado of the exhibition of might and domination and elite egotism and contempt becoming the marker of the correct in art product. .

  107. John Steppling says:

    @molly…………god, Im trying to work on a new posting, but I think this is a good discussion, so let me answer somehow briefly, because some of this is in the next blog post….which i hope is up tomorrow at least.

    Look…..I have a feeling obama, and bush and clinton and all of them hate culture. I dont believe for a second any of them have ever spent a second with any of the writers or artists they claim to love. Its like when they go to church. Its just part of a created persona. Its marketing. So…..thats not even worth pursuing as a topic, frankly. (there are odd exceptions, i admit though).

    I will write more about Morrison (of course you hate McCarthy, of course you do). — but let me clarify, I dont *hate* Morrison, i just think she’s a middle brow hack. Not loathsome, just not very good. And perfect for Oprah. I dont think she herself is a nazi at all. I only think her prose is really strained and very very middle brow. In her case, her popularity is not an accident. Sometimes popularity IS an accident (or close).

    I intend to write a bit about McCarthy too, who is the opposite of anti humanity….but as I say, of course you hate him. When did i ever suggest dark knight was not loathsome and vile??

    but you cant say “the same people who like pollock….”/ Thats a generalization too far. Its fascist in its construction, actually. I know the point you are trying to make though.

    And i also agree that this is a great discussion or argument or debate. Whatever it is. I wish more were participating. And see, when you defend morrison, even if I think its exactly wrong —- I find it useful to hear, and I find the expressing of praise more important right now than endless jockying for cred by snark attacks. I can live in a world where significant numbers of people love toni morrison and hate cormac McCarthy — thats never been the point. The point is that , and I maintain this absolutely, the left in general does-not-engage with art… fact, they resolutely turn away from it, in the same way they turn away from the contradictions of capitalism….from the obvious terror the state inflicts on the world. Now really, Im speaking of liberals more. The left is focused on state terror, and I think thats correct—- but I think the refusal to construct aeshteic resistance in any meaningful way creates bad habits of thought in a sense……it solidifies structural inflexibiltiy, and it somehow reinforces a kind of narcissism of the outsider who is forever looking in. It ends up totalitarian. These roles, these spatial metaphors are something Im writing about in the next post so I will leave off on that for now. My point being, cultural understanding is important politically.

    Now…..we do disagree about what you term irrational awe……..but the point is right, just not the particulars, and I think you tend to drastically oversimplify the ways in which artworks interact with both the social and the subjective. The awe one feels is radicalizing, not conformist cowing. ANd the problem resides in the way in which the grand narrative is imposed to artificially manufacture a false awe……..for speilberg or chris nolan. Genuine awe is revolutionary.

  108. John, on a side note, I know you tend to say McCarthy’s the only living writer of any value, but how do you feel about Pynchon and Philip Roth? Are they of no value to you? I know Roth and McCarthy are often mentioned in tandem as the great writers of their generation.

  109. “I intend to write a bit about McCarthy too, who is the opposite of anti humanity….but as I say, of course you hate him. ”

    But Oprah likes him. You are advancing his “safe for Oprah” measure as meaningful only for the stuff for other demographics. Oprah’s liking is a point against Morrison but McCarthy whose career she singlehandedly made effectyively is immune.

    The nasty evil barbaric others post apocalypse? The aboliution of the state leads to a Hobbesian landscape of macabre colonialist visions like,_Fernand_-_Cain_flying_before_Jehovah%27s_Curse.jpg

    the colonialist imagination.

    But my point is not that I hate his stuff – i do, I don’t feel obliged to like it, it’s not for me – but that Oprah’s approval and the NYTimes bestseller list and celebration by the establishment is in question here as evidence for the aesthetic seriousness or whatever.

    It’s certainly very conventional writing.

    re dark knight, I thought you said stuff about Heath Ledger wonderful marvellolus and that the whole thing was an expression of “our” this or that spontaneous psychic state, fears and desires, etc.. When I asked if you felt the same about Sex and the City 2 which was just as popular you said no, iirc. I really think tis because you could sit through DK and not SATC but most people don’t see either.

  110. As for Toni Morrison being middlebrow, I really wonder what the criteria at work here is. I could explain why “Sth, I know that woman.” is a marvellous opening sentence of the sort that makes writers reputations and establishes one in the canon, but ui”ll save it for your post devoted to this topci.

  111. Maybe its not so much about what members of the ruling class “likes Pollock” or the back catalogue of a hailed film director or playright, but rather who literally OWNs and SELLS a Pollock, the copyright on a body of work or the actual theatres that feature performances. THIS is where taste – or ‘canons’ – get generated and cultivated, far more than the academy ever did.

    Really not convinced that all US presidents have bloodthirsty teenager’s tastes. maybe for propaganda, or morale (eg. Nixon and ‘Patton’) purposes. But an elite’s an elite, and ruthlessly ambitious types like Clinton or Obama would be seen where elites want to be seen. Do you think Michelle Obama really DID regard ‘Argo’ as the best film of 2012? I don’t. That crap isn’t a status symbol. However, abstract expressionism – or even £300 Miles Davis boxed sets – are. I can find a Toni Morrison book for £2.50, and they’re in every library I’ve seen. She’s not there to flatter a petit bourgeois middlebrow – that crowd would be too busy helping to sell the library off.

  112. John Steppling says:

    @Kasper…. I can find used paperbacks of Mccarthy and Shakespeare and Dickens and so what? You dont actually mean Morrison’s paper back availability is representative of anything do you?

    Yes, I think the elite white house crowd do not voluntarily read anything, actually. I believed clinton when he said he read the Jack Reacher books though. THAT i can believe. I think they do what they have to do….clinton went to oxford….or was it cambridge…who cares…..but i dont think he reads with any enthusiasm…other than his stock portfolio really.

    no, I dont think thats a good opening sentence. Id take my writing student aside actually…..but its not awful, exactly, either. You know a great opening sentence….pedro paramo.

    You continue to make the same mistake though…..which is to confuse the artwork with who buys it and how it sells ……its fluid for one thing. But as I say, Im writing on it here posting. And you simply read through a narrow NARROW lens of neccessary political obligation. But……i will post, i hope, tonight a new post that continues this debate and I do appreciate remy, kasper, remy, guy, everyone posting…….its good argument and debate…..

  113. John Steppling says:

    and no, I pretty certain I never said that about heath ledger…and DK.

  114. “Do you think Michelle Obama really DID regard ‘Argo’ as the best film of 2012? I don’t.”

    But film’s status as a legitimate art form is tenuous to begin with, at least in elite Anglo-American circles, less so in French intellectual circles. Obama probably hasn’t even heard of Bresson. Thus, your whole point regarding Michelle awarding Argo Best Picture is irrelevant.

  115. “Id take my writing student aside actually”

    and teach them how not to win a nobel prize?

  116. i really don’t know how you can be so contemptuous of that work. do you ever consider that it is just not addressing yourveyr particular itnerests and tazstes? its so hugely important to so many people,; is there aanyuone on this philsitine “‘left” you denounce who is as dismissive of anything as you are of the works that don’t speak to your concerns btu do so deeply to many others?

  117. BTW this idea of a philistine left is absurd. If anything, those identifying as ‘left’ are bigger aesthetes than most; perhaps at the expense of more urgent matters. Baskar Sankurah’s DVD shelf isn’t the sum total of “Marxist approaches to art”. And the caricature of “us” as all sentimental over Riviera at the expense of “deeper” (?) abstraction is out of the pages of New Republic.

    Maybe we’re not attending theatres as much as you like, but 99% per cent of them are full of expensive crap anyway. We don’t all live a taxi ride away from Broadway.

  118. John Steppling says:

    yes, Id teach them NOT to win a Nobel Prize.

    I dont mean to be so negative about morrison. I shouldnt single her out in particular. She just came up in this discussion. I do think she’s a very middle brow writer, but it gets to be a debate about do you “like” swiss cheese on your chessburger or cheddar. Its finally an existential fact that we have a cheeseburger.

  119. Well to be fair, there have been some great writers to win the Nobel Prize, but I guess it’s like Sunrise winning Best Picture or Citizen Kane being nominated.

  120. Re: Abstract expressionism

    This may be of interest wrt the above:

  121. John Steppling says:

    thanks kasper.- Fascinating. Guston is a strange figure of that time. THis is illuminating, actually — but it also clarifies the state dept and CIA support of ab ex. As i said, there was one show…aborted…..(I had heard two…but whatever)….and that in fact the artists were too semtic and foreign and most had marxist sympathies

  122. sorry to be grumpy but morrison has not only meant much to me – i see all around me the importance of this work;, to women, especially african american women and women of color, both in the most trenchantly political and the profoundest personal way

    as for nobels, generally they don’t go to middlebrow writing. except for morrison the american winners have been second rate, btu recently years have honoreda lot of great writers, morrison, coetzee, saramago, kertesz, pamuk, pintern, fo, grass, oe…all giants. and a monster shit writer (naipaul) and a monster pretty grand writer (Varas Llosa)

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