“This house is far away, it is lost, we inhabit it no more; we are, alas, certain of inhabiting it never again. It is however, more than a memory. It is a house of dreams, our oneiric house.”
“Important works of art are the ones that aim for an extreme; they are destroyed in the process and their broken outlines survive as ciphers of a supreme, unnameable truth.”
Adorno, Sacred Fragment,
Schoenberg’s Moses and Aron
I want to write about aesthetics more, because I think often there is such a huge neglected political aspect to this topic, and because far more than pure political science, or left dissident criticism, hardly anything is really written about it. When I started this blog, my intention was to write a good deal more about the practice of writing, and the poetics of theatre, of film, and painting. But it’s been increasingly difficult to separate these topics. Adorno wrote about the state of aesthetics fifty years ago: “This abstract and largely mechanical derivation of aesthetics from pre-given philosophies seems to me to be the essential reason for the fall of theoretical aesthetics.” As Andrew Bowie cogently put it, “…if philosophy cannot learn from art, and if its job is just to tell us the truth about art in the same way it does other issues, then ultimately we wont need art anyway.” But I believe we do need art, and rather desperately. In an age of instrumental logic, of almost cultic worship of science, of a science mediated by political forces, society will completely lose touch with how to narrative our lives to each other and to ourselves, and will increasingly forget how to engage with the impulse to create, and will suffer the further deterioration of our imagination.
But, I happened this week to go out to the cinema. I was with my wife. There was not much showing, so we decided, well, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is likely better than Hercules. I think perhaps five minutes into this film our heads turned simultaneously and we looked at each other. It was horrifying. Not just was it infantile, for that almost goes without saying. No, it was worse. And it was worse in ways that I think I need to approach in a very roundabout fashion.
One cannot talk aesthetics without bringing in Adorno. Not today. You can’t. And like so many seminal thinkers, there is a lot of mis-reading of Adorno, reductive reading. And in a sense, this is predictable because he is very difficult. And I have had arguments going back years and years with people about how to read him. But for the purposes to today, I want to start with something I’ve not written about, but which I have taught a good deal, and that is writing for the theatre.And I want to begin with a couple ideas about dialogue. I used to use an example:
A man walks into a room. Another man sits there. The first man says “Do you have a banana, I’m hungry”.
The second man says, “No, why would I have a banana, get the fuck out of here”.
Thats the worst version.
A man walks into a room. Another man sits there. The first man says “Do you have a banana, I’m hungry”
The second man says nothing. The first man finally leaves.
That’s a bit better.
A man walks into a room. Another man sits there. The SECOND man says “No, I have no banana, why would I have a banana. Get the fuck out of here.”
That’s the best version. Why? Well, version #1 is obvious, rational and without mystery. Version #2 at least leaves us with an unanswered question. There is a question raised. Tension. Version #3 however is best because someone is answering unasked questions. And by so doing a huge leap takes place. One has bypassed the usual asking of questions which can be answered, and are often answered because of visual evidence. One has skipped the asking when the question is not answered. And one has gone straight to an assumption of previous questions, and suddenly there are several layers of history both revealed and obscured. I think that Pinter probably grasped this better than anyone. It was his primary genius in fact.
I have spoken a lot about the uncanny. And it is because I think the uncanny is directly linked to mimesis and the non-identical. The uncanny is at work whenever something isn’t answered. Or rather, it is there if the question is legitimate. The above painting by Tim Eitel is, I think, a good(ish) painting. It is not a great painting. It want’s to be uncanny…but I am not sure it is. Eitel is a very talented painter. He studied in Germany, and now lives in Paris. He works from photographs. In a sense, Eitel is doing his own version of the Chiat Day syndrome, albeit doing it very well, and with enough intelligence to offset some of the self conscious “uncanny”ness. This particular painting could be a poster for Songs From the Second Floor, for example.
Jameson said, speaking of Adorno:
“Yet the form of the sentences must now also be seen as a form of philosophizing in its own right.”
Part of Eitel’s problem is that he is not technically convincing. Not enough. It is as if the painter’s tecnique is akin to the actor for the playwright. Better technique, say that of Borremans, and a qualitative change takes place. Not even Beckett could stand up under Steve Martin and Robin Williams. The paintings of another young German, Stefan Kurten, are far more unsettling. Kurten works often with gold pigment, and he paints more architecture than Eitel, and indeed is doing something rather different. But for now, I post one of his paintings, below.
This is a disquieting painting because it seems to about something idyllic, and yet the sky is wrong, there is an indeterminate light, and then that gold. The gold is just unnerving. The painting is answering questions unasked, if one wants to push that model. It is imposing something on the viewer, much as a real estage agent might. The viewer is being pressured. In Eitel, by contrast, there is something just the tiniest big smug. Comfortable. And again, I do think Eitel is a decent artist.
But to return to Adorno, and to Jameson, one of the problems with the culture industry is that is now so effectively assimilates all rebellion. All attempts to create radical vision is quickly (as Jameson puts it) ‘registered’ and catalogued and made into a ‘style’. The style is then marketed in mass. This however is mediated to a degree by genre. And one of the potential escape valves for co-option is genre. Genre is already a registered style in a sense. The radical ‘western’ is still a western. The accommodation can only partly take place with any particular work because there is this prevailing category of genre. The best genre work today, in film anyway, are those that work off of subtraction. They simplify, and remove as a strategy. There is more to say on that, but for now..there is another aspect running alongside this, and that is the economic. The corporate interests eliminate the independent economic subject. The artist is bought out whether he or she wants to be or not. Jameson suggests that a kind of fetishism is the only possible result of the Utopian impulse.
In Pinter’s The Caretaker, the triangular dialogue in Act 2 is a constant repetition of unfinished conversation, but it ends with, as Pinter often did, a long(ish) monologue by ‘Aston’. For all this elliptical dialogue must find a way to be recuperated. The monologue does nothing to resolve the plot, if one can say there even is a plot. But what it does is restore the sense of legitimacy to the scene. Memory may be faulty, Pinter makes clear, but that is how we re-form our lives in the end.
Because there is nothing resolved, the audience is left with an uncanny and disturbing, or haunting sense of their own memory of the play just witnessed. Jameson (discussing Adorno) says only when a subject enters the force field of late capitalism does the mimetic occur, that it is a relationship between private property and personal identity. That the mechanisms of Capital, of property, of instrumental logic all serve to diminish the subject, or his inner life anyway.
Adorno says, in Minima Moralia: “…the will to live finds itself dependent on the denial of the will to live…”. This is not as simple as man-as-robot, however. For it is dialectical. The forces of advanced Capital, monopoly capital, are all in the service of standardization, and this encroaches on, in fact it is foundational, subjectivity. We think in the language of monopoly, and of Corporate restrictions, we think in terms today, of financialization.
This discussion at this point turns to the ideas of the ‘Culture Industry’; the most well known term, probably, in all of Adorno’s works. And one that has always met with resistance by the American public, and in U.S. academia. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the rise of marketing as a science in the U.S., and because of the deep Puritan sediments layered beneath the business friendly Anglo-Protestant values system, the very idea of manipulation was countered by a kind of manufactured populism. This populist trend was also (and is also) married to the American resistance to class analysis. Now, Jameson points out that Modernism by the 1950s was hegemonic in U.S. academia. And this is true, but it’s also not true. For there was a hidden class bias operative in this throughout.
There has also been the emphasis, in this new populism, on amusement, or even pleasure. And here is where a deeper analysis is called for. Kitsch, the products of mass culture, do not provide pleasure. They provide some kind of enjoyment, perhaps (there is a whole discussion, obviously, to be had on the nature of pleasure and links to sexuality). But one of Adorno’s crucial points was the austerity, even monasticism, of genuine engagement with culture and art. As he said: “In the Culture Industry, jovial renunciation takes the place of pain that lies at the heart of ecstasy and asceticism alike.”
It is the ideology of intellectual pacification that runs through all mass culture that must be resisted.
But back to the uncanny.
“This recalls Freud’s dictum that the uncanny is uncanny only because it is secretly all too familiar, which is why it is repressed.”
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory
For Adorno (per Jameson) there is an active hatred of art by those whom is excludes, and because of this resentment the excluded demand validation for mass cultural amusements, and further, those who even grasp all this but reject the sacrifice of denying a shallow momentary happiness in lieu of that deeper spiritual regeneration of society itself. In a sense, this is the position of a fascist mentality.
Freud wrote, on the uncanny; “Yet we expect that a special core of feeling is present which justifies the use of a special conceptual term. One is curious to know what this common core is which allows us to distinguish as ‘uncanny’ certain things that lie within the field of what is frightening.” Anthony Vidier points out that ‘uncanny’ is extremely difficult to pin down, and hence finds itself translated in an unusual ways in various languages. Sinistre, etrange, de mal aguero, lugubre, etc. But in non of these languages is uncanny directly synonymous with fear or terror. Nor with the grotesque, or disfigured. It is too close in conceptual structure to things which are familiar. In German of course it is unheimlich, and the English uncanny is derived from ken, or beyond knowing. The canniness part is simply skill. But it is in German that the deepest resonance occurs. For the uncanny is always linked to home. And home is always linked to exile, to homelessness, and to memory. The uncanny is the deep memory of a lost home. And the experience of the uncanny reminds us of that lost home, the one to which we feel guilt for having forgotten. Certain colors are associated with the uncanny, amber for one. Amber light is the direct expression of that petrified sap in which is lodged lost life, and lost memory.
This is what the Frankfurt School, as a whole, saw in their critique of anti semitism. It is a class analysis, for everyone is promised happiness, and that is what Adorno came to call the *broken promise*. One cannot have real happiness until everyone can have real happiness. This is why art and culture have such marked political significance. Now in the United States, historically, the resentment has been directed most acutely at those whose ancestors were slaves. Black culture is the most potent expression of genuine happiness that it’s possible to find, and it accounts for the dramatic efforts of the ruling classes to commodify, neutralize, and destroy it.
The uncanny is connected to a term I’m going to invent, ‘deep memory’. Because the familiarity of the uncanny image is not a familiarity one can access. One cannot sit and concentrate and try-to-remember. Now, it is possible that this is simply the repressed material of childhood. And likely a good portion of it is. But I suspect it is more than that, and it is that part of repressed material that interests me the most, and which I think artists make use of, and to which I believe culture is linked.
There are probably two levels of uncanny. The Pinter play mentioned above, operates on the lesser uncanny level. The play itself is a masterpiece, but the uncanny is tied to the mimetic re-narration of the play itself. The audience is questioning his own experience of spoken text, and there is an examination given on ‘listening’. The uncanny resides therefore in a brief temporal space, even if the deeper layers of meaning continue. There is in the deeper uncanny something that is allied to the tragic. A work may be deeply uncanny and not be tragedy, but it will bleed into the tragic impulse to some degree almost always. The German Romantics were often deeply uncanny, and Von Kleist might be the culmination of this branch. His essay on marionettes remains an indispensable text for understanding the links to myth and Dionysian mystery, the uncanny as revelation. The uncanny is always, on both levels, a mystery. This is why narrative that opens us to the experience of something uncanny is always a story of crime, or primal crime. Architecture is often uncanny, and for reasons similar to tragedy. The sense of our forgotten homes is evoked very acutely in certain buildings. Piranesi’s Carceri are exercises in deep uncanny. Kafka, of course, is the modern giant of the deep uncanny. There is an spatial aspect to the uncanny, and it is partly linked to vertigo. John Martin wrote of Pirinesi, that one always feels as if measuring these spaces from on high. It’s not a rational response, but then this is where guilt begins, and this is also partly an aspect of the *broken promise* We desire to remember where our exile began, but we cannot, and there is a feeling of betrayal attached to this. For it is not only ‘my’ forgotten exile, it is ‘our’ forgotten exile. To get to the forgotten past is akin to navigating a maze, and here that quality of claustrophobia common to the uncanny becomes another artery of the forgotten, of the irretrievable.
Tied into this discussion is the theme of the passing of modernism. Whether that dissipating of energy turned into something called post-modernism, I’m not sure, but probably I fail to see what post modernism actually is. For it seems to be more about what it is not. It is not epitaph, but simply caesura. The pause before the Fall. Everyone today lives in the shadow of transnational corporate business. For this vast realm of devouring insensate destruction not only destroys people, and landscapes, but it eats the inner life of those it leaves alive, and its most malignant form is found in the erasing of both social and individual history. It sucks out memory and reduces it to pixel ash.
The uncanny as mystery, is also I think inseparable from exile, from the experience of homesickness. I think that in Western societies, European and North American primarily, that homes are overdetermined in dreams via the window. Windows, or perhaps only the windows of the second floor, are always somehow the site of both erotic transgressions, and symbolic of religious calling, or communion. Now I’m clearly speaking of a bourgeois identity formed in the late 17th century, but advanced qualitatively in the 18th, and on into the 19th and 20th. The window can be open or closed, curtained or not, and it is at a distance. I’ve always felt a certain unnaturalness to large ground floor windows. They are exhibitionistic to a degree, and more, they are an emblem of class, the owners gazing out over the factory or fields. Today, the erasure of these experiences, the reflective meditations of daily life, especially in childhood, are no doubt more inimical to individual autonomy than can be grasped. The architecture of mall, of office building, of surveilled public space is designed and policed in such a way that people are being drained of their inner lives. The escape from the great panopticon uses up the entirety of people’s waking hours. For never before, at least in the U.S., has the invasion of personal space, of privacy, been so extensive. And that invasion is policing dreams as well. Perhaps there will be a poetics, an uncanny of the mall escalator, but I somehow doubt it. Anthony Vidier wrote, on the topic of structural uncanny, and here on the reflections of Walter Pater, and ancient Roman homes…
“..Pater makes clear, this homeliness was established firmly on its ability to ecompass and overcome death. The foundations of the house were deeply embedded in the catacombs, the villa’s subterranean double, that provided resting places for the ancestors of the Cecilii. The immediate spatial connection between the abode of the living and that of the dead sustained the air of authenticity, of ‘venerable beauty, that permeated the whole estate…The heimlich had finally been reconciled to its apparent opposite in a spatial order that provided rest for both living and dead.”
So, any narrative fiction, or playwriting, must remember it’s own homesickness. All authors write only their own life. In the end. It can be called Crete, or Denmark, or Uruguay, but my work for example is always Los Angeles. And the United States. But this ‘where’ identity is often masked, sent outward. One of the great geniuses of poetics and writing in the 20th century was Charles Olson. I cannot quite understand his neglect. Many lesser poets have been revived and canonized, but not Olson. If one wants to learn to write, an essential book is Call Me Ishmael, his study of Melville. I mention Olson because he is the great surveyor of space and land. The catacombs beneath our lives, beneath everyone’s life, are often ignored. Melville told Hawthorne he dated his life from his return from the Pacific. The Pacific was the dopelganger of the plains, for Americans. In Russia it is the steppes, and Siberia. There is an urban form, too, of space. It more directly turns downward. Toward the catacombs. They create a vertical maze. In those less urban, the horizontal is dominant. The horizon. For the horizon is most clearly seen at sea or in the desert. The horizon is more mausoleum. It is always a maze, though.
Olson quotes Dostoyevsky:
“Even negation has not come from me. Everything has always been petty and spiritless… Indignation and shame I can never feel, therefore not despair”.
Stavrogin. For Olson was writing on The Possessed. In Dostoyevski there is primal crime. Olson said plot was a ‘broken stump’. The poetics of space are always there, of course. Elvis in an elevator is heading for the underworld. Perhaps. Yet, that trip in today’s fiction rarely if ever takes place. Hell has been banished, kettled, deported. This is one of the questions that surfaces with all discussion on aesthetics. Olson felt ancient Sumer, the Summerian world of 3300 BC, was a center of wisdom and it produced myth and allegory and symbol. Somewhere along the way, things got forgotten. The purpose of symbol forgotten. Perhaps, but for sure, *something* was lost, forgotten, and someone had to be blamed for this loss. Inventory doesn’t add up. Fire that intern. The sense of the allegorical has evaporated. Those elsewheres only infrequently occur now, and they are under surveillance. It may well be that the electronic panopticon has reached a state where it damages even our inner monologues.
Let me use an example, that only partially explains any of this. Non representational painting or abstract art as it is often commonly called, reached a place of exhaustion very quickly with the New York School of Pollock, Rothko, DeKooning et al. It was replaced with various secondary schools of color field, hard edge, etc. And none of these is very well defined. Minimalism was another reaction, in a sense. Today, a work like the one below by Bernard Lokai is worth at least trying to talk about:
Lokai is the son of Czech parents, but raised in Germany and a student of Richter. He is often associated with what is called The German New Wave that includes Bruno Kurz, Blinky Palermo, Imi Knoebel, Rosemarie Trockel, Albert Oehlen, Neo Rauch, Kippenberger, and even Stefan Kurten. And further back Beuys, Kiefer, and Richter himself. Now, this is on the one hand a painting about painting, or a painting ‘of’ painting, a painting of abstract expressionism. But it is unnaturally cut off, framed, interrupted, and thereby re-defines the entire idea of touch, or action painting. The point here is that the goals are very modest I think. The grand transcendentalism of Rothko or Pollock is adumbrated, made into something intentionally derivative. And that is not perjorative, it is a perfectly valid strategy. It is also done with confidence, with a pronounced authority of technique. And this is a way into the discussion of Adorno’s ideas on truth content. The internal integrity of a work is paramount in this case. The Lokai certainly possess that, even if it is achieved by way of reduction of ambition. The work of his teacher Gerhard Richter provides a certain clue to evaluating Lokai. Richter purposefully changed styles a dozen times, from photo-realism, to glosses on Warhol, and throughout a tendency to incorporate ready made materials. This all suggests a project directed at sampling to focus on the very notion of ‘style’ as regressive in itself. Lokai is periously close to illustrating an Abstract Expressionist painting. The Bruno Kurz below better, a better version of, if that’s fair, what Lokai is doing (and Lokai does a number of things, other than what he did here). The Kurz, even if working off derivitive material, is not illustrating, for something adheres to his painting that destabilizes. It may not be doing more, but at the very least I think it’s clearly working on that level.
Here Jameson is perhaps the clearest of all Adorno critics, with Zuidervaart anyway, on the topic of truth content. For many works can have great internal integrity, and still only be expressing the untruth of society, or false consciousness. Jameson mentions Adorno’s critique (extensive) of Wagner’s music. That Wagner’s chromatic colorations are both exquisite integral expressions of something Utopian, AND expressions of the disintegration of the classical musical vocabulary itself.
“Yet the very splendor of that technical breakdown, whose tendentially atomistic logic releases all kinds of new ‘productive forces’, is itself a figure of the relationship between his ‘moment of truth’ and the regressive position of the subject in a bourgeois society that has already begun to anticipate its own limits.”
But whatever one concludes from the individual assessments of particular artists, the point for this posting is that a seriousness attaches to work that strives for an expression of suffering, that gives voice somehow to those usually rendered mute. Now, the uncanny and deep memory are critical in all this. As are the ideas of the universal and particular. For this is where culture is both cause and effect, and demand art be evaluated, and experienced, in light of both the social totality and the individual.
There is something particularly depressing in today’s populism. One senses, intuits, the dishonesty in glossing over all manner of analysis to rather focus almost exclusively on the commercial success and on the enjoyment principle of any particular work, and on trivializing of the entire idea of culture itself. And that latter point is the real heart of the matter. Generalized and emotionally cheap reviews of this or that work allow for, and give permission for a wilful blindness. It is when no dialectical analysis takes place at all; where everything is just another item on the cultural supermarket shelf.
The scripts for 99% of Hollywood film and TV are written in ways that sustain the ideological backdrop of the system. There is no depth, and there is no history. There are only advertisements for the status quo. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the third or fourth (who’s counting) in this franchise, has effectively removed even the tiny bit of social criticism that existed in the original. It is also stunningly humorless (more on that in a second) and entirely mediated by CGI. That this digital soup is no longer read as such is perhaps the most depressing aspect of the entire experience. The ‘Apes’ speak a sort of inconsistent pigeon english, much like *natives* spoke in Ramar of the Jungle fifty years ago. The apes represent the masses; ignorant, easily led and manipulated…unlike the white heroes, the humans, those who *should* be leading. That the ‘bad’ ape is named Koba only reinforces a residue of old time anti communism.
As inconsequential as earlier versions of this franchise might have been, they managed to keep track of the ironic reversal of man/ape that was the mainspring for the original 1974 film with Charlton Heston. There was a certain wit to that film, and at least there was Roddy MacDowell. Here there is no such wit, if for no other reason than the apes are not apes, but something else, and guns have replaced cunning and animal instinct as a subversive marker. This is just hack junk, and while I saw it in 2D, not 3D, I can only imagine how much more oppressive it would have been. There is no space in such films, and like Avatar and Spiderman, it is a world drained of nature. This is nature as one experiences it on an iPad.
Real nature, is being destroyed. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/sep/03/bernie-krause-natural-world-recordings
I suspect that Miroslaw Balka’s installation at the Tate Turbine Hall, a couple years back, was intuitively about the lost uncanny. That Balka is Polish Catholic makes sense. For guilt and atonement seem to somehow intrude on the mysteries of repression. The Balka piece is very effective. The Polish Catholic religion is punishing, it is dark, and while Spanish and Italian Catholicism is equally tortured, the northern Catholics tortured soul is one without color. At the top is a photo of Katie Paterson’s ‘Moonlight’ piece. Working with technicians and science geeks she commissioned a bulb that gave off the same light as moonlight. While close to a junior high school field trip to the science fair, where you see this at one of the booths, it is also curiously unsettling and sort of comforting, as well. And in that sense, it possesses it’s own sense of uncanny. I wanted to end with a comment about a film from Australia. Mystery Road. It is bone simple genre narrative (subtracted genre) about a returning indigenous cop, “abbo copper”, to the outback nowhere town in which he was raised. A teenage aboriginal girl is found beneath an overpass on the highway. The troubled cop goes looking for the killer. Race prevents anyone helping him. He overcomes problems. Its aboriginal noir, or High Noon in the outback. Somehow, however, it’s surprisingly poignant. In the same way The Hunter (2011, David Netheim dr.) managed something similar. The shadow of ethnic cleansing, of colonialism, of white settlers and violence hangs over the entire landscape. Aaron Pedersen is rather stunningly good as the indigenous policeman, too.
If one watches enough network and studio material, it is hard not see the bankruptcy of real imagination, and not see the truly insane infantilism at work. First of all, a quick survey of exactly what is on TV is pretty telling. So called “Reality shows” dominate scheduling. A quick check of saturday nights revealed (my quick head count) twenty six reality shows. For Monday, I saw sixteen. That is a saturation level. That means the vast majority of air time is devoted to the most inane content free exercises in humiliation and cruelty. Of course these are also very cheap to make. So marketing will push them in all ways possible. But moving along to quality programming. One is given either the very crudest police state narratives, or military narratives, or comedies. That makes up roundly 80% of prime time. The prestige products though, in the end, are most telling. I wont burden you or myself with any detailed coverage here, but only to say the failure of narrative is connected to all the points above. Take HBO’s latest, The Leftovers, based on the Tom Perrota novel. Now Perotta is a Yale grad, erstwhile disciple of Tobias Wolfe, and later a prof at Harvard. The white elite. This is the MFA mafia from Ivy league programs. The show, roughly based on the book, is about the rapture…essentially. Its a very white rapture as God and HBO would have it. One of the creators is arch hack Peter Berg, a director with great ties to military Pentagon approved Imperialist war propaganda. There is no real story, beyond one day a lot of people disappear. There is a pseudo classical sound track, and a credit crawl replete with fake frescos. The entire first season, and yes I suffered through it, is about exactly fuck all nothing. There are plenty of homilies about family, and sentimental teary eyed remembrances of the departed, but in the end, this is perhaps the ultimate example of non narrative. There are odd behaviors, of course. A cult, dressed in white, whose program remains obscure. My guess is that somewhere in this was meant to be an examination of guilt and faith. *Faith* being a word I really really hate…but anyway; the problem is that not much feels at stake. The town cop has a dad in the loony bin. Ok. And…? So maybe down the road all this grand bathos is stitched together. The problem, the core problem is that none of it possesses an urgency, none of it is mysterious in the right way. The mystery of banality is not compelling. Why one’s fuel pump blew today, and not tomorrow, is not interesting. It blew..because of planned obsolescence. But that’s not a narrative. Investing the fuel pump failing today with some mystical significance is what you get in The Leftovers. There is no history evident, this is the post modern facsimile movie town. The landscape is generic, and even the few oddities are carefully cleansed of anything that might offend. There is a horrible creepy ur-whiteness to the whole thing. The narrative? It is nothing, but nothing decorated with self conscious seriousness and a not to subtle idealizing of white family life. Honestly, Walt Disney would love it. Jerry Fallwell would love it.
“Style is the imprint of what we are on what we do.”
In the early 1800s, Calasso described the bourgeoisie as being sick with history. Some connection to the past, in the courts and among the intelligentsia had been lost. The literature of the French noble class was trivial, the language itself had lost it’s depth, no great works of art were being written. Today, there is this massive edifice of pop culture, and the society is sick with with a kind of intellectual starvation. That anyone can watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes without feelings of revulsion is proof of some final stage of bourgeois sickness. I suspect it is deeper now, and the white supremacist feelings expressed in police action, in criminal courts and across the communities of poverty were at least once masked, mediated by some phantom adherence to vague moral beliefs. No such mask exists today. This is (to borrow from Adorno) a dis-enchanted land.Pockets of resistance exist. Collectives, and independent farms, and yet the environmental crisis cannot be halted. There are worker’s organizations, and left parties, but U.S. militarism, the Imperialist march to murder even more, has no rational basis any longer, even for them, also will not stop. The photo of Hillary hugging Kissinger may become an iconic image. The corruption of the flesh matches the corruption of the soul. But those pockets of resistance must start to build a culture, for they often lack, more than any other thing, imagination and aesthetic awareness. Those who are repulsed by the glut of Hollywood junk, often simply reject all culture along with the kitsch culture. It is rejected in toto. There is, even in such groups, the residue of science as the primary solution. Even in places rejecting technology, instrumental thinking prevails. There is, as Marx said, a progressive and a regressive side to everything. Some of the logic of resistance demands Enlightenment values as a corrective to new age sophistry. In other cases, there is a marked cultural deficit. It is the least recognized area of authoritarian colonizing.