The Big Rock Candy Mountain

John Heartfield , photo montage. 1934

“The more we understand about primitive mentality, which constitutes a deep layer of advanced mentality, the harder it becomes to escape the idea that its implicit sense of and quest for irrational nondifferentiation of subject and object contains a truth of its own, granted that this other truth fits badly with our rational world view and quest for objectivity.”
Hans Loewald (The Waning of the Oedipus Complex)

“All that culture from a thousand years ago, that philosophy, that wisdom – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates – what happened to it? It should have prevented this.”
Bob Dylan (Nobel Prize speech)

“The aesthetic force of production is the same as that of productive labor and has the same teleology; and what may be called aesthetic relations of production-all that in which the productive force is embedded and in which it is active-are sedimentations or imprintings of social relations of production. Art’s double character as both autonomous and *fait social* is incessantly reproduced on the level of its autonomy.”
Theodor Adorno (Aesthetic Theory)

“In The Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come a-trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railroad bulls are blind
There’s a lake of stew and of whiskey, too
You can paddle all around ’em in a big canoe
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

Harry McClintock (Lyrics Big Rock Candy Mountain, 1928)

I am going to make a series of video lectures, soon. They will be, I am sure, as digressive and anti-organizational as these posts. But the motivation is, I think anyway, my continuing unshakable sense of cultural collapse. It is my small pedagogical gesture of contempt for Academia. I was recently, again, reminded of how stunningly conformist are western institutions of learning. And how I will never be employed at one.

“This change in European societies is clearly detectable in the drawings and paintings of Otto Dix and Georg Grosz, who shattered “the silence of painters” by demonstrating the horror of war by its effects on the world to which it had given birth. The urban landscape that they depict is chaotic and ravaged, with cripples and war-wounded on every corner. Many of the men are in uniform. When not depicted as wrecks littering a decadent decor, they animate the stage as hysterical figures, jerking frenetically as if convulsed by electric shocks. The impression conveyed by this twitching tangle of forms is that of a society that is sick, fissured, racked by incessant spasms, eaten away by some cancer.”
Enzo Traverso (Origins of Nazi Violence)

Traverso’s book is stunningly pertinent today.

“The Great War provided an ideal field in which to apply the racial stereotypes developed by social Darwinism and the medical sciences since the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Nationalist propaganda abandoned all rational argument on the score of causes and justifications for the conflict, and instead appealed to a sense of belonging to a community under threat, calling for total, blind allegiance. The enemy always assumed the features of a hostile “race,” systematically described as “barbarian.” “
Enzo Traverso (Ibid)

Susan Rothenberg

The origin story of Zionism speaks to the very things Traverso examines in the lead-up to WW1. I have touched on all this over the last couple posts here. The fin de siecle, Vienna, the city in which Hitler, Freud, and Herzl all lived. As did a dozen other cultural and political figures of enduring importance and impact, and the Western colonial logic and thinking — all of this feels utterly forgotten.

“In France, Doctor Edgar Berillon explained this cruelty by characteristics specific to the German “race,” characteristics not only physical (the morphology of their skulls, and the smell and toxicity of their excrement) but also moral (their servility) and psychological (their lack of self-control and their warrior fetishism), all of which clearly likened the Germans to “primitive” peoples. As he saw it, the war atrocities revealed the Germans’ criminal atavism; their practices had no equivalent ‘except among the semi-savage peoples of central Africa and the Congo’.”
Enzo Traveso (Ibid)

Today one is hard pressed to find artists who speak clearly and with moral authority on the subject of the Palestinian genocide. It is career suicide in Hollywood, certainly. But I detect very little sense in the fine arts of the despair and suffering of Palestinians, or of the oppressed anywhere. Little reaction to the cartoon fascist elected in Argentina, or the Klaus Schwab/Yuval Harari bus & truck WEF ‘reset’ tour. Or to the palpable malignancy of figures like Bill Gates or Joe Biden, Lindsay Graham, or Nikki Haley. There is some, to be sure, but then artists who do express, even abstractly in their art, dissent and horror, are quickly metaphorically disappeared.

“Henny Seibeb, the deputy leader of Namibia’s Landless People’s Movement, an opposition party representing groups that lost land under colonialism, told me by phone last year that he saw the proposed size of the payment as a “mere joke” that did not reflect the depth of the injustice. Paul Thomas, one of the leaders of the Nama Genocide Technical Committee, told me that ‘to this day, we are still landless and in poverty because of what happened 115 years ago. My great-grandfather was beheaded, some of his people were put in concentration camps and worked to death. There is nothing for us in this deal. It is empty.’
Others have pointed to a contrast that has loomed over the negotiations: although Germany has refused to hold direct talks with representatives of the Herero and Nama, since 1952 it has paid more than $90 billion in compensation to the victims of the Holocaust, partly through an agreement negotiated with the Claims Conference, an NGO representing Jews around the world. In June 2021 the Ovaherero paramount chief Vekuii Rukoro claimed in a TV interview that Germany was willing to negotiate with the Claims Conference but not the Herero and Nama “because they were white Europeans, and we are Black Africans.”

Thomas Rogers (The Long Shadow of German Colonialism, NYRB, March 2023)

So consider this posting a kind of preview of the first video lecture. It is a way for me to think aloud, I suppose. The genocide in Gaza is the first in history recorded on smart phone video. This fact has altered the calculus of state propaganda. The U.S. and Israel, in both their official variants carried by legacy media outlets like CNN or MSNBC, and unofficial via social media (Tiktok, Instagram, X, et al) can only keep repeating, ever louder and more stridently, the same lies, the same lurid accusations. All of which cannot wash away the indelible images of slaughter. The sneering smugness of Israeli influencers in the West only sharpens the public’s revulsion. This revulsion is infused with contradictory emotion, ambivalence born of decades of US/Zionist marketing. But the revulsion is there. The Tiktok Israeli soldiers and their mocking of dead babies and grieving mothers is a perhaps unprecedented sadism. And this raises a few other questions that I will get to below.

Ad Reinhardt

The question I continue to return to is ‘how does anyone support Israel’? I mean besides the heavily indoctrinated Israeli populace, how does anyone else?

Five years ago David Sheen did a video (I posted his more recent video in my last post)

There is a pretty clear through line between Nazi ideology and Zionist ideology. In fact its impossible to deny. How and why did the Reich live on and be absorbed and dispersed throughout the world after its alleged defeat in WW2? (Only Nazis would applaud Tiktok videos making fun of the dead). I have written (as have many) on the fascist personality and its aetiology. One feels if we can just pin down certain direct causes, or describe the pre-conditions, it will help us all understand fascism and deal with fascism. This is probably, to a degree, an illusion. But there is also a degree of this search that is probably critically important. For much, if not nearly all, the ruling class of the West (and its governments) have stood by and enjoyed the current genocide against Palestinians. There is also the question of capitalism. It is utterly unsurprising that both Marx and Freud are so feared by the establishment. One cannot open any of the degraded bourgeois ‘reviews’ (NYRBs, London Review of Books, New York Magazine, et al) and not find a thought-piece on the outdatedness of Freud and Marx. And in general there is an appeal to a kind of intellectual populism; one is being granted permission to love DC comics, to think Friends is great art, a sort of 20th century TV version of Molière, or to take Taylor Swift lyrics seriously. As for how fascism managed to survive after WW2, it is important to remember Project Paperclip, the Dulles Brothers and their *rat lines* to the West for high ranking Nazi officers, engineers, and officials. This is all well documented.

There is Annie Jacobsen’s book Operation Paperclip. The point is really that the Dulles Brothers liked the Nazis. They protected them, hid them, whitewashed their histories, created new histories in many cases, and helped get them influential positions in western institutions and/or corporations. And even more prominently, to insert them in European institutions of influence. In fact there was a clear intention on the part of the Dulles state department to provide a economic/business continuum with German cartels such as IG Farben and Volkswagenwerk, Zeiss, Leica, Rheinmetall et al would work with western capital to create an economic bloc after the inevitable German defeat. There was the famous (though not so well known) meeting in April 1945 at Hotel Maison Rouge in Strasbourg (Nazi controlled) attended by representatives of all the major German firms and the two leading banks friendly to the Reich, Schweizerische Kreditanstalt of Zurich and Baslers Handelsbank. The class cooperation is total, always. That Kurt Waldheim, whose nazi past was barely whitewashed at all, was appointed secretary general of the United Nations in 1972. One has to ask how that is even possible? The answer is that National Socialism was never really ‘deeply’ disapproved of in the West. The ruling class saw the highest ranking Reich officers and administrators as kindred spirits. It does beg questions about Nuremberg though.

“Reinhard Gehlen served as chief of military intelligence on the eastern front where German troops had carried out unimaginable atrocities. He was appointed the head of West Germany’s new intelligence service. Much less well-known is the parallel operation by McCloy and his key allies in United States government, such as intelligence chief Allen Dulles, to free numerous Nazi industrialists and bankers and return them to positions of great economic power and influence — in particular the men who ran I.G. Farben, the most powerful industrial conglomerate in Nazi Germany, a subsidiary of which manufactured Zyklon B, the poison gas used to murder millions. { } Many German firms and industrial combines used slave and forced labour during the war. I.G. Farben had its own corporate concentration camp at Auschwitz, known as Monowitz. There the firm’s managers honed the new synthesis of capitalism and mass murder to a new level. When managers judged the slave labourers to be gebraucht, or used up, they were sent to the main Auschwitz camp, to be gassed with Zyklon B. Thus, Nazi economies of scale. In 1947, twenty-four I.G Farben executives were put on trial. President Roosevelt had once declared, “the history of the use of the I.G. Farben trust by the Nazis reads like a detective story. Defeat of the Nazi armies will have to be followed by the eradication of those weapons of economic warfare.” It was not to be. Thirteen I.G Farben executives were found guilty. Their sentences were derisory. Hermann Schmitz, the CEO and BIS director, was sentenced to four years. Otto Ambros, a senior manager of Auschwitz III, received eight years. Fritz Meer, who oversaw the building of Auschwitz III, received seven years for “plunder and spoliation” and “mass murder and enslavement”. Meanwhile, McCloy was appointed president of the World Bank. After the founding of the German Federal Republic in 1949 President Truman sent McCloy to Germany to succeed General Lucius Clay as Military Governor. The following year McCloy was appointed U.S. High Commissioner. He set up his main office in Frankfurt, aptly enough, in the former headquarters of I.G. Farben. Instead of eradicating what Roosevelt had described as “weapons of economic warfare”, he rehabilitated them and released the I.G. Farben managers from prison. McCloy freed Hermann Schmitz in 1950. By February 1951 all the I.G Farben executives were released, together with the steel baron, Alfred Krupp, who also had his confiscated property restored. The Krupp industrial empire had worked up to 80,000 slave labourers to death in a network of dozens of camps guarded by the SS. McCloy also freed Nazi judges, SS officers and a Nazi doctor who had conducted experiments on camp inmates.”
Adam LeBor (The American Who Let the Nazis Rebuild Germany, The Critic 2020)

You can read the whole thing here ( )

And at this point I think one has to introduce psychoanalysis into the discussion directly. I say this because even within left leaning psychoanalyts (and there are not many around anymore) one sees divisions and debates, most of which take issue with the very parts of Freud I find most important. And this discussion, I believe, is vitally important to developing the skills to make meaningful aesthetic judgements, and in reclaiming something Utopian in culture overall.

George Grosz (The Poet Max Hermann Niesse, 1927, detail)

“Narcissism is another topic we will repeatedly encounter in our investigations. Freud himself admitted that he was uneasy with, and had little aptitude for, the archaic layers of the psyche but nevertheless recognized the existence of a narcissistic-preoedipal period of development-which he compared to the “Minoan-Mycenean civilization” that was unearthed “behind” the oedipal civilization of classical Greece-and predicted that it would become a major focus of psychoanalytic research. He also speculated that women analysts might be better suited than himself for exploring these archaic strata of psychic life.”
Joel Whitebook (Perversion and Utopia)

Whitebook notes also that there was a decline, after WW2, in Oedipus complex research, and perhaps also a weakening in Oedipal structures in western society. But these ideas of our psychic formation are themselves out of fashion. They have largely been replaced by either neurobiology of some sort, or by transhumanist gibberish as one hears from the aforementioned Mr. Harari. I have written a good deal on this blog about the neuroscientists like V.S. Ramachandran, and Iain McGilchrist. And while I think much of this work is very good (McGilchrist in particular) I also always end up feeling that something reactionary lurks around the edges of their work. For what inevitably happens with neuroscience is the forgetting or erasure of history.

I have written a good deal about psychoanalysis, and probably will continue to do so. And I wanted to pull a few quotes from earlier posts of mine on the subject of Freud and the unconscious. But first let me return to Whitebook for a moment. The impulse of most of his work is to situate Freud and his darker vision of humanity in a new light, sort of.

“Thus, to be sure, Freud was, as Albrecht Wellmer has observed, “still a representative of European rationalism and the Enlightenment,” who ultimately sought to strengthen “the power of reason and the power of the Ego.,, But he also sought to do justice to the Other of reason-to give the horse its due, to use one of his favorite metaphors. Hence the romantic element in his thinking. Indeed, even further, Freud sought to strengthen rationality and the ego precisely through a deep and sustained encounter with the Other of reason, namely, with the unconscious, dreams, taboos, perversions, symptoms, Thanatos, narcissism, psychosis, and so on. That is what the regressive experience of the transference neurosis is all about.”
Joel Whitebook (Ibid)

Daisuke Yokota, photography.

One cannot look at the genocide in Gaza and think modernity has not regressed. But that is a loaded comment and is the topic at hand here. And, again, this is what I consider a good starting point for my lectures on aesthetics.

Here is my first quote pulled from a post of mine. A quote from Althusser in my post Behind the Curtain.

“Thus the Oedipus complex is not a hidden “meaning,” which would be lacking only in consciousness or speech. The Oedipus complex is not a structure buried in the past that can always be restructured or transcended by “reactivating its meaning”; the Oedipus complex is the dramatic structure, the “theatrical machine,” imposed by the Law of Culture… ”
Louis Althusser (Writings on Psychoanalysis)

I watched the new film Oppenheimer yesterday. I think I had put it off as long as I could. And yes, its pretty terrible. I kept thinking in my private apologetics, as I watched, ‘well, this could have been worse’. The basic problem is that much like Ron Howard when making A Beautiful Mind, Hollywood has no idea what deep thought ‘looks’ like. There is the prosaic idea that ‘it’, thinking, must look like something. It must be represented. So, you have a shot of an actor staring into space, or at his ceiling in this case, cut to floating swirling math symbols, or stars, or whatever. The only good performance was Gary Oldman’s cameo as Harry Truman. And honestly, its almost worth sitting through the picture. Oldman’s reading of ‘I did’ will , or should, chill you. He found the cruelty and fear of that rube from Lamar, Missouri (see earlier role Truman played in rehabbing Nazis. Remember the vast majority of U.S. presidents have been ardent racists. Deeply, at their core, white supremacists. Its a pre-condition to be president). But apropos of ‘thinking’, the more obvious issue is this basic trivializing of the subject. Anyone who has read stuff on the ‘making of the bomb’, even conservative histories, will have a sense that those involved (certainly Oppenheimer) were sensitive to the dark arts they approached. A tone of banality runs throughout the film. Its not even the actor’s faults, though they are part of the problem. It is simply Hollywood’s inability for depth. There is also a trivialzing of the rabid anti-communism that drove America’s desire for the bomb, even after the defeat of Germany. There is no sense of what made these men think what they thought. For all the time devoted to Robert Oppenheimer, one leaves having no idea what Christopher Nolan thinks of him. He is simply generic. Wide brimmed fedora, pipe, loose fitting suit — all the signifiers for ‘Oppie’ are there. But they are empty. It should be noted that Oppenheimer is a polorizing figure. He came from wealth, and pretty much lived his whole life off his family wealth. He was not the actual brains behind the bomb, but he was a remarkable organizer and administrator. And he did make genuine efforts to limit nuclear arms after the war. (thought experiment, imagine Orson Welles directed it, or The Dardenne Brothers? Or Bresson?)

Worth noting vis a vis John McCloy, the architect of Operation Paperclip (with Dulles of course) was that he played a major role in the internment of Japanese Americans in camps , and he advised the following presidents: Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter and Reagan. Its not a 2 party system. McCloy was well liked by those administrations. Nazi helper and whitewasher. Whats not to like?

“To carry out the conquest of the material environment, Horkheimer and Adorno maintained that human beings had to transform themselves into disciplined, purposive agents and society into a totally bureaucratized and administered system. As we will see, they identify the unity of the “autocratic” ego with the unity of instrumental reason (or “identity thinking”) and argue that both impose an abstract, forced unification on the heterogeneous, the different, and the Other.”
Joel Whitebook (Ibid)

The conquest of the world ran parallel to the conquest of the self. One must dominate one’s inner nature in order to dominate others, and Nature.

The Potsdam Conference, 1945

“In the testimony provided by 1914-18 survivors, the image of death stands out as central to the experience of war. The trenches are described as cemeteries, the battle-scarred land- scape is often evoked by an allegory, one of hell, which is strikingly similar to the descriptions of survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. Other similarities, too, leap to the mind in the accounts of these survivors. First, the nauseous smell of death: the stench of the burned flesh in the extermination camps and of rotting corpses that assailed soldiers even before the front line came into sight. { } …the war is “beyond imagination”; “everything is black and blood”; “I will not describe the battle as I am not allowed to and anyway you could not understand it, so you must simply imagine that there, where it took place, it was total destruction”; “I felt I was at the cinema.” One officer wrote: “The war has etched upon everyone a mark of suffering that effaces individual features, the only eloquent expression of it is the silence that dominates them all.” Paul Fussell believes that this gap between words and things was not caused by a failure of language, an absence of words to describe the reality. It was a matter not of language, but of rhetoric: the impossible task of making the war, this war, understandable to anyone who had not lived it. In consequence, soldiers often cloaked themselves in silence, a silence that anticipated that of those who survived the extermination camps.”
Enzo Traverso (Ibid)

These testimonies sound strikingly similar to those Norman Finklestein discusses in his interview with Russell Brand:

“If there is one element that can be found in all forms of Marxian aesthetics, it is—in Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s words—the promise of “an aesthetic which is not limited to the sphere of ‘the artistic.’” In his mature work Marx reformulated essential questions from idealist aesthetics, revolving around the relation between form and content and between concretion and abstraction, in social and economical terms, or in terms of “real abstraction.” Brecht’s famous remark from the 1931 *Dreigroschenprozess*, that a photograph of the Krupp or AEG factories does not really say anything about their mode of functioning, picks up on the aesthetic dimension in Marx’s analysis of capital.”
Sven Lütticken (Filming Capital)

Adam Szentpétery

And, Lütticken then writes a significant sentence. “There is, however, a very real sense in which Capital itself is not just a preparation for a future emancipation of the senses, but is itself an exercise in the aesthetics of political economy.” This is how to start to talk about 21st century aesthetics. Brecht would have found Oppenheimer hugely amusing and hugely irritating. If the photo of Krupp tells us nothing about what goes on inside the factory, then Oppenheimer, the film, tells us nothing much about what political and ideological, let alone psychoanalytic things went on inside the men in the film. Historical figures. (with one exception, Oldman’s Harry Truman).

There is a belief that mid century painting, meaning primarily Abstract Expressionism, was a reaction to the culture industry. And I will accept that, to some degree. If we follow Greenberg then, abstract painting came to be about flatness and/or the paint itself, etc. It was a sort of purification. A rejection of illusion, or representation itself. But Greenberg was wrong regards Pollock (and Morris Louis, et al). There was great depth to Pollock to Louis, to Rothko and Kline and Gottleib, Newman, and Gorky. Onto Ron Davis and Noland and Frankenthaler. None of these painters are about surface or flatness.

Also, the discussion turns naturally to fetishism. Marx and commodity fetishism are to occupy a central role in today’s aesthetic discourse.

“However, the fetish’s place outside the domain of “art proper” points precisely to an aesthetic problem that Hegelian idealism could address only indirectly— the problem of objects that appear to follow an obscure logic, that stand out from the natural world but that do not exhibit the “sinnliches Scheinen der Idee” (the sensuous appearance of the Idea): they are not the spiritualized subject-objects or artistic symbols on which idealist aesthetics focused. When the “mature” Marx polemically applied the notion of fetishism to the commodity and its “theological whims” in Capital, he addressed an issue that is as aesthetic as it is political: while the value of commodities is determined by the labor invested in them, this labor does not “show up” in the object, whose price appears to be determined by its “social relationships” with other commodities.”
Sven Lütticken (Ibid)

Chen Zhen

Here is another quote from an earlier post of mine, Compulsive God:

“There IS an experience of this loss of depth. That is this fugitive feeling of invasion. But there is no language to conceptualize it, and while there is an experience there is often no trust in that experience. Much of society has lost the ability to trust their interior lives. And experience is constantly mediated by marketing, and often a marketing that promises a reduction of experience (non fat milk, 3D printed meat etc). Now there is a sort of side bar, one that Bly noted, too, and that is the loss of fathers. And this becomes too vast a topic for this post, though I think it may well be the subject of a later one. But the point here is that, as Lacan observed, the father is “the narrow footbridge thanks to which the subject does not feel directly invaded, directly swallowed up by the yawning chasm that opens up as pure and simple confrontation with the anguish of death”.
Jacques Lacan (Seminar)
Weatherill employs this quote from Lacan. Note that image of invasion, again. Freud noted the importance of protection by the Father. There seems an almost instinctual desire for an admirable authority, at least in early childhood. The staggering number of fatherless homes in western societies today is often overlooked. (the latest statistic for the U.S. has over 25% of children growing up without a father at home). But in these anti-Freudian times, and anti-Oedipal times, the father is, at most, myth. Or perhaps ideology.”

This idea of objects that ‘stand out’ from the natural world, that follow an ‘obscure logic’ (great description) lead us directly to the Freudian unconscious. Marx had been reading about African fetishes (Charles de Brosses) and Pollock was fascinated with early cave paintings, as was Gorky and Gottlieb. All of them studied the Asian arts of antiquity, they studied masks ( Picasso), and this really goes back to Gaugin and and before. The society, it could be argued, became the prisoner of marketing. Of surface and fashion (changing seasonally) and anything *new* was good. Less depth, and more shiny surface. And things such as soap, for example. Soap was once made of tallow and pine tar and wool fat. But quickly soap could made to smell better and lather more (first sell the idea of lather as a positive) with chemicals. The fact it was much worse for cleaning, and harmful, often, to your skin and health didn’t matter. The shiny pastel soap bar, smelling of lavender or citrus, replaced those ugly old oatmeal and tallow bars from the farm. I fear we have a lot of shiny pastel soap bar art today, too.

Let me digress just a moment here. This is a quote of Fredric Jameson’s. And I find it problematic, as I do most of Jameson’s work.

“The very sphere of culture itself has expanded, becoming coterminous with market society in such a way that the cultural is no longer limited to its earlier, traditional or experimental forms [the sphere of the arts], but it is consumed throughout daily life itself, in shopping, in professional activities, in the various often televisual forms of leisure, in production for the market and in the consumption of those market products…”
Fredric Jameson (The Cultural Turn)

Vera Klement

This sort of confusion is symptomatic of much recent critical theory. Culture has not expanded to become coterminous with the market. The market has expanded to invade spaces previously taken up with culture. Today most every second of our waking lives (and probably some of our sleeping lives) is marketed. Marketing and advertising does not function as culture, however. The forced interaction with marketing and commodities begins to feel like culture, but the distinctions are crucial to understand.

I want to look here at art and culture circa 2024. What does it mean to have a pronounced shrinkage in audiences for serious work. Substitute demanding for serious if you want. The odd thing is, there are a lot of artists doing great work today. There is, however, an institutional choke hold on the market (for fine arts). And in theatre the system has effectively killed it off. There was a pretty cogent piece here :

The U.S. government remains terrified of communism. And most younger Westerners assume its an antiquated authoritarian system and few read Marx. But if you ask the current generation why the U.S. fears and hates communism so much, given that its a failed system, you get blank looks. I mean, why not just let these uprisings, when they appear, fail? It makes no sense to mobilize this hatred of socialists and communists if they are doomed to self destruct.

The rejoinder, of course, is that its not a system that fails. And the hatred of it has multiple prongs. There is, of course, class privilege. And along with it, the ownership of property. Under Obama the final transference of wealth to the top 1% was completed. And here I digress just a bit. Russell Jacoby’s book On Diversity, has a fascinating and telling chapter on dress. On clothing. The semiotics of clothing is not at all insignificant.

James Rosenquist

“it is much easier in the United States to be decently dressed than it is to be decently housed, fed, or doctored.” Mass production has been successful with clothes. As a result, “even people with terribly depressed incomes can look prosperous.” Harrington concludes that “America has the best-dressed poverty the world has ever known.””
Russell Jacoby (On Diversity, quoting Michael Harrington, The Other America)

Eric Hobsbawm suggested that the 60s lasting impact was cultural and not political. And this seems right. But then, the cultural and the political always cross pollinate. The sartorial revolution at the end of the 19th century that brought the world the blue serge suit was tied directly to a belief in progress. There are countless examples (which Jacoby covers) such as Turkey passing a law to do away with the Fez. But there are outliers. The Mao suit became synonymous with communism. There are several pages devoted to the implications of cotton clothing, replacing wool. And so much of what took place in the aesthetics of daily life in the 20th century also carried with it more profound implications.

“Smith compared his own childhood of the 1920s with that of his offspring of the suburban 1950s and was stunned that his kids and their friends no longer could play by themselves. We kicked cans, he recalls of his childhood; we skipped and hopped and tied ropes. ‘We sat in boxes; we sat under porches; we sat on roofs; we sat on limbs of trees.’ In short, ‘we did a lot of nothing.'”
Russell Jacoby (On Diversity, quoting Robert Paul Smith, Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing”)

Morris Louis

Parenting has gone through dramatic changes. And needless to say technology, and the internet play an outsize role. But that’s too easy, I think. Because why did tech follow the path it followed? Our lives, our adult lives today, are consumed by technology. Especially the minutiae of internet retail or government platforms. Trying to stay sane while visiting the Social Security online system is challenging. Children have adapted in ways adults cannot. Certainly adults over fifty. The cost of that adaptation is the central topic here, really. See my posting Child in the Tree. There are not just psychological harms associated with screen habituation, there is also something like an ontological question. A metaphysical question. At the heart of creative activity is morality. I believe even children, maybe especially children, intuit this. There is such an awakening when a child learns to draw, for example. An awakening that carries a certain awe and a certain fear. Perhaps this is the birth of responsibility.

I will digress again a bit….

“Hemingway’s tragedy as an artist,” Cyril Connolly writes in Enemies of Promise, “is that he has not had the versatility to run away fast enough from his imitators….A Picasso would have done something different; Hemingway could only indulge in invective against his critics—and do it again.” The list of Hemingwayesque writers includes James M. Cain, Erskine Caldwell, John O’Hara, and a school of detective fiction headed by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. It also includes Hemingway.”
Dwight MacDonald (Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain )

MacDonald has another terrific paragraph in his essay on Hemingway;

“Refinements in the use of subordinate clauses are a mark of maturity in style,” writes Albert C. Baugh in A History of the English Language. “As the loose association of clauses (parataxis) gives way to more precise indications of logical relationship and subordination (hypotaxis), there is need for a greater variety of words effecting the union.” Hemingway was a most paratactical writer. Not because he was primitive but because he was stylistically sophisticated to the point of decadence.”
Dwight Macdonald (Ibid)

There are no critics as good as MacDonald, today (well, Moretti and TJ Clark…both are quite old). And I say that despite my disagreeing with probably 75% of his, MacDonald’s, criticism. If you doubt me, read some of Jackson Arn’s reviews (he has replaced the late Peter Schjeldahl, the rather excellent longtime New Yorker art critic). Arn is young, educated, shallow and not really very knowledgeable. Educated but not well enough. Go ahead read some of his stuff. That he could condescend to Robert Mitchum, in a review of the NY retrospective of 2017, never once mentioning any of the three or four greatest performances of Mitchum. Never mentioning Out of the Past, or Angel Face, or hell, The Big Steal, an early Don Siegal that remains neglected — how can you not know this work and call yourself a critic? He is terrible. Now, among other threads that coalesce in this great fabric of culture, there is the unrelenting racism of western society. The racism, the history of slavery, and the slow incremental gains of the civil rights movements. This is seen in all the racial dynamics of the mid-twentieth century. But why did this take the form that it took?

“The ‘50s were, even at the time, described as a nation of ‘mass housing, mass markets, massive corporations, massive government, mass media, and massive boredom.’ While this characterization ignores some nuances, surface attributes easily supported a developing stereotype of mass society. As Charles Ponce de Leon writes of the era, ‘most Americans were acutely conscious of living amid new circumstances, in a society that was the quintessence of the modern’.”
Tadeusz Lewandowski (Dwight Macdonald on Culture)

I remember an Aunt (my mother had 12 siblings) who had married an architectural engineer. And they built a house. Up in the now very pricey Loz Feliz area of LA. It was a primarily junk, but it had intercoms, which everyone found very futuristic. They also had a swimming pool put in back. I went there often when I was ten, eleven, twelve. The house today, if it still exists, is a run down apartment or condo. But the rest of the family was envious because the house was *modern*.

Robert Oppenheimer, ID photos, Los Alamos.

“This is a consideration that we also encounter, some decades later, from a Barbadian planter: ‘you will … find that no nations in the world have been more jealous of their liberties than those amongst whom the institution of slavery existed’.12 On the other side, in England, countering Burke and his policy of conciliation of the rebel colonists, Josiah Tucker pointed out how ‘the Champions for American Republicanism’ were simultaneously the promoters of the ‘absurd Tyranny’ they exercised over their slaves: this was ‘a republican Tyranny, the worst of all Tyrannies’.
In the authors cited here, there is a more or less clear awareness, accompanied by different value judgements, of the paradox we are examining. And perhaps precisely now it begins to lose its aura of impenetrability. Why should we be surprised that those demanding, or in the forefront of the demand for, self-government and ‘freedom’ from central political power were the major slave-owners?”

Domenico Losurdo (Liberalism: A Counter History)

Today we learn of (not so) secret talks between the Congo (DRC) and Israel, to transfer (sic) the remaining Palestinian population. There is an interesting allegorical track here that runs from Cain and Abel, to Theordor Herzl and Zionism, to Freud, eugenics, and sources of violence. And Russell Jacoby has a fascinating summation in his book Bloodlust, but allow me to summarize even more briefly. God marked Cain, but he never revealed the nature of the mark. Or even if it could be seen. Philo an Alexandrian Jew (born 25 BC) wrote a commentary on the Biblical narrative and asked, ‘but how are we to identify Cain among us’? Flash forward to fin de siecle Vienna, and the Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew, it is proclaimed that wandering is in fact the nature of the Jew. Hysteria was already being associated with Jewishness. Martin Buber visited Herzl (and Max Nordau) and listened to a long speech outlining the Zionist future, a future of ‘tough Jews’, athletic Jews, sporting enthusiasts, etc. Buber was horrified (to a degree anyway) as at the end of this Nordau emphasized that he had never really felt like a Jew. Herzl agreed. The point for Zionists was to be good European citizens. Sort of like National Socialists, come to think of it. (I have skipped over quite a few fascinating historical details that Jacoby covers, like Pope Innocent III in the thirteenth century issuing a crusade against Cathars, nomads, and Jews — even mentioning the mark of Cain, assumed as trembling, and all to be driven out or killed. And in the 1880s, the popular pseudo scientific book Jewish France, which also noted Cain, trembling and Jewish lack of vigour, and on it goes. In 1911 Maurice Fishberg, a Jewish anthropologist, observed that asylums filled with hysterics were predominantly Jews. From New York to Warsaw). Now this is all worth noting because by the time we reach the start of the 20th century, in Vienna, the first patients to be treated by Freud were largely Jewish and overwhelmingly suffering symptoms of hysteria.

Herbert Von Karajan (Saint Tropez with wife. 1967)

Herzl was a nationalist and made no bones about wanting new athletic Jews. As Buber noted, Jews resembling Christians. One German physician said, Jews will become stronger and more athletic but a bit more stupid. What is interesting is that driving much, if not nearly all these policies (and folk beliefs) was the Biblical mark of Cain, a mark only guessed at and generalized as weak or neurasthenic trembling. Zionism was an unconscious reaction (partly anyway) to this Biblical trope.

There was a somewhat parallel strain of identifying the mark of Cain, seen in illustrators and some painters. The cross on the forehead. This foreshadowed edicts requiring badges or emblems. The Nazi yellow star being the best known. The point here is that today the genocide underway in Gaza is that strange inversion of history that makes for a necessary study. If one wanted to psychoanalyse the IDF soldiers who seem to compulsively need to make TikTok videos, there is a strange feminine quality to the male soldiers. As well as childish. It is tied into this unconscious castration anxiety born of the Herzl and Nordau culture of physical health – it is also very like Jung’s idea of Puer Aeternus. Marie Louise Von Franz has an excellent study of this syndrome in her book of the same name.

“The Little Prince, which had a tremendous success and which many people make their Bible and worship. But if you talk to them about it, they generally adopt a slightly defiant attitude, insisting that they think it is a marvelous book. I have wondered about this defiant attitude a lot and think the only explanation can be that even those who like it so very much have a small question mark in their minds, and there is one question which I think one is allowed to put even to its worshippers— and that is about the slightly sentimental style…{ } In general, where there is sentimentality there is also a certain amount of brutality. Goering was a wonderful example, for without a qualm he could sign the death sentence for three hundred people, but if one of his birds died, then that fat old man would cry. He was a classic example! Cold brutality is very often covered up by sentimentality. If you think of the figures of Riviere and of the Sheikh in Saint-Exupéry’s books, there you see this cold masculine brutality at work.”
Marie Louise Von Franz (Puer Aeternus)

These shallow narcissistic TikTok soldiers are the little princes of Zionist households, and of the *mother* culture itself. And they are brutal cold sadists at their core. But also terrified little boys, simultaneously.

Edward Muybridge, photography (thousand mile tree, courtesy of Daegan Miller)

Let me borrow from an earlier piece of mine (Ironic Little Nazis ) and quote Hilton Kramer here;

“In the period that saw Andy Warhol emerge as the very model of the new artist-celebrity, moreover, sheer corniness was no longer looked upon as a failure of sensibility, nor was superficiality—or even vulgarity—regarded as a fault. Bad taste might even be taken as a sign of energy and vitality, and “stupid art”—as its champions cheerfully characterized some of the newer styles that began to flourish in the late Seventies and early Eighties—could be cherished for its happy repudiation of cerebration, profundity, and critical stringency. Try to imagine Arshile Gorky or Mark Rothko or Robert Motherwell countenancing such a turnabout in attitudes and you have a vivid sense of the differences separating the last stages of modernist orthodoxy from the very different moral climate of postmodernist art.”
Hilton Kramer (Postmodern: Art and Culture in the 1980s )

This vulgarity has travelled much further today. A combination of the shrinking of space for culture in everyday life coupled to the erosion in education, especially for the arts, means such discussions themselves no longer happen. There is little debate about art. There are, however discussions about *diversity* and *inclusion* and *triggering* content. Lots of discussions about *gender* and even some about *climate*. In such an atmosphere genocide is being normalized, made acceptable. Looking back to the Dulles brothers and the safety provided for leading Reich figures, it is not surprising that it is so easy. Of course millions protest against this. Tens of millions demand their governments act. But the fact that governments are more absolutely controlled by the ruling class than ever before means there is very little chance they do anything to halt the killing. But as Caitlin Johnstone said…“it turns out there’s only so much propaganda spin you can put on the murder of thousands of children.” I think I said the same thing somewhere. That even the absolute most indoctrinated subject has a limit, and that limit is bodies of children and infants dead on dirty floors, and under rubble. The vast majority of humankind is on tilt. I personally cannot imagine Israel surviving.

Jakob Tuggener, photography (1944 USSR)

There are contradictions and paradoxes. The nazi regime emphasized classical music, and many high ranking officers and officials had notable musical and cultural educations. The cases of von Karajan and Furtwangler are certainly telling. Von Karajan is the Heidegger of classical conductors. An open party member, and an agreeable face for Nazi propaganda, von Karajan never paid any price in his later career for his collaboration. Furtwangler, a generation older, was never a party member and significantly never agreed to conduct Nazi compositions in praise of Hitler or the Reich. He did conduct at concerts attended by Hitler and Himmler, but then I would be found guilty for taking grant money from corporations I abhor. I think one cannot judge Furtwangler, in this context. There is an interesting study to be done (maybe it has been) comparing leftists and communists in the arts, under the Reich, and Jews. I suspect the communists suffered more strict ostrasizing. The racial animosity is mediated (or marinated) by class considerations. Class trumps everything, and hence communists always strike a deeper fear in the hearts of the ruling class, regardless of the unconscious instincts for purity and redemption. One should recognize communism’s significance because of how deeply it frightens everyone.

I want to throw out a couple quick observations in conclusion. Israel spends a lot of effort to recruit NBA players to their propaganda apparatus. Draymond Green visited Israel and got to pose with snipers. (no joke). DeMar DeRozan was asked to do a publicity spot for a dead Zionist fan, killed on Oct 7th. Do black American athletes just have no idea of their own history? Signing up to support colonial murderers is just stunning. As with Covid, Kyrie Irving stands alone. He showed up on a podium with a keffiyah over his head. And Kyrie is regarded in media with consistent criticism.

Jak Marengo, Namibian resistance fighter against German occupation, 1904.

Jacoby, concludes his book Bloodlust, both brilliant and flawed, with a final observation on the mark of Cain. And it was suggested indirectly by Freud, in a footnote — that circumcision is the mark of cain. Antisemitism then links with misogyny and the castration complex. Freud would eventually coin the phrase ‘the narcissism of minor differences’. The hatred and fear of women is based on unconscious castration fears, then women and Jews overlap. Circumcision is unconsciously associated with castration. Something has gone missing from the penis. This is certainly telling in relationship to Zionism and Herzl’s obsessive demand for ‘new Jews’, muscular, athletic, and un-Jewish. Fratricidal violence leads to the work of Rene Girard, which is where Jacoby ends his work. Quoting Girard…“in human relationships words like sameness and similarity evoke an image of harmony. If we have the same tastes surely we are bound to get along. But what happens when we share the same desires?”
Russell Jacoby (Bloodlust)

Order and peace depend on cultural distinctions — the loss of such distinctions sets in motion violent rivalries.

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  1. George Mc says:

    Adorno has a marvellous book on the composer Wagner in which he says that Wagner’s orchestration works to blend the separate players into a homogeneous mass – an earlier version of the “wall of sound”. As opposed to Mahler who highlights the differences. In Marxist terms you could say that “Wagner hides the means of production whilst Mahler brings those means out”.
    Karajan was notorious for smoothing textures out into a sleek sound. And I think that, in the pop realm, Taylor Swift has perfected this movement. So much so that I find it hard to believe that she is an actual human being. She is like a CGI pop version of Big Brother.

  2. Regino Robainas says:

    Again, Happy New Year, to you & all your
    kin, John.

    It’s the howling of the music wolf within
    in Gingsberg or the laments re. the
    routine crushing of our true selves by
    Fascist ancient guards that holds the
    key to our enslavement & possible liberation.

    But, hey, I must confess that i envy your
    current life, so far away from trumps and
    sorry joes & so close to Estonian icefields
    & auroras.

  3. John Steppling says:

    that’s a rather brilliant observation. Seriously.

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