Shortly after the last post (The Philosophy Of Dreams) serendipity found me overhearing a radio interview. It was a doctor/psychiatrist/researcher (Dr. Rachel Yehuda speaking with Krista Tippett “On Being” NPR). The doctor said something along the lines of people say they are a changed person after a trauma. And in a way they are. Although genetically they are unchanged (DNA), how their genes interact changes noticeably (what On Being describes as epigenetics – “genes can be turned on and off and expressed differently through changes in environment and behavior”). Originally from Cleveland, Dr. Yehuda returned to study the holocaust survivors she grew up amongst and their offspring. She discovered epigenetic changes within the offspring that expressed the original survivor’s disposition. Studies done of pregnant women who survived 911 found the changed interactions carried over to their infants. These studies would support Turcke’s assessment of the physiological connection of the experience of trauma and the psyche. People don’t “bounce back” but rather replay under changed conditions. A different consideration was expressed with a more recent interview (David Freudberg’s “Humankind” NPR). A writer named William Powers, former staff writer for the Washington Post, was making the rounds for the release of his new book “Hamlet’s Blackberry”. He said self-contradictory things that he wasn’t aware he was mouthing (in light of Turcke’s insights). Powers repeatedly advocated for a digital Sabbath, a time set aside for shutting down the screens so folks can reflect, do the “homework” (Turcke references Benjamin as saying was needed in the age of technical reproduction), refresh and restore their “persons” (in terms of experience). One proposal was from Friday through Sunday, etc. Powers claims large corporations have recognized this need and already are implementing such policies (he referenced Intel as being one). Powers glibly says that people need to rediscover this space (of reflection, homework, replay – what Turcke bases as foundational to the ability of the psyche to defer and repress, an ability developed over millennia that made human culture possible). The vast majority of current college students starting back in a couple of weeks will have been born during the Clinton presidency. All will have grown up with the concentrated distraction Turcke describes as becoming increasingly pervasive, directly or indirectly, cultivated or initiated on their own. What Powers said sounds comforting (that we can draw upon a time of experience that is non-digital). He references a bunch of his favorite philosophers, saying enthusiastically “we need to remember” that ultimately this is about us, who we are, etc. Hearing this, these same students, who have never known a time of non-digital experience, will immediately reach for their ever present smart phones. If Powers says “we need to remember” something, they will look it up on their phone. This existence of a function or work of the psyche being done better by a machine than the humans who created it is what makes for the radical change in culture and the de-evolution of human psychology that Turcke writes of. To remember is to recall. Plato’s Socrates considered knowledge already present, to be a function of recognition, recall, replay much as the way memory operates, which presumes a functioning repression or deferral. All of which a machine can now do faster and more efficiently. This underscores what Turcke points out, that what took millennia to achieve can be undone within the next hundred years.
Christophe Turcke’s The Philosophy Of Dreams (2013) tackles the age old mind/body problem head on (no pun intended) only within the parameters of a very systematic approach founded on Freud’s The Interpretation Of Dreams. The mind is that of the human psyche which Turcke expands to include all its manifestations, social and cultural. The body is neurological, founded on the nervous system and its operation, from the most primitive organism to the most advanced – the human whose physiology incorporates the largest brain proportionately. Originally Freud determined a relationship of dreams with sex. The end of the great war (WWI) found returning veterans reliving their horror in repetitive dreams. Freud recognized this and reassessed his interpretation to consider this traumatic repetition compulsion. For Freud Dreams likewise were a manifestation for what he considered to be the vestiges of primitive thought process. Turcke seizes on this, hence The Philosophy Of Dreams. Language, visual art, architecture, etc. are evidence of a developed psyche and culture. No empirical evidence exists of how primitive humans, Neanderthals, pre- homo sapiens, etc. did anything (the Foreword is subtitled the Early Stone Age in Us). In the tradition of European speculative philosophy/reasoning Turcke meticulously considers the evolution of the psyche and its evidentiary culture, from “pre” to contemporary, in three chapters entitled Dreams, Drives, and Words. Within these three chapters contemporary culture is practically not. It, however, is the focus of the Afterword: High-Tech Dreamtime. My inadequate synopsis fails to convey the complexity of this book intended to weave traumatic repetition into an integral part of the functioning of the psyche and the consequent development of culture. Students of contemporary culture would benefit from a full reading. Some lack within the work begs to be addressed. Turcke’s presentation is very authoritative with frequent use of “it cannot be denied”, or “it cannot be otherwise”, or “is conclusive that…”, etc. No physical evidence can be produced to substantiate such reasoning (lacking a “way back machine”, Lucy’s bones tell us little of her thought process, went to the prom, etc. That is, had a social existence/non-existence). Turcke’s position of authority lies with his speculative reasoning much as that of economists since Adam Smith. And we all know how well that has gone. Which brings out a basic unsubstantiated assumption (of that very reasoning) critical to the entire work – that early, early humans/pre-humans were social. Turcke criticizes early cultural history assumptions based on current practices but never considers his own propensity. Perhaps early humans/pre-humans were not necessarily social but solitary, each for themselves like bears or groundhogs. If this is considered, much of what he reasons from falls apart (the centrality of human sacrifice as trauma repeated compulsively). To go from the solitary to the social is no small feat in itself for the evolving psyche. For Turcke an organism recoils from unpleasantness encountered in the environment. The unpleasantness is detected through a stimulus experience. Humans, being the most sensitive in terms of nervous system development, continuously must process and dispose of/deal with countless stimuli, internally as well as externally generated. This results in the working behavior of the human psyche, accounting for the exceptional significance of traumatic repetition compulsion (instead of recoil, there is replay). The brain has to “do” something with all this stimulus, get rid of it or diminish it, integrate it (stimulus flight). Turcke’s description of the brain’s synaptic activity is practically analogous to one of sex at the cellular level, in terms of ejaculation and reception (a Freudian slip?). Freud himself maintained the primacy of the sexual within dreams even after his traumatic repetition assessment. Turcke finds fault with this but himself fails to consider the relationship of sex to the development of the social. He simply assumes social cohesiveness without establishing physiological ties. No account is given of what makes for the development of the solitary to the social. His model of an organism’s neural activity in response to outside stimulus limits, displaces, or denies any physiological link to the source of that stimulus within its environment, i.e. what is not the organism itself (outside the organism proper). Standing within the vicinity of a robin’s nest or near a mother grizzly and her cubs reveals a quite different scenario. The behavior of these creatures will yield a response quite different than that of an isolated robin on the lawn or a bear splashing for salmon. The former response to the stimulus of the close proximity of an other is in terms of a threat to something outside the organism proper, something which is not a physiological part of the organism itself, attached to its neural circuitry. The latter would be along the lines of what Turcke bases his reasoning on re: individual psyche assessment of stimulus from outside the organism. The threat to the “social” of nest or cubs argues for a response connection not restricted by the organism’s inherent physiological make up itself but to a link to something greater, outside itself that it considers part of itself or itself to be part of (so the robin feigns injury to distract, the bear charges). This would account for Freud’s insistence on the primacy of the sexual as a “pre” of the social, facilitating the psyche’s evolution from solitary to social. This would, however, disrupt Turcke’s account of traumatic repetition as central to the development of thought and culture (the raison d’etre of “human sacrifice”). The Philosophy Of Dreams provides invaluable insights and reasoning for much that affects the contemporary though some of the omissions and assumptions show there is more to the story than an authoritative account. A like exposition could theoretically be made for euphoric repetition compulsion (if there is such a thing) and its workings within the parameters of why pre-humans turned over rocks in search of…, and otherwise interacted with their environment as well as migrated for a “better life”. How would they know “better” was possible if it wasn’t a repetition compulsion?
Air cartoon: Mr. and Mrs. Rhino taking a selfie with a selfie stick, one that their grandchildren that will not be will never see.
In the mail the other day came the Yale Literature Catalog of publications. There, on the second to the last page under the heading of general interest “new”, was a book we all have been anticipating, needing to see in print. “Culture Crash: the killing of the creative class” by Scott Timberg recounts “A near perfect storm of change has put countless artists, writers, dancers, and musicians out of work.” For Timberg the creative class is not just the professionals – the architects, musicians, graphic designers, photographers, writers, moviemakers, etc. – but also the demos of de facto curators and savants who owned and clerked bookstores, record shops, print media, etc. Timberg finds culture to be created by “the creative class’ which includes everyone associated in any way with art related endeavors – no matter at what phase of its production/reception. He writes “The arts – and indeed narrative of all kinds – can capture a time, a place, and a culture, and reflect something of the inner and outer lives of its people. “But the tale of our times,” Jaime O’Neill wrote in his piece on the silence of the new depression, “is mostly being told by our unwillingness to tell it.” (pg. 22) Timberg introduces O’Neill’s piece on pg. 17 with “Many of us, said Jaime O’Neill, a writer in northern California, are living in a depression. “It’s hard to make the word stick, however, because we haven’t developed the iconography yet.” He wrote in an essay that asked, “Where’s today’s Dorothea Lange?””
But it’s no surprise Dorothea Lange is not to be found. If you argue, as Timberg does, that the perfect storm of technology, corporate capitalism, and an economy of deliberate income inequality is driving the creative class to extinction, then Dorothea Lange also will be located on the endangered species list and just might not be around to create the needed iconography. And for whom?
The last thing political rivalry admits to is identity; that there is no difference. Differentiating grounds, no, founds political discourse in the US, grants it legitimacy. Currently, it is to the extent of deep polarization (civil war is being insinuated/rumored to be OK). The relationship/necessity of politics to govern, and whether these are good or bad, are precluded by the interests of this blog. Ditto the relationship/necessity of governance to society (who speaks of society without governance?). Making pretensions to difference seems to permeate the popular news coverage of late, especially that of politics and government. In an ancient tome entitled “The Imaginary Institution of Society” (original French 1975) Cornelius Castoriadis identifies “legein” and “teukhein”, with their intimate entwining, as integral to the institution of society. Crassly and coarsely put “legein” is determining or designating (language) while “teukhein” is making or doing. Immediately their interconnection jumps out in that designating is a making or doing through differentiating/identity (What Castoriadis describes as ensemblist-indentity logic or thinking; i.e. designating this grouping of a set as same, ditto it will differentiate the designated grouping from the rest of the set, thereby in turn determining an “other” than the same). Language determines. Yet since it is all we’ve got, it also can be used to conceal or deny (itself a kind of making or doing). One example of this elision or denial of instituting (while actually actively doing just that) can be found in the ostensible differentiation of the two major parties in US national governance, the culture wars, the future of America as we know it (and maybe civilization itself!), etc. The US President Barack Obama is chastised for being unwilling to determine or designate religious based violence/terrorism by describing it as, well, religious, and the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, authorizes state agencies to not utilize or reference the designation or determination of “climate change” (Science being considered as “secular.” And you always thought religion and science were different, didn’t you?). Religious grounds for making or doing are separated/differentiated from secular ones through the designation/determination of language. During the years of bloodshed in Northern Ireland, the IRA was never referenced as Roman Catholic terrorism. Such differentiation, the originally all too human institution of both (that which creates identity), is conveniently hidden, denied, elided or mystified. By actively attempting to “make” or “do” a differentiation of governing as human instituting and science being about something “not so” (humanly instituted) Governor Scott maintains the hidden, denied, elided or mystified aspect (of science, that it is humanly instituted). In “Pandora’s Hope” (1995) Bruno Latour repeatedly recounts and specifies the political intrigue and machinations of Louis Pasteur’s designation/determination of bacteria. That is, the science was a human institution. Like the US President, the Florida Governor wants to keep something hidden and unsaid while promoting a making or doing through identity with what can be said or revealed. The President elides the very human institution of religion through his determination/designation of terrorism (No Roman Catholic terrorists for him! Through his making or doing he affirms the mystifying aspect of religion’s political influence). The Governor elides admitting the very human institution of science through his designation/determination of state agency protocol (wherebye in actuality his making or doing affirms what Latour pointed out as the politics involved with the institution of science). This elision by both political rivals indicates identity, not difference.
With the conclusion of his essay “On The Phenomenology Of Giant Puppets: Broken Windows, Imaginary Jars Of Urine, And The Cosmological Role Of The Police In American Culture” (Possibilities: Essays On Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire, 2007) David Graeber speculates on the threat posed by puppets (real, imagined or theoretical?). According to Graeber, not only are puppets targeted for destruction by state security forces during demonstrations but pre-emptive operations are executed to exterminate them prior to deployment, during construction. The official reasons given are always ostensible and fictitious. He cites specific instances and events. For Graeber, the police embody the state’s single interpretation of reality which grants them license, authority to interpret individually. Hence, to “question” or appeal to an alternate interpretation is to undermine that authority, outlook or decision on the nature of reality. Graeber claims the puppets do precisely that by actualizing, making real the possibility of some other interpretation. As the police embody the single interpretation of the state, the puppets “embody” an alternate presentation. The police legitimize their violence on the basis of license. Giant puppets license illegitimacy. The puppets perform this without the reliance on or need of any form of dominance. The imagined possible, no matter how ridiculous or absurd, has always been a threat to the single interpretation. In the straight line (no exceptions) logic of dominance, this appears as “See it my way or don’t see it at all.” The appeal to authority, an authority, the authority underlies such rigor. One variation of this theme is that all (and any) imagined interpretation is reserved for the authority itself, arbitrary or not. The single interpretation is the burden of the subjects of that authority (sometimes cynically given as the “privilege”). The State, God, The Prophet, The Law, Buddha, etc. enjoy (within their domain) the richness and multiplicity of possibility, as well as its origination, dissemination, destruction, etc. The subjects of said author cannot operate within the every day amidst such a richness of possibility (hence, the puppets must go). Although such an approach appears quite pragmatic (a variation of Real Politik), it likewise reveals extreme discomfort. It is as though it exposes an almost elementary condition of ordained determination, the lack of ability to handle the conceptual generative capacity of what is termed “the universal and the particular.” If subjects are possessed of imagined interpretation then God, The State, etc. no longer have monopoly over its generation, becoming restrained to just one version. If subjects are possessed of multiple imaginings then God, The State, etc. simply become one of many possibilities. Etc. “See it my way or don’t see it at all” is the violent manifesto of domination. Anything imagined always escapes the interpretation of dominance.
We were in the man’s apartment. The walls were covered with paintings, prints, and drawings created by him as well as others – abstractions and figurative representations of people, places and objects. There were also sculptures and found objects, knick-knacks and fragments along the same lines. My friend asked if the man had any photos of his family, past, etc. There was not a photograph to be found displayed anywhere. He was surrounded by family and past. Each of the works resonated with what had passed, was gone – never to be retrieved. His memory must not have been digital or in color, Kodachrome or even black and white. Yet living vibrated there through these disparate creations. While there I noticed a nuthatch had landed on a feeder outside the window. Seen head on, its “face” appeared as some carved image on a Northwest Native American totem. These massive objects pre-date photography, let alone digital. Those carvings that have survived continue to resonate an affect. What is to be done with affection? It is not a document, so how could it be a memory? Are memories documentaries? Perhaps the document is the 21st century version of a fetish, an idol set aside (and above) to insure that a specific outlook continues homogenously throughout; an ideological ADT guaranteeing the security of interpretation from intrusion or tampering.
It is said that capitalism always eventually appropriates and subsumes everything, for which there is no alternative. The plethora of global struggles to elaborate an alternative (“As we walk we dream”) rely heavily on an appeal to what folks like Jacques Ranciere and others elucidate as “capacities”. Here was a man who managed to not be identified by a photo ID. Like the nuthatch outside his window, identity was created through his vitality, moment to moment.
There she was at the outdoor arts and crafts show hidden behind her work (the only shady spot to be found). Not a pretty woman, with bad teeth wearing overalls and work boots, she displayed portraits of exquisite detail featuring various animals, wild and domestic. She was literally behind her work.
Dorothea Lange was featured on a PBS American Masters episode. Of particular note was that Lange had been laid off by the FSA around 1940 and this completely disoriented her. Prior to this, though not well paid, she and her work had the connection of support that allowed entry into migrant workers camps and entitled her to photograph their conditions and inhabitants (for which she became famous). After the outbreak of the Second World War, Lange was picked up by the WRA to document the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent. Her work proved too good and was impounded by the Army that had hired her. After the war she went on to document the conditions of sharecroppers in America’s south through various impromptu, on site portraits.
Today’s artist is not found behind the work but rather is contained in the surface of the work (“if you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” Andy Warhol). Lange’s legacy is tainted by the question of whether the haunting portraits of Americans (as Americans) were unified by Lange herself (ala’ Woody Guthrie) or whether the unity had to do with the political economy of the time, which gave her a job, a purpose, cover and a mission. Would Lange have done what she did without taking a position with the FSA (and the WRA)?
Today, though not in the form of the outdoor arts and craft exhibitionist, the contemporary artist is expected to initiate and take ownership of an enterprise such as Lange had formed organically through her job involvement and the passage of time. Not only is the exceptional artist expected to have the “vision” of all the implications of their work, but they also are expected to obtain all the necessary connections and funding to bring it to fruition. Alternately, the subjective individual artist not pursuing such a socially visionary route is expected to draw from their own personal archives for portrayals within which they can be found, neither behind nor solely on the surface.
In either case, the unspoken question is where does the unity lie? As so many of today’s “social events” verify, unity is found through the discrete portrayal of the event’s participants themselves (through the near instantaneous documentation appearing on social media, etc.). This further implicates the contemporary social documentarians, along with the visionary arts entrepreneurs and subjective artistic interpreters, as discrete units within an abstract cohesive entirety entitled “Art”. This coordinates well within the operational determinants of a contemporary capitalist political economy that emphasizes personal choice and the freedom (and responsibility) of “rugged individualism”. The conditions of Lange’s pre-existing unity, promoting and spurring her creativity (and outcomes), as well as the pre-supposed unity of the subjective artist, with her viewer audience supporting her individual personal statements, are long gone. Today’s American culture emphasizes continuous discrete differentiation from any singular unifying definition.
To the list of reasons for making art add “In Shklovsky’s view, law and fortuity were at output-input ends of the cognitive processor called art. He never used exactly these words, of course, but did claim that art was a processing device. What this device processed was art’s raw material, be it the experiential material of life or the semantic material of language. Why people needed art, Shklovsky theorized, was to experience that material anew. That experience involved seeing the lawfulness of the fortuitous and the fortuity of what we take for laws. He called the latter process defamiliarization; as to the former, the simplest example is rhymes.” (From the massive Spring 2014 Comics & Media issue of Critical Inquiry, an essay entitled “Charlie Chaplin and His Shadows: On Laws of Fortuity in Art” by Yuri Tsivian, pg. 71). Of course, flags immediately appear with question marks on them regarding what “art’s raw material” could be. Tsivian expands what he gives as Shklovsky’s components to include media, technology, brands, pop culture icon’s, etc. (“the semantic material of language”). The gist of his article gives a “rhyming” of real or imagined interpretations/understandings of Charlie Chaplin within his time that presented an expression of, or belief in, a Chaplin that was not exactly Chaplin at all (himself or what was portrayed in his films). These in turn were (potentially?) reciprocated by Chaplin within his later work. All of which very much reminded me of a friend’s work (what little I am aware of it) that seems likewise to follow or parallel this, save at a much more compressed manner and pace, very much involving “art’s raw materials” coupled with media (video, digital imaging, etc.) processed through the “lawfulness of fortuity” (the “rhyming” with images, media, etc. that are available and my friend’s intuitive integration within the work). Personally I’m becoming more interested in what Davis gives in the translation of Aristotle’s Poetics (Aristotle’s Poetics: The Poetry of Philosophy by Michael Davis 1992). Aristotle’s definition of man as being a mimetic animal (innately and intimately) and his (Aristotle’s) presented account of this precisely through the utilization of these parameters and manners were impressive. I know Michael Taussig emphasizes this, but anthropologically (not philosophically). But if one considers this innate capacity/necessity to imitate as the “processing device” by which we experience the world (something Lacan parallels), one is left with what Zizek describes as the parallax view – the pencil half submerged in a glass half filled with water appears split or broken when viewed. One and the same pencil? Is what we imagine and articulate conscientiously, or with reason, etc. (“the semantic material of language”) the same as everyday life (“the experiential material of life”)? In everyday life, consider how the Newark (Ohio) Farmers Market differs from the Granville (Ohio) Farmer’s Market. There is a difference present that is more than geographic. Just recently a conversation with a vendor who does both markets confirmed my own view in that she expressed the same assessment (without prompting). My experience is that in Newark, the interaction is akin to Jacques Ranciere’s description of Jacotot’s pedagogy in The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. There, the teacher, the pupil, and the book ALL had something uniquely individual to say, express, or contribute (an imagining, different with each element). The book was the thing in common between teacher and pupil (a kind of fulcrum point). At the Newark market, the items offered by the vendor are analogous with “the book”. In Granville the buyer’s imagination reigns supreme, with the vendor and items offered either fulfilling this projection or falling short. This emphasis on the imagined world, and assessing whether what is actually present (the real world) meets the imaginer’s expectation/criteria conforms with the traditional pedagogy of the adjoining university, and what spawned its evolution. The preeminent feature/priority is self-awareness (in the tradition of Descartes), and how to make the world work for the subject (of the self-awareness), fulfill the subject’s projections. The projections, like the self-awareness itself, are all imagined (if one reads Aristotle by Davis’s account. This mis-identification of self-awareness is what makes for tragedy.). It isn’t that those at the Newark market are not self-aware. Rather, it is how they respond to, prioritize, or integrate this “imagining” that makes for difference. With Granville, it is the very priority by which all else is arranged hierarchically. It is where the emphasis is placed that accounts for the difference. Personally I integrate Zizek’s comprehension with Aristotle’s via the imagining of a Mobius strip. The cognitive processor, which defines art, is like the twist that makes the strip possible, makes for the union suit that unites north and south, making the two sides one. It is this simple twist that art provides, even better, that imitation supplies which reinforces “seeing the lawfulness of the fortuitous and the fortuity of what we take for laws.”
“Here Are the Threats Honeybees Face—and What’s Helping Them Survive” (By Lauren Wade, Takepart.com June 20, 2014) is another one of those say nothing, hand wringing articles that masquerade as concerned, environmentally conscious online (land) fill. When the line “Honeybees are integral to American agriculture, pollinating more than a third of the crops we grow.” appears in an article followed immediately by graphic descriptions of bumps, bruises and lacerations suffered by apis mellifera, you know the writer hasn’t a clue, let alone knows how to be critical about what she is covering. To say that a partner or spouse is integral to a relationship or marriage and then discuss relationships or marriage is one thing. But to say a battered partner or spouse is integral to a relationship or marriage, and then write about what the battered spouse or partner is suffering without involving or critiquing the rest of the marriage or relationship is to show intellectual sloth at best, ignorance at worst. When a politician uses that line, you know they’re painting a Warner Bros. picture of farming, talking about Porky’s little friend Buzzy Bee not feeling very well (“Poor Buzzy. What can we do to help?”). If “Honeybees are integral to American agriculture,” then maybe we ought to look at what the other integral parts of agriculture are doing, to the bees as well as the rest of us. We shouldn’t let the politicians, as well as writers, get away with such drivel when discussing abusive relationships and battered (integral) partners. “Ain’t nobody’s business but my own” doesn’t cut it anymore.
“What was contemporary art?” by Octavian Esanu appeared in the first print edition of ArtMargins. ArtMargins sounded so inviting before it came out. It is put out by MIT press, publishers of October. ArtMargins is based on the acknowledgement that art, art theory, and culture are no longer found at/driven by the center (places like NYC, Paris, London, etc.) but are now located on the margins (places like South America, eastern Europe, etc.) The emphasis was to be what is occurring/being written there today. I’ve allowed my subscription to lapse since (in the model of October) the publication (as a de facto center) has manipulated direction and gravitated to special interests. Also, it is mostly art historical, what happened/was written 50 years ago. Sigh. But Esanu’s article was very enlightening and exciting because it was fearless in situating economics with art. He writes of the transition period in Eastern Europe when institutional socialism was being displaced by free market capitalism, and George Soros’s foundations were pouring big bucks in to convert artists to entrepreneurs. Previously, under state socialism, artists woke up in the morning within their domiciles and ate their breakfast and went to their work site knowing that tomorrow they would likewise get up in the morning within their domiciles and eat breakfast before going to the place where they labored as artists. The emphasis in their production as artists was in what they produced, and how it contributed within the framework of the state socialism. Soros lured artists out of this co-op or unionized disposition, outlook, mindset through grant funding. The grants offered emerging artists large sums of money, recognition and exposure. However, Mr. Esanu (who was employed administering these funds) points out that after that, there are no further resources for the “established” (not emerging) artist. The lure is to get artists to strike out on their own and continue after the heady success made possible by the grant award. No longer could an artist concentrate solely on their discipline or craft. Rather, they now had to concentrate on how to fund their domicile and breakfast first, then on honing their art skills. It is a very subtle article but it extends its insight on how the aesthetics, what was considered as “contemporary art”, changed to accommodate the new economics of capitalism (the art produced needed to fit within the criteria and parameters of the grant requirements. The imaginary was dictated by what would promote the aspirations of the grant providers.).
Communist culture was always presented by the west as being driven and dominated by “The Party”. The aesthetic ostensibly revolved around what served, promoted and reproduced The Party’s interest. The west, on the other hand, cloaked itself in a rhetoric of freedom and choice, “free” market and the choice of multi-party government. Never was heard the term “Capitalist Party”. Esanu’s article brings that to mind for unless the art produced serves, promotes and reproduces the tenets and interests of the Capitalist Party, it is not (youthful angst Punk culture aside). This all begs the question “what is art?” though it is only someone on the margins like Esanu who is willing to consider the economic influence on the answer. At the center, it is assumed as a given (that there is art, that there are artists) without any question as to whether it is a means or an end or neither. If art is of The Party, then the artist becomes a mere originator of propaganda. If art is not of The Party, then how is it to be evaluated? Even more pressing is how is it possible if it is not of The Party? Boris Pasternak addressed this while living ensconced in a culture of The Party. His epic Dr. Zhivago is critiqued variously, from the standpoint of Russian literature/poetry, to one of resistance, to one of pure art, to just being a great love story. It does, however, present the picture of folks who live out their lives as who they are within a system that requires justification at every turn. This, I guess is the crux of what art is and what it is to be an artist today, whether Communist or Capitalist, whether to justify oneself through how one is serving the aspirations of the revolution or the market. Those savvy individuals attuned to working within The Party, live comfortably under either economic system. Those who deem poetry and art to have some other abstract value, do not. But they continue to create, without serving The Party. Aside from being masochists, one wonders why? Which again leaves the question of what is art, what is it to be an artist?
Zanesville Ohio’s downtown “Arts District” first Friday gallery hop comes to mind for it seems to cover the entire spectrum of art/artists in one fell swoop. From the university professor “high end” art (why high end? Because it serves The Party?) to primitive and outsider art, it is all there arrayed next to each other at the same time within close proximity. Few, very few, pay for their domiciles and breakfast from their labor as artists; even fewer with any degree of security. So is there a place for art within our society (rather, do we have a culture driven by art) or is it merely a utilitarian expression of a Party function (to serve, promote and reproduce the values of The Capitalist Party)? A good start in answering any of these questions is to admit that, well, there it is in front of us. And that the folks associated with its existence will do so under whatever economic system they find themselves (something Pasternak presents with Zhivago). In that sense, we find ourselves with what the academics describe as “the subject”. Here lies the entire struggle of the artist and art. The subject, independent (not!) of the environment, the economy, or is it the subject transcendent of the environment, the economy (shades of Emerson!)? Or is it possibly the subject bearing witness to whatever it is to be a subject (“I exist. I matter.”)? Witness to whom? And why? What need is there of witness to getting up in the morning in one’s own domicile, eating breakfast and heading off to work?