Archive for October, 2012

Playing Ball

October 28, 2012

“NEIL BAROFSKY: Well, what I saw when I was in Washington was this real pressure on myself, on other regulators to essentially keep their tone down. And I was told point blank by Assistant Secretary of the Treasury that, this is about in 2010.

And he said to me, he said, “Neil, you’re a smart guy. You’re a young guy. You’re a talented guy. You got your whole future in front of you. You’ve got a young family that’s starting out. But you’re doing yourself real harm.” And the reason why you’re doing yourself real harm is the harsh tone that I had towards the government as well as to Wall Street, based on what I was seeing down in Washington. And he told me that if I wanted to get a job out on the Street afterwards, it was going to really be hard for me.

BILL MOYERS: You mean on Wall Street?

NEIL BAROFSKY: Yes. And I explained to him that I wasn’t really interested in that. And he said, “Well, maybe a judgeship. Maybe an appointment from the Obama administration for a federal judgeship.” And I said, “Well, again, that would be great. But I don’t really think that’s going to happen with my criticisms.” And he said it didn’t have to be that way. “If all you do is soften your tone, be a little bit more upbeat, all this stuff can happen for you.”

And that’s what I meant by playing ball. I was essentially told, play ball, soften your tone, and all of these good things can happen to you. But if you stay harsh that was going to cause me real harm in those words.” (From the transcript of the October 26, 2012 Bill Moyer’s interview with Neil Barofsky, former special inspector general for the TARP program under Presidents Bush and Obama)

I was very fortunate this past week to have a lengthy conversation with a professional arts educator. Part of our conversation centered around a recent show by one of her colleagues. I mentioned how difficult it was, if not impossible, to critique something like that. Quite frankly, I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, nor a handle on how to critique it. Criticism simply is no longer acceptable within what is espoused as art today, at least not within our contemporary popular culture. She agreed that criticism was not, having been replaced by positive and supportive constructive insights instead, and that she originally had the same impression regarding the show. Attending the artist’s talk alleviated her sense of obfuscation.

“Claes Oldenburg once said, “Anybody who listens to an artist talking about his work should have his eyes examined.” Groucho Marx put it better when he said, “Who do you want to believe, me or your own eyes?” [“actually Chico, dressed as Groucho, made this remark in Duck Soup”]” (Robert Morris The Idle Idol, or Why Abstract Art Ended up Looking Like a Chinese Room, Critical Inquiry Vol. 34, No. 3 pg. 444)

Dispelling the need to critique after having witnessed it with my very own eyes was rather unsatisfying, if not downright unethical. Maybe there was a Chico, speaking in the guise of Groucho, within this professional academic’s solo show. But what could it be? And how to find it since it certainly was right there before my very eyes? In a totally unrelated text (The Parallax View), on a totally unrelated matter (the distinction between approaches to the obscene supplement of violence within the notion of sovereignty) Slavoj Zizek writes: “And this brings us back to where we began: perhaps we should assert this attitude of passive aggression as a proper radical political gesture, in contrast to aggressive passivity, the standard “interpassive” mode of our participation in socio-ideological life in which we are active all the time in order to make sure that nothing will happen, that nothing will really change.” (pg. 342)

Part of the lack of critique or dispute within contemporary art today is that so much of it exists within this “interpassive mode of our participation” (both the artist creator as well as the viewer/spectator). The artist (as well as the viewer) exerts so much creative and material investment to be “active all the time in order to make sure that nothing will happen, that nothing will really change.”  This is primarily to keep the opportunities of career, networking, and earnings always open and available. Stay positive and supportive in your tone and presentation. “And that’s what I meant by playing ball. I was essentially told, play ball, soften your tone, and all of these good things can happen to you.”

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Myth Recognition

October 21, 2012

After the startling conclusion to my last post, watching Bill Moyers was noticeably different. Bill’s guests were Matt Taibbi and Chrystia Freeland. Most of what was covered has appeared before on the show, as well as the guests, and this blog has written on these subjects before (OK so Freeland uses “cognitive capture” whereas Jameson et al use “hegemony”). But the ending to the previous blog posting generated an unanticipated critique. Though well-versed in the disparities of income and wealth through her journalistic experience, Chrystia Freeland is a staunch advocate of capitalism and the market though she is no apologist. Her doxa was definitely the Judeo-Christian one of the weeds and grain growing up together, entwined, ultimately to be separated by the Big Other at harvest time. Her underlying assumption was that politics (democratic governance) and economy are separate, using the Canadian experience of the past 10 years as an example of how politics can check economics. Particularly unnerving was her associating plutocrats with community though the pervasive ethic is one of “winner take all.” This left ambiguity as the connotations of the word are so various, from the past experience as a “community organizer” of our current president to the “gated community” enjoyed by only the elect yet continuously serviced and maintained by the disavowed many (kinda sounds like our gov’t).  Taibbi’s take was more of the encroachment and dominance of the political by mega wealth, comparing what is happening here with what happened in the former Soviet Union. Neither wanted to go back to what happened in El Salvador, nor to revise their nostalgic take of the 1950’s by referencing the Rockefeller Plan (bringing to mind Zizeks quoted “happiness is “a commodity that was imported from America in the Fifties,”” The Parallax View pg. 297). What’s to blame? What’s to do? asks Moyers. The progressives need to start presenting alternatives was the astute reply. Instead of hoping to inherit the earth through their meekness, they need to actively voice alternate plans. October 14th’s blog posting shows that the revolution of Capitalism IS progress, or the progressive’s alternate plan. The progressive (alternative) remedy is a dollars and cents valuation seeping into every accessible nook and cranny of human life, social exchange.  The lack of alternative “solutions” generates the desire so necessary for the expansion of this progressive revolution, and its financial return. Are Taibbi and Freeland advocating more of what already is in play? As creative journalists, they feel completely justified in working hard for their paychecks by digging into what comprises and drives the current plutocratic state of the world. But does this certify them as professional voyeurs, exempt them from using their education, knowledge and expertise to present alternative possibilities? The ground they covered was considered extensively, through theory, by Hardt and Negri while Taibbi and Freeland were “discovering” the Soviet Union’s transformation. Hardt and Negri at least ventured forth with alternate scenarios for social interaction. Bill’s guests left that for other experts (progressive ones) to detail. I didn’t see them squirming around while seated on their hands discussing this. Lacanian transference became materially manifest through this deferral of solutions to “someone who should know.” So the myth of separate but equal, of church and state, of government and business, etc. reproduces and grows. The everyday manifestation reveals the “Randian” revolution with its “winner take all dynamic” producing “wealth creators and parasites”. Did Moyer’s guests succeed in dispelling this myth, revealing it, or simply perpetuating it?

 

Yet Again From Another Direction

I had a long conversation with someone easily (self) identified as a “progressive” and activist; someone agitating for change through their practice. This practice involves solar photovoltaic energy generation. Their original motivation came from undergrad involvement in a university sponsored and organized sustainable living “laboratory” (student housing space at that time one step removed from becoming Amish). In our talk I compared his involvement with that of the bees. Scientists in the UK are studying bee brains to synthesize robotic  pollinators, anticipating the eventual demise of honeybees. Energy, generated from a multitude of sources, is the future. Reliance on animals, whether horses for transportation or insects for pollination, is the past. When asked about his reengagement with his alma mater (the sustainable living unit) he furthered this insight, unwittingly reinforcing the perpetuated myth. The university’s liability underwriters insist the student sustainable living residency experience has got to go, too much risk. The sustainable living unit has to be brought into the 21st century (his words) if it is to remain and continue. So he was all excited about another outlet for his progressive activism. Little did he question the university’s motivation for such “revolutionary” change, nor did he critique the underlying “cognitive capture” (hegemony) that all must fall within the parameters of capitalist valuation (overall worth based on cost/risk analysis), or face extermination. The myth of inevitability, of naturalness, accompanies all revolution. The university had sown the seeds of this long before my friend was a student by exempting itself from community involvement (remember the “ivory tower” references?). This was continuously and actively reaffirmed and nourished through controlling and restricting on campus/off campus residencies and engagements, creating total on campus living experience (bars, entertainment, security, etc.), vigorous and extensive copyright and intellectual property enforcement, branding, etc. The university has been (re)valuing its good (and the benefit it offers society) through a Capitalist lens since before happiness was imported as a commodity. As Steve Kurtz pointed out: resistance is futile, if possible at all.

A Digression: One Grand Narrative

October 14, 2012

No, this will not be about the latest opening of your shiny, new neighborhood casino. But that may well be part of it. Grand narratives are these ego inspired attempts at suturing the disparities of history, theory, and the contemporary to try to make sense out of what someday will be meaningful only to a machine. I mean, it is sort of getting to that point already today where even the umps and refs at sports events are undermined by what the “official” replay machine “sees”. Someday, maybe the athletes will only compete before the “official” view of automated, calibrated machines, with the rest of us designated as pure spectators, for entertainment value only. But I digress. To a certain extent grand narratives are going that way also. No one is much interested in Homer’s tale of the Trojan conflict. Show us the real Troy and have LiLo or Angelina as Helen, to enhance the info/entertainment value. It takes imagination to read the Odyssey. Grand narratives require active readership. Distraction addicts need not apply. Speaking of which yours truly was distracted while listening to an interview with the author of a neuroscience study on the difference in brain activity between reading while distracted and reading as an exclusive activity. The study concerned reading Jane Austin while having earbuds plugged in, or texting/checking the phone, or having video/video games in the environment. Reading Pride and Prejudice without any other (distracting) stimulation found the various parts of the brain much more active and involved, even the parts that discern body placement in space. According to the authors, it is almost as though the reader were “living” the experience, at least from the perspective of brain activity whereas the distracted readers were primarily utilizing the parts of the brain that specifically process information. Junk in, junk out. But I digress again. A grand narrative sometimes can jog a different imagining as to what has been assumed to be, present a different perspective, an opening to what a more sophisticated thinker like Alain Badiou would describe as an event, a catalyst of change (not as a direct experience of course but probably more as the Austin study in lighting up parts of the brain that otherwise would not get engaged). So a grand narrative may have some self-worth, but as that Poppins woman insinuated: it wouldn’t hurt to have some sugar with it.

This blog’s recent postings have been following a thread that reveals a narrative’s toe from beneath the drapery. Zizek’s use of fitness indicators to invert the assumed primary/secondary hierarchy of utilitarian/aesthetic combined with the contemporary politics exposed by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling reveals what lurks behind that curtain. Many have adumbrated parts of this narrative, and stressed its ongoing nature (so no uniqueness here). Many have also pointed out, on the basis of Hardt and Negri’s work (as well as others), the “police” function of governments (to ensure market access and functioning). It is only a skip and a jump from there to realize the utter inconvenience of maintaining the sham of populist democracy when corporate leadership could also be actual functioning government leadership; the redundancy required of machines now can be applied to institutional management (doubly guaranteeing market access and function). Evidence of this is not only within the current US election but also the recent one in Georgia, as well as various other democratic leadership positions worldwide.  Suffice to say, corporate leadership morphs into democratic leadership.  The transition appears to be seamless (no violent upheavals as in the 60’s). Considered historically, fitness indicators may also present more than a sociological/psychological understanding of human sexuality. They contribute to an equally inverted narrative with regard revolution/change. All of which could benefit an imaginative student of current events. The American, French, and other revolutions may have been more about establishing Capital as a “fitness indicator” than about populist democratic aspirations. Marx may have been a distracting digression. Indeed, some speculate this revolution of the priority and supremacy of utilitarian economy (Capitalism) as a “fitness indicator” over the primordial one of potlatch and waste actually began with the religious Reformation in Europe (others make an even stronger link between Capitalism and religion citing the Catholic Church’s theology of “The Mystical Body” as the basis of corporate organization, yet again, I digress). The current Romney/Ryan ticket, along with the boss hog politics of Karl Rove is only the latest struggle in this revolution begun in the 1700’s, or 1500’s depending on your willingness to take on complexity (If you want to do business with our political party, you must support our agenda exclusively. David Siegel, owner of Westgate Resorts, threatening to fire his 7,000 employees and shut down his company if Obama retains his presidency would lie in that same logic, still again I digress). The “real” revolution may be that of establishing Capital as the exclusive and singular “fitness indicator”, bar none. These other “leftist” or “progressive” ideologies are merely resistance holdovers of an archaic (and primordial) valuation.

A Tale Of Two Cities

October 13, 2012

We all know about the polarization in contemporary American politics. But could this be symptomatic of a deeper split? Delving into Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire and Multitude, Slavoj Zizek writes:

“This immaterial labor extends between the two poles of intellectual (symbolic) labor (production of ideas, codes, texts, programs, figures: writers, programmers…) and affective labor (those who deal with our physical affects: from doctors to baby sitters and flight attendants). Today, immaterial labor is “hegemonic” in the precise sense in which Marx proclaimed that, in nineteenth-century capitalism, large industrial production is hegemonic as the specific color giving its tone to the totality – not quantitatively, but playing the key, emblematic structural role: “What the multitude produces is not just goods or services; the multitude also and most importantly produces cooperation, communication, forms of life, and social relationships” (HN’s Multitude, pg. 339).  What thereby emerges is a vast new domain, the “common”: shared knowledge, forms of cooperation and communication, and so on, which can no longer be contained by the form of private property. This, then, far from posing a mortal threat to democracy (as conservative cultural critics would have us believe), opens up a unique chance of “absolute democracy”” (The Parallax View, pg. 262)

This is the stuff of MFA graduate schooling with networking, working collaboratively, and so on. Indeed, in his essay entitled Art and Democracy: People Making Art Making People, Peter Weibel writes:

““Art is a form of action,” he [Rothko] wrote, or to be more precise: “Art is not only a form of action it is a form of social action. For art is a type of communication, and when it enters the environment it produces its effects just as any other action does.”” (Making Things Public pg. 1030)

This week the Columbus College of Art and Design (which recently added an MFA program) sent out an invitation for an upcoming event with the following itinerary:

“Saturday, November 10, 2012: Art and Entrepreneurship in the Creative Community

8:00 AM          Check in and complimentary breakfast

9:00 AM          Keynote address: “The Economic Value of the Creative Community,”                                                                                                                                                                                            Bill Strickland, Manchester Bidwell Corporation

10:00 AM        Choose of one session: “Enhancing Your Creative Studio-Life in the Studio,” Rebecca Ibel, Pizzuti Collection; or “Enhancing Your Creative Design Practice – The New Entrepreneur,” Beverly Bethge, Ologie

12:00 PM        Break

1:00 PM          “Understanding the Value of Intellectual Property,”                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Jonathan Politi

2:30 PM          “Management and Leadership – Take Charge Collaboration,”                                                                                                                                                                                              Elaine Grogan Luttrull, Minerva Financial Arts

3:30PM           “Entrepreneurship – Taking Your Creativity to Market,”                                                                                                                                                                                                         Kevin Gadd, Venture Highway

5:30 PM          Open – Studio Reception”

Were not this duality thoroughly engrained in our everyday psyche, were we from another planet (or civilization), we would quickly remark how this is certainly indicative of two completely different states of art having cultural capitals with totally dissimilar polar coordinates.

Iconoclash Revisited

October 9, 2012

Ooooh, difference makes an appearance. Some say that the only difference is that of where the emphasis is placed. Big Bird delivers iconoclash!

In The Parallax View, Zizek writes:

“The features which give me an advantage in sexual competition are not directly my properties which demonstrate my priority over others, but indicators of such properties – the so-called “fitness indicators.”” (pg. 246) Chic, chic Apple design styling anyone? And further:

“We should therefore upend the standard view according to which the aesthetic (or symbolic) dimension is a secondary supplement to the utility-value of a product: it is, rather, the utility-value that is a “secondary profit” of a useless object whose production cost a lot of energy in order to serve as a fitness indicator.” (pg. 247) And wardrobe, make up and staging of Big Bird cost a lot of energy! Again, for emphasis, Zizek goes on:

“So it is not enough to make the rather common point that the dimension of nonfunctional “aesthetic” display always supplements the basic functional utility of an instrument; it is, rather, the other way round: the nonfunctional “aesthetic” display of the produced object is primordial, and its potential utility comes second, that is, it has the status of a by-product, of something that parasitizes on the basic function. And, of course, the paradigmatic case here is that of language itself, the mental fitness indicator par excellence, with its excessive display of useless rhetoric:” (pg. 248)  And boy, have we gotten a lot of that this election year! He concludes the chapter of The Loop of Freedom with:

“And perhaps it is from here that we should return to fitness indicators: does not the uniqueness of humankind consist in these indicators – the pleasure we take in dealing with them – turn into an end in themselves, so that, ultimately, biological survival itself is reduced to a mere means, to the foundation for the development of “higher activities”?” (pg. 250)

Come November 22 will Big Bird  grace the Thanksgiving table as the fetish utilitarian centerpiece, ultimately to be consumed, or will he/she receive a presidential pardon, and be granted “biological survival” as a “foundation for the development of “higher activities””?

Hegemony

October 6, 2012

1.(formal) Domination, influence, or authority over another, especially by one political group over a society or by one nation over others.

2.Dominance of one social group over another, such that the ruling group or hegemon acquires some degree of consent from the subordinate, as opposed to dominance purely by force.

(Wiktionary)

 

1: preponderant influence or authority over others : domination <battled for hegemony in Asia>

2: the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group

(Merriam Webster)

 

“Laclau’s sense of “hegemony”: a specific feature which confers a specific flavor on the whole.”

(Slavoj Zizek The Parallax View, pg. 228)

 

Big Bird and the first presidential debate.