Archive for November, 2012

A Tribute To George

November 27, 2012

George Bogdanovitch passed away at the end of October. George was an arts educator and artist, a painter. George’s background was rather unusual by the rigors of today’s economics. His undergraduate degree was in Philosophy, with an MA in Art History and finally an MFA in painting and drawing. He also studied with Hans Hofmann and Allan Kaprow.  I enjoyed many conversations with George, mostly about art and culture. In the latter part of his life, George had some difficulty coming to terms with art, and the new arts educators supplanting the usual university turnover. It is difficult to decide whether they couldn’t talk with George, or wouldn’t. George was opinionated and outspoken. He didn’t cotton bad art (or educating). He began to be regarded as a curmudgeon, almost a pariah by some. Part of this had nothing to do with either George, or the new arts educators. The post modern didn’t dwell on good art/bad art. It was concerned with exploding what art is, finding it on the margins, in the street, on the packaging of fast food. For George, the post modern was new. Aggravating this all was popular culture; the capitalist culture that worshipped and demanded ever more new. His was the generation that established the preconditions of this need for the new.

Once again I had the good fortune of spending some time conversing with an arts educator before the resumption of classes post holiday break. She recounted shows she had been to, both in NYC as well as central Ohio. One NYC show she could describe the work presented. The others were mainly endorsements or descriptions of the artists’ outlook, without a clue on my part as to what she had experienced. Oh, but you must go see them, she has such a weird take on what it is to paint, etc. Attempts at synthesis with current culture or the arts curricula, student work, etc. led nowhere. Connections of this with that were untenable as it was all deemed fractious, fragmented, diverse and incoherent. What a person did to earn a living, the odds of any art student doing such from their art, the reasons for making art, and what is accepted or embraced as such were not considered parts of a continuum. All of this eventually left the arts educator realizing it was time to move on (talking art and culture leads nowhere), and me rather flummoxed. Later I thought of Pinchevski’s insights (previous posting), that the nature of technology has a bearing on the “discourse network” also described as “writing-down system”. Pinchevski approached it from the latter aspect in terms of the difference in archives. But I thought of it in terms of the former, of discourse as conversation. Maybe the arts educator could not describe the works she experienced but only her own response to them because any description or representation would have best been done through a digital imaging technology, like a cell phone (camera) or video recording. Thus, as Pinchevski points out, the works presented in the show could have been described or represented immediately through such performance, or (continuous) re-performance. What I took to be an inadequacy, a loss for words (over the description of the works presented at the various shows), could likewise be considered as a quite natural and acceptable no-need-for-words (you can see them online!).

During our conversation I mentioned George’s passing. A curious connection results from remembering George, his finding himself more and more at odds with the new(er) art faculty, and the loss for words that our conversation revealed when it came to describing the art witnessed. Some of the discourse concerning art after the end of art involved Kant’s aesthetic, especially that regarding the sublime. Kant’s sublime is, by nature, contained, limited, occurs within an envelope of space and time – yet it cannot be explicitly, completely, precisely or adequately defined. Skip the what came first, chicken or egg debate (theory or practice). Suffice it to say post modern art (and beyond) began more and more to be such that it could not be “explicitly, completely, precisely or adequately defined.” Enter video. Video gave credence (and sanity) to such an art (and culture) through the reassurance of continuously accessible (re)performance in place of words (and text). It provided a “discourse network” that elides reliance on the spoken word (conversation). Why should I tell you when I can show you (over and over and over)? For George, part of the delight, the pleasure of art, was in being able to talk about it, critique it, say it is bad or good in relation to the culture, the economy and politics. Unfortunately, George’s passing may also perform the passing of such conversation.

The Deer Hunter

November 25, 2012

Tomorrow is the start of deer gun hunting here in Ohio. Killing deer by other means has been taking place for some time.

Pussy Panic versus Liking Animals: Tracking Gender in Animal Studies, an essay by Susan Fraiman, appears in the recent Critical Inquiry (Vol. 39, no. 1). In addition to an introduction to a history of ecofeminism, she ranges part of the spectrum of what makes for knowing- both the cerebral (theoretical) as well as the tactile (emotional) depictions. Within this history, there is another spectrum that ranges between the contributions of Carol Adams and Donna Haraway.  Adams’ “I do not value animals because women are somehow ‘closer’ to them, but because we experience interdependent oppressions.” (pg. 111) results in her commitment to veganism. Haraway’s approach differs, as Fraiman puts it: “All of which is to say that, while for Adams, no one should be considered meat, one lesson to be drawn from Haraway’s story is that we are all somebody’s meat – even before we are food for worms.” On a totally different spectrum we find Bill Moyers’ guest from the Nov. 23 airing. Karl Malantes is the author of What It’s Like to Go to War. He speaks of our culture and how we are taught the golden rule not to kill others from an early age but some of us are then trained to do exactly that as soldiers. He also talked about killing. What he spoke of was not pretty, and yet he was quite clear that we are all implicated in it, only the soldier pulls the trigger at the end. For doing what his country asked, being a soldier, being the one who pulled the trigger for the rest of us, Karl bears some pretty heavy scars. In another part of the same Critical Inquiry appears an essay entitled The Audio Unconscious: Media and Trauma in the Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies by Amit Pinchevski. Pinchevski links today’s “trauma” (whatever meaning is ascribed to that word) with the development of technology which could only make such an understanding possible. A video documentation performs an event as opposed to a written literary narrative that relies on a timeline structure (this comes before that). A video can be replayed incessantly (at different speeds, stop action or even in reverse) while the literary narrative always lapses into the same structure when repeated. One outcome is our ability to sling the word “trauma” around relying on meanings more described by video than represented by the written word. Malantes is haunted by trauma (PTSD), though other generations of combat survivors suffered it under different descriptions. He confirms Pinchevski by mentioning the devastating effects of second generation trauma (like second hand smoke) on those absent from the initial events. Fraiman states that both Adams and Haraway were initially incentivized in their studies by early “traumas” involving animals. Marlantes even goes on by saying that making the opposition (the enemy) out to be animals, a sub species, anaesthetizes the activity of killing others, makes it doable by those brought up to consider it an abomination. In this he parallels the ecofeminist affinity with animals on the basis of their relegation to a (sub) species that allows for interaction unacceptable within the patriarchal Law (but deemed appropriate in relation to an “other”). All these cerebral savants enter into a discourse founded on the unseen shadow aspect of being human (as described by Marlantes), of killing (and eating). One wonders what psychic scenario crosses their mind as they go grocery shopping. Adams must close her eyes as she passes the repugnant fast food eateries hawking burgers, steak fajitas and roast beef sandwiches on her way to the whole food grocery store. Haraway probably muses over the Eat More Chikin commercials as she drives down the strip. Pinchevski (like Derrida) finds shame creeping in as he drives by; unable to forget what he “knows” goes on behind the façade (by being required to remember). Zizek links fundamentalism with an unshakeable belief in what one knows through revelation but this is a knowledge based totally on required memory (“You must remember this: a kiss is just a kiss…”). Why else would the Yale University Libraries Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies be in existence if not to always repeat the performance of memory? And Marlantes? Maybe he stops in for a bite. And once at the grocery, with its long aisles of displayed meats, frozen meats, processed meats, etc. well, I’ll leave that to the reader’s imagining.

This week’s deer hunt is not a ritual, nor some religious ceremony. It certainly isn’t about putting meat on the table (the BS a lot of hunters will spread as if justifying themselves in court). No, it is about something undefinable, whether by archive video, Michael Moore film, cell phone digital imaging or literary narrative; something foundational to us all that must remain discrete if we are to function socially. Lacan says the Real always returns to the same place. Maybe, just maybe, the return of the yearly deer hunt creates discomfort by annually informing us about the nature of “trauma” and utopias (including the utopia of nature) more than anything we’d care to know in a cerebral or tactile manner.


November 15, 2012

-Romney on the “gifts” to Hispanic voters: “For any lower-income Hispanic family, Obamacare was massive, I mean for-the average income for a household in America is fifty thousand dollars a year, that’s the median, fifty K per year. For the Hispanic household, my guess is it’s lower than that, maybe it’s forty thousand a year. For a home earning let’s say thirty thousand a year, free health care, which is worth about ten thousand dollars a year, I mean is massive, it’s huge. So this-he did two very popular things for the Hispanic community.” (ABC-OTUS News 11-15-12, Republicans Return Romney’s Parting Gift, Michael Falcone, Amy Walter)

A few weeks back Harry Shearer had an economist on his weekly radio show who attempted to speak about the “debt crisis” in laymen’s terms. She hinged a lot of her insight on a simple principle: that any given debt on one party’s ledger is an asset on another. She went on to point out that most American gov’t debt is held by (who else?) Americans. Our situation is different than that of the Euro Zone. Yadda, Yadda. This kind of inverse thinking or logic, very reminiscent of Zizek’s approach in The Parallax View, could be applied to Mitt Romney’s post-election recap addressed to his donors and backers. This blog’s previous post attempted to point out that the bewilderment suffered by the losing party had more to do with our culture’s preferred interaction of commitment and allegiance to simulated  reality, than any misunderstanding brought about through polling, self-aggrandizement, etc. Now this.

Romney’s statements were conference call shared with the Republican Governors meeting in Las Vegas. From Philip Elliot, AP 11-15-12, Top Republicans Say Romney Didn’t Offer Specifics, we read:

“”They spent all their time making Mitt Romney unacceptable and making him out to be someone who was untrustworthy and unacceptable to enough of the American people — and it worked,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said in an interview

In the hallways at the conference, the governors and their top advisers uniformly blamed Romney’s loss on an uneven communications strategy. They said Romney allowed himself to be branded a corporate raider who put the interests of the wealthy above those of middle-income voters.

“We didn’t have effective means by which to counter the attacks the Obama-Biden campaign took against Mitt Romney and his team,” Walker said.

“His whole campaign was a fear-and-smear attack to make Romney unacceptable and to blame George Bush for anything that happened while Obama was president,” Barbour said. “This was all personal: that Romney is a vulture capitalist who doesn’t care about people like you, ships jobs overseas, is a quintessential plutocrat and is married to a known equestrian.”

“His campaign was largely about his biography and his experience,” Jindal said.”

Now back to Mitt Romney’s post-election, business accounting analysis of the “real” value of the incumbent’s gifts prior to the election, in dollars and cents of course. Leave aside the rhetorical depreciation of the Hispanic household income’s quick slide (in just three sentences!) from the 50 thousand dollars a year average (a white household, I presume) to 30 thousand (that’s 60% of their fellow citizens’ income in just three sentences!). If they do not have the “free health care, which is worth about ten thousand dollars a year,” it must mean that a family is really working hard to make ends meet on 30 thousand a year without, well, health care. 3 folks (or more) probably, but I guess that kind of figuring on number of “people” gets lost in the emphasis on dollars and cents cost analysis. What are the odds they are willing to go into debt on 33% of their income, just for health care insurance coverage, for one year, year after year after year? Consider the economist from Harry Shearer’s insight: what is a debt on one party’s ledger is an asset on another’s. Most “responsible” people, in that situation, would go without and hope for the best, pay cash in the worst. Of course, if the yearly cost of health care insurance is 5-10% of a family’s income, it certainly would be irresponsible to forego it. So I guess if 10 thousand dollars a year is a third of your annual income, your family had just better stay healthy, as insurance becomes a luxury they will need to do without..

I’m shocked to find myself writing the following (especially after writing the previous posting quite earnestly detached):

Maybe, just maybe, Mitt Romney really IS “a vulture capitalist who doesn’t care about people like you”.

Oh, Poopyhead? That’s Grover Norquist’s  post-election description.

A Cultural Take On The Recent Election

November 10, 2012

“Miffed”, a word not used in the retelling of the election, but miffed describes it all. Various accounts indicate an absolute certainty of victory on the part of the Romney campaign, even to a brief airing of their post-election transition program on their website. More accounts speak of the genuine heartbreak of the supporters and volunteers, based primarily on the various strategists’ and king makers’ disparagement of the pre-election polling data. Finally there is the continued media re-echoing of the conservative Republican “echo chamber” as the basis for their being, well, miffed by the results. The media, and the analysts who earn a pay check through their contribution to promoting the media’s self-importance within all things political, dare not mention their own complicity in the world of miff. It is claimed that over 6 billion dollars was spent on the national campaign, a quarter to a third of it on, you guessed it, media advertising (and that’s only if you consider the audio/video components objectively, as separate from the “performance” component. Include the performance component and the advertising portion would increase substantially).  Media advertising, multi-media (art), images and narrative- the stuff of culture! Having been on the margin of two Mitt (not miff) Romney events, it was easy to see that they were tightly choreographed, completely scripted and staged media events. Little that appeared in the “performance” was spontaneous or improvised. That is not news. But it is forgotten the morning after when buyer’s remorse discounts the attractive and sincere salesperson as perhaps, just maybe, the reason for being stuck with the sale. Everything was slickly designed and packaged. The majority of “public” gatherings were intentionally staged events to be used as advertising in the continuous solicitation of votes. From the atmosphere, environs, location and backdrop down to who appeared, in what order and what was said, everything took place as if it were a movie in the making, except without a director or retakes. Add to this the oodles of ads created under the same aesthetic methodology as that used to produce studio music recordings (as opposed to “live” concert recordings), and you have just about the complete gamut of how candidates are presented. Ingesting too much Zizek tells you where this is headed (I’ll spare you the psychoanalysis)! At the live events, the candidates are focused on how this will be seen on air. In the studio ads, they are presented as in real life.  No wonder hurricane Sandy had such an impact (the return of the real!). In contemporary terms, the virtual has outstripped the actual. Well, we’ve all read our Baudrillard, simulacra being a copy of a copy and his critique of our culture being infatuated/consumed/obsessed with simulacra. The sincere and genuine belief in simulacra (and our allegiance to it), in the media production for voter consumption and gratification, had more to do with so many being miffed by the outcome than any Karl Rove math, Donald Trump conspiracy, echo chambers or inadequate polling.