Archive for October, 2013

It Takes Place In Real Time And You Can’t Control What You’re Going To Say

October 28, 2013

Sherry Turkle, clinical psychologist and MIT professor amongst other things, was interviewed by Bill Moyers on the 10-18-13 Moyers & Company. The emphasis of their exchange was on how the self has been re-identified as one dependent on the mobile device – smart phone, laptop, etc. “You begin to feel yourself as you mesh yourself with the means of communication.” A resulting outcome is the inability of face to face conversation, resulting in one excuse for its avoidance being the title of this blog posting. The mobile device over determines exchange; “The sweetness of something new that’s coming into us on our phone.” or its anticipated promise. Conversation becomes torn, “Attention divided between the world of the people we’re with and this other reality.”

Arthur C. Danto passed away on 10-25-13. It would be pretentious to write an elegy or obit. Perhaps, especially within the volume of what Arthur Danto left us, it would be better to consider what is not found, what was missing. AP presented an elegant report by Hillel Italie with quotes, counter opinions and a brief history (Groundbreaking art critic Arthur Danto dies at 89, 10-27-13). That should suffice for reference and context. I would like to consider two areas of exploration left open within Danto’s contribution that are pertinent and relevant to understanding the art (and culture) after the end of art – the technological reproducibility of next to nearly anything today, and the “rhizomatous” aspect of art production (conflating the scientific and philosophic meanings) and how little this is valorized in our culture.

Hillel Italie gives some intriguing quotes: “”But now I have grown reconciled to the unlimited diversity of art. I marvel at the imaginativeness of artists in finding ways to convey meanings by the most untraditional of means. The art world is a model of a pluralistic society in which all disfiguring barriers and boundaries have been thrown down.”” Danto, of course, was most instrumental in the shift from the hierarchical, progression interpretation (of Greenberg) to one of no end (of art). “”From my perspective, aesthetics was mostly not part of the art scene. That is to say, my role as a critic was to say what the work was about — what it meant — and then how it was worth it to explain this to my readers,” he wrote.” reflects the innate conversational approach that he imagined his work to be about. And “”When I became a critic, I met everyone under the sun. But I knew very few artists when I was an artist. Some printmakers, some second generation Abstract Expressionists. … They were the great figures of my world, like Achilles and Agamemnon in ancient times,” he wrote in a 2007 essay about his own work.” reveals more than its brevity suggests.

Contemporaneous with Danto’s contribution and thinking were the works of other thinkers and critics, events and developments. Some of these appear within his work. Some are never referenced. Although this pluralistic society for which the art world is a model produces work in which performance, installation, ready-mades, found objects and collaborations are ubiquitous, what happens when one cannot distinguish the hand of creation, what produced what, because of the seamless incorporation of technological reproduction (what Benjamin had adumbrated)? Along with the end of art was the death of the author, but when authorship becomes usurped by technological virtuosity, what then? Is this as Turkle describes that “You begin to feel yourself as you mesh yourself with the means of communication.”? Though Danto thought that with the end of art, art’s interpretation likewise differed (no longer seen as a Greenberg progression), he never confronted the dissipation that this produced – that a work’s understanding now hinged on what was not art, what surrounded the artist (“I knew very few artists when I was an artist.”). This horizontal interpretation (of all outside what is the artist’s discipline having a bearing on “what the work was about — what it meant — and then how it was worth it to explain”) introduces rhizomatous considerations associated more with Deleuze and Guattari than Danto. This enmeshed, artist identity produces “Attention divided between the world of the people we’re with and this other reality.” The notion of art as conversation was prevalent before the end of art. It was implicated by the artist’s awareness and reference of what went on before the work at hand as well as after. Contemporary culture disrupts this by “The sweetness of something new that’s coming into us on our phone.” This sweetness is not necessarily in real time (nor referential to anything that went before or to come), but of an “other reality.” – acceptable to technologically driven art but not to conversation (which Danto imagined his own work as a critic). Art after the end of art just may involve a heavy emphasis on what is not art!

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SpongeBob And The Angels

October 23, 2013

The reports out of AP and others is that Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati has evicted a monument of SpongeBob SquarePants after originally admitting it, claiming it to be inappropriate. The legal argument (of course) pivots on a cemetery being like a condominium, though anyone who has visited one will attest that no one is living there – the cemetery, that is. Now the grieving are really aggrieved. Monuments are forever. No peace to be found in Spring Grove until this enduring dilemma is resolved.

In a 6-16-13 post entitled Punctum, All Of The Noose That Is Knot considered Eric S. Jenkins’ insights on a Barthesian Punctum within animation. Setting aside Barthes’ obvious corollary of mortality applicable to Spring Grove, what Jenkins had to say on a different matter creates some genuinely eternal concerns. “The punctum of animation, although likewise a punctum of “Time,” is about life rather than death… Jones [famed Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones] might depict the character moving and expressing, but Bugs lives beyond the drawings. This child expresses animation’s punctum, sensing as alive that which exists only as image.” (Critical Inquiry Vol. 39 No. 3 pg. 585) This last line likewise could be used to describe an angel, of which there are probably a considerable number adorning monuments throughout most cemeteries. The Walkers, whose daughter Kimberly the monument is meant to commemorate, now may have recourse on aesthetic and cultural grounds. “Animation, animated subjects do not exist, have never been, share our world and experience only through the image, nothing more.” (this blog’s 6-16-13 post, Punctum). As much could be said for angels, though many, like the child recounted by Chuck Jones, actually see and believe in their actuality. This brings up an even gnarlier quagmire than the often related joke about Catholics in heaven (will anyone of another faith be there?). If our cemeteries are “populated” by what comprises our democracy (though strictly prohibited from being able to cast a vote by our boards of election), who determines the aesthetic, cultural appropriateness of commemorations to be found there?

Spring Grove's Eternal SpongeBob

Spring Grove’s Eternal SpongeBob

Time For An Updated Caberet Revival

October 17, 2013

I am reluctant since I write stream of consciousness, and some folks read as though it is a directive. I hope you aren’t in the latter frame of mind. Recent events have triggered correlations with my research/study. I guess 10 years ago everyone was all in a tizzy over “connecting the dots”. Since then we’ve taken up twitter and twerking, and left the children’s coloring book puzzles for the unsophisticated and immature thinkers amongst us. The school district here is running a final drive to renew an existing ongoing levy that funds the school. That levy has failed repeatedly in the past. Inside knowledge is that tea party activists, opposed to taxation carte blanche, have been very active with regards to their success at creating failure. My neighbors, in the compound down the road, have stopped in to educate me after I put up a pro levy sign the last election go round. The local paper ran articles on how the levy is a last resort. Cuts, etc. have already been made. The state is threatening to take over. The district has shown incredible, excellent results compared to 20 years ago when it was considered an educational doormat. Etc. Yet these folks claim “We’re broke. Vote no”. The paper ran a disappointing article trying to interview the opponents and get their side. Turns out they couldn’t track anyone down that lived in the district amongst the organizers. Of the people who are involved in the organization that actually live in the district, they refused to name them (though all the levy proponents always provide their names). Etc. That same day Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee led the rambunctious rally at the WWII Memorial. There is a correlation between these events (Palin’s group, opposition to the school levy), the default crisis, and the brown shirts in Europe during the 1930’s. It is very complicated.

We have been actively engaged with a war on terror for the last 20 years. Historians and students of culture will affirm that wars of such duration tend to insinuate themselves on the people of the various cultures involved, morphing them into one, so to say. The crossover and intermingling of things like diet, fashion, or music/literature/art are easy to identify. Not so easy to identify is the subtle change in outlook/approach to political process. The plethora of suicide jihadism may, in a way, have rubbed off on how we conduct our own approach to solving our problems, especially when our own belief in righteousness finds itself in the minority (which is the situation the tea baggers find themselves in). So, like the thugs of the thirties, we create a problem, blame the opposition, the “other”, the despised for the problem, and then turn around and aggrandize our ability to solve the problem, to be the solution. Exactly what Cruz, Lee, et al did in Washington. It isn’t that such folks aren’t true to their stated convictions (to make a smaller government, if not eliminate it altogether). Rather, it is this strategy of destroy it, claim the destruction on the “other” and then legislate, or bloviate, or announce, promulgate that your approach is the solution, etc. (after the destruction has been perpetrated). This is precisely what the brown shirts did covertly as well as in an outright violent manner, for primarily racial reasons. But many would say the opposition to anything Obama is likewise racially motivated. My local school levy renewal opponents embrace the same modus operandi. Alan Dershowitz just blasted his (ostensibly) best student (Ted Cruz), claiming his approach to be not exactly what the founding fathers had in mind (of the senator perverting the constitutional framework established specifically to reassure regarding the good faith and credit of the US government; using it as a means of achieving partisan political ends, rather than what the framers intended – guaranteeing the good faith and credit of the nation as a whole). The latest manifestation of this noxious growth is from the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Reuters reports (10-16-13) that the VW corporation wants UAW representation at the plant (management wants the workers organized). Once achieved, VW plans on adding another vehicle manufacturing line. The National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, from out of state, are pouring in money and have filed a law suit on behalf of 4 plant employees to disallow this; in essence to shut down the anticipated growth, if not the facility altogether (one senses a genuine, hand crafted Koch wallet opening here). Our Supreme Court is likewise entertaining the same twisted logic in the recent McCutcheon vs. FEC case brought by the same folks who produced Citizens United. It is to guarantee unlimited individual contributions AND no regulation, oversight or transparency. The logic is based on Supreme Court precedent that those exercising first amendment rights (like the 1950’s civil rights activists) not be subject to regulation, disclosure and transparency in order to protect them from intimidation and reprisal. Today the argument is, after Citizens United, that if spending money is free speech, those doing so should likewise be protected from intimidation and reprisal. It is just a skip and a hop to realize that the disposition, strategy and tactics of the brown shirts lies waiting to expand, completely nascent. It is part of capitalism to rely on “crisis” for the sake of profit (created or otherwise). Without crisis, things become a bit too ho hum, efficient, and the opportunities for “growth” are limited to ones that are real or genuinely new. Tear up the trolley tracks, get rid of the busses and people will buy GM cars to get to work. There’s a brown shirt outlook that has crept into our culture. Social scientists wouldn’t be surprised provided the prevalence of bullying in its unseen underbelly. But this is now bullying which threatens to bring us all down, to damage everyone, those involved as well as those innocent and oblivious – all like the daily news of jihadist suicide bombers to which we, as a people, have become completely inured.

Deja Vu All Over Again

October 1, 2013

What serendipity! This blog’s annual anniversary re-posting of the very first essay coincides perfectly with the times. Makes one wonder…

“Last night I had a dream about reality”
October 25, 2009

Last night I had a dream about reality.

It was such a relief to wake up.

Stanislaw J. Lec

Last night I actually did have such a dream. It was as though a sentence had been imposed, a curse. The fellow in the dream was to live his life within the identical same context as his former had been, only without the history. In this case he was involved with some rural activity and found himself within a farming community where the various folk were identical to those he interacted with previously, only he had no historical handle, no myth with which to have a connection (i.e. a co worker was a different physical entity, yet the job and relationship were as before). His only connection to them, and they to him, was his function, their interaction. So while functioning with them, he couldn’t (or didn’t) animate them with any stories or background, no shared experiences or memories. The functioning and interaction was matter-of fact, with the all encompassing (enshrouding?) pall of “who are these people? What am I doing involved with them? Shouldn’t there be something more, something significant in our interaction?” Everything was done as it ought to be done, as it was meant to be done, by definition in terms of how things function, as though according to a mathematical description of a function. Yet it was likewise totally and completely meaningless. What more, to even ask that it have meaning was meaningless for there was no history, no myth with which to relate it to, connect it to, by which to reference it. People acted with each other, within the functions we have grown accustomed to, that are taken for granted, that we have all come to expect. Yet there was no reason to be had for any of it. What was even worse, there was nothing exchanged within the interaction; as though it is really history and myth that are all that can be exchanged, the only things possible or of value, the exchange of which constitute the only sustenance of meaning. It was such a relief to wake up.