Archive for January, 2016

Performance Art

January 8, 2016

For the Associated Press, Wilson Ring and Jill Colvin report on presidential wannabe Donald Trump’s latest campaign promotion in Burlington. Vermont (Protesters interrupt Trump Vermont rally despite screening, 1-8-16). The national media has focused on location and the number of folks who lined up (“Thousands of people stood in line for hours waiting to get into the Burlington event after the campaign distributed 20,000 free tickets to the Flynn Center for the Performing Art, which has just 1,400 seats.”). No one seemed to focus on the actual name of the space, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, nor the last part of the name, Performing Arts. D. Trump has been labeled a huckster, a P.T. Barnum, a Wild Bill Cody for his use of the stage, social media, and traditional media. Recently, many sources are analyzing campaign expenditure on advertising, noting that traditional TV ads are still king, with most of the other “lesser” candidates on the slate spending heavily to try to stay relevant. Trump has only begun to advertise within this framework. It appears that Donnie Trump is truly ahead of the pack, not only in terms of the polls, but in understanding the aesthetic of today’s culture. Jacques Ranciere may have theorized about the politics of aesthetics (the traditional take on culture as pertaining to art – architecture, dance, visual arts, music, etc.) as well as the aesthetics of politics (how politics is done) but Donnie Trump actually employs it. He may be one of the first to understand, through utilization, the effectiveness and viability of performance art. Within politics, this is a staple of South American democracies. In the US, it has been neglected primarily through regulation of the constitutional right to assembly (designated protest sites removed from the source of contention and debate). Mr. Trump has utilized the power of performance art to run a campaign without reliance on advertising. With the Burlington event we have his campaign manipulating the populace in order to produce the art (20,000 tickets for a 1,400 seat venue. Apparently Donnie has no regard for fire code). The ticket holders show up, forming a line, creating a news event. Like with open carry gun laws, it is impossible to tell which of the ticket holders in line are the good guys, and which are the bad (for or against the Trump candidacy). As with the performance art of the visual arts, no advertising expenditure created a spectacle, a sensation, an event or happening, whichever you prefer. In crass art terms – he got the message out. Performance art has a long, involved and rich history in American art dating back to Allan Kaprow’s Happenings in NYC (amongst others). Now it has finally entered the lexicon of America’s political aesthetic. Unfortunately, for most of the American public, it is a novelty that doesn’t have a name.

Open Letter To David Brooks

January 3, 2016

After reading The Road To Character by David Brooks (2015) this essay response would not be contained. Mr. Brooks associates character with morality, and (for Mr. Brooks) morality implicates repression. In 2013 The Philosophy Of Dreams by Christophe Turcke was published. Mr. Turcke is catalyzed by Freud’s connection of dreams with repression (as manifestation, enactment, return, etc.) Turcke takes this as a vestigial remnant of the primitive psyche, akin to the human skeleton’s “tail bone” (coccyx). For human primitives trauma was frequent, baffling and totally beyond control. Turcke hypothesizes sacrifice as the primitive response to occurrences of trauma and the ensuing PTSD. Sacrifice in turn creates its own localized and limited kind of trauma, analogous to the bloodletting Brooks describes as being perpetrated on the young Samuel Johnson which was intended to cure while inflicting what was considered to be “minor” damage. For Turcke, repression became part of the evolution of the human psyche in terms of coping with trauma, and the trauma of sacrifice that evolved. After arguing for this, and referencing the discomfort produced not only by trauma and sacrifice but also repression, Turcke links the development/evolution of western culture with repression. For Turcke, Modernity’s entry through Romanticism’s portal of reflexivity spawned the desire and belief that humans could be free of repression. Turcke considers this belief (and the capacities that ensued) to have facilitated the innovations (technical, organizational, economic and ideological) that produced the culture of Big Me which Brooks alludes to. Big Me negates repression through automation (“hi tech”) that provides memory, does the hard work of number crunching, research, enables instantaneous communication (both linguistic and data as well as physical relocation), etc. This may or may not be a Copernican Revolution, though it took the Roman Catholic Church 400 years to admit that Galileo was not immoral. Morality may not be rock solid, fundamental, immutable as the offspring of Plato and Abraham may have us believe. On page 208 Brooks writes a brief segment entitled Humble Ambition in order to “recapitulate the Augustinian process”. It is curious to note that substituting the word “dark matter” for “God” doesn’t significantly alter the meaning of this segment, and is just as consistent. Here’s the end summation utilizing the substitution: “The genius of this conception is that as people become more dependent on dark matter, their capacity for ambition and action increases. Dependency doesn’t breed passivity; it breeds energy and accomplishment.” The God of Abraham and Plato may have been unfathomable majesty, ultimate virtue. The God of the Renaissance/Reformation may have become a patriarch, a father figure. Of the 19th -20th century, a Daddy Warbucks personality morphed with the Law. Morality, what it is to be moral, may likewise evolve along with the human psyche and the knowledge of God. Pre Samuel Johnson, in Bakhtin’s World of Rabelais, homelessness was not an issue. The Industrial Revolution of Johnson’s time methodically drove people from their “homes”. In the world in which most of Brooks’ “characters” formed their morality, the production of food was a challenge, an uncertainty. Today, distribution and waste underlie hunger, not production. Juxtaposing The Philosophy Of Dreams with The Road To Character leads one to justifiably question whether sacrifice and its accompanying repression are integral to morality, being moral. If morality evolves, then perhaps active goodwill and mindfulness (the antithesis of repression), located within the “outside”, external elements of the bifurcation Brooks employs (such as social organizations and institutions), are more important and on the rise. If morality doesn’t evolve, then we can only anticipate a return of the repressed.