Day 80: Art as Alienation

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Dear all,

today I will just quickly provide you with a brief ‘Marcuse for the Day’ and then get back to my chapter. I promised myself I would have a good writing day today. Let’s see how that goes.

Today’s quote contains a relatively standard Frankfurt School gesture toward what appears to be a lost separation between art and mainstream capitalist culture. The value of this has been debated (as it carries with it the burden of nostalgia), but the argument still apears to contain a spark that may be interesting to consider in relation to today’s situation. Btw: the picture above, complete with SDS aesthetic and nostalgia of its own, is just a quick and dirty example of what one could use as an entry into this discussion (even though it doubtlessly gets ore complicated from thereon out). So here it goes:

What has changed in the contemporary period is the difference between the two orders [art and business] and their truths. The absorbent power of society depletes the artistic dimension by assimilating its antagonistic contents. In the realm of culture, the new totalitarianism manifests itself precisely in a harmonizing pluralism, where the most contradictory works and truths peacefully coexist in indifference.

Prior to the advent of this cultural reconciliation, literature and art were essentially alienation, sustaining and protecting the contradiction–the unhappy consciousness of the divided world, the defeated possibilities, the hopes unfulfilled, and the promises betrayed. They were a rational, cognitive force, revealing a dimension of man and nature which was repressed and repelled in reality.

P.S.: has the following ever happened to anyone else? You wear a Che shirt and someone says: “cool, Rage Against the Machine.” Happens way too often and actually tells me that I should not even be mad, as there is no political difference between both shirts. I have seen one that morphed the famous Che picture with Mickey Mouse and I had to realize that I should not be offended, as both Che and Mickey Mouse have the same political function in today’s US.

Day 79: Marcuse for the Day

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In Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest trilogy a character gets daily e-mail alerts called “Emerson for the Day.” Quite funny, as they stand in direct contradiction to the highly technologized life the character is leading (form which he departs more and more). I keep thinking I should do something like this myself and offer a “Marcuse for the Day” service. We’ll see how long I can keep this up (I’ll probably stop tomorrow–this seems like one of those ambitious Sunday ideas that will be thrown into harsh relief with reality come Monday). But as today is Sunday, let me indulge in my own utopism.

Ok, so here it goes, the first Marcuse for the Day:

If mass communications blend together harmoniously, and often unnoticeably, art, politics, religion, and philosophy with commercials, they bring these realms of culture to their common denominator–the commodity form. The music of the soul is also the music of salesmanship. Exchange value, not truth value counts. On it centers the rationality of the status quo, and all alien rationality is bent to it.

Figured that would speak in interesting ways to the discussions surrounding the political potential of the web 2.0 we have been having and which anaj and skunk are having on their blogs at the moment (still cannot figure out how to make names into links–maybe I have read too much Emerson for the day–ha! whaddoyouknow–just did it–had to go to “code”–damn!–that wasn’t all that hard). Not really sure what picture to put above this. Let me see what I have. Hmmm…maybe one of Emerson. Yep, found one. Wow, sure liked his pomade, that Waldo. Hey: who else likes what blogging does to the temporality of stream-of-consciousness narratives? Ha, ha. aaahh…ok, not that funny. Well, actually I am personally quite amused as I am typing this. I also like to explore this bourgeois indulgence in broadcasting egocentrism in its basest forms induced by the temporally problematic construction of readership. Ahahahahaha! (evil laugh)—read me! READ ME!!!

Ahem–sorry. Got new coffee. It’s pretty good. Topic change (btw: can you tell from my prose that I am desperately trying to avoid getting back to my chapter?).

I should include a visual reference to the FSV Mainz 05. They need all the support they can get.

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Don’t have much else to say for today. It’s a pretty slow day thus far. Have been working on a chapter a little bit and am trying in my mind to articulate the ways in which Marcuse, Baudrillard and Badiou fit together in an analysis of culture’s relation to capital, but that may take me a little longer.

fragmentedly yours–cj

P.S.: I am thinking about abbreviating ‘cerebraljetsam’, going by c.j. and adding he last name ‘Parker’ to it? Who is with me on that one?

Some people stand in the darkness
Afraid to step into the light
Some people need to help somebody
When the edge of surrender’s in sight

Don’t you worry
It’s gonna be alright
Cause I’m always ready
I won’t let you out of my sight.

I’ll be ready
I’ll be ready
Never you fear
No don’t you fear
I’ll be ready
Forever and always
I’m always here.

In us we all have the power
But sometimes it’s so hard to see
And instinct is stronger than reason
It’s just human nature to me

Don’t you worry
Its gonna be alright
Cause I’m always ready
I won’t let you out of my sight.

YEAH! (I think  I just laughed myself a hernia.)

Day 78: More Childhood Nostalgia

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Thinking about Bud Spencer and Terence Hill yesterday made me think about other films and TV series that defined the childhood of my generation. I am sure everyone in my age group can remember the time when TV series did not primarily come from the US or Japan, but from Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia (back then the CSSR), the USSR, etc. Who does not remember the Eastern Block version of the Aschenbroedel story (in the US Diseneyfied into Cinderella): Drei Nuesse fuer Aschenbroedel (literal translation “three nuts for,”well, “Cinderella”–which does not contain the word “ashes,” hence the lower class signification, but we’ll look beyond that for now). Remember the 70s and early 80s when class distinction was still a huge issue represented in popular culture, the awareness of which centrally factored into almost all childrens series (see Silas, or one of my personal favorites of all time: Janoschik der Raeuberhauptmann— a Yogoslavian series about a, well, Robin Hood figure in the Yugoslavian mountains, in this scenario, however, a member of a group of shepards turned militant, I believe)?

There are many, many more things I could list here, all of which I remember fondly because they actually had great storylines and values, invested some thought in the series, short films etc. and were not as mindless as, say, Power Rangers and all the crap that is on TV these days. I wish I could find this old stuff somehwere and raise my children on that, if pop-culture turns out to be completely impossible to avoid in the education process. What I really would like to point out was, next to Janoschik, my other favorite show I am sure many must remember. It was called Die Rote Zora (trans.: Red Zora), was a German-Swiss-Yugoslavian co-production and revolved around a gang of orphans in Yugoslavia led by a red-haired girl. The TV series is based upon the classic German children’s novel of the same title.

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 The story revolves around the mentioned group of children who are sometimes forced to break the law in order to survive, illustrating the anti-social nature of many laws that regulate access to basic goods and the protection of private property. While this may seem chaotic, there is one central law the group structures itself around, the one law all children always follow: solidarity. You can easily see the political and ideological structures this series is based upon, which not only made it so great to me and many, many other people of my generation, generating early on a sensitivity for issues of social justice and the critical analysis of social laws we should not consider to be natural, but potentially subject to critical scrutiny. The influence of this show also inspired a left-radical, militant feminist group to adop this name: they are called “Rote Zora.”

I am sorry I do not have more time to talk about all of this, but I promise I will in the future. There are so many great series, short films etc. that shaped the childhood of my generation that have been lost, or that have been replaced by the mindless crap that today just keeps children occupied. The series I fondly remember made us think critically about society, hence making me consider them invaluable to my political and social education. There is much potential in popular culture, which is doubtlessly why these shows were removed from German TV after the end of the USSR and the GDR. Very, very sad. Makes my very nostalgic and also makes me wonder if it is not possible to find these shows on tape, or DVD. Maybe someone has a suggestion for me.

Day 77: How Berlusconi Ruined My Day

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Dear all,

once again I have been slacking in my blogging efforts. Here my current set of excuses: my dissertation is a shite-load of work, just finished an article on Octavia Butler I wrote on the side, trying to speed-read my way through a bunch of novels I might want to include in my dissertation and I hate flavored coffee (well, this last one really does not have anything to do with me not blogging, but I felt like it needed to be said).  Regarding some of the novels I have read in the last week: if you feel like you should beef up your knowledge of the artform that is New England nautical knotwork whilst reading what must doubtlessly be one of the most brutally depressing stories of the last two decades you might want to read Annie Proulx’ The Shipping News (winner of the 1994 Pulitzer). For an account of the depressing existence of people in rural Maine see Richard Russo’s work and for a re-telling of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women from the depressing perspective of the family’s absent father, a struggling abolitionist in the Civil War, read Geraldine Brooks’ March. Mixed together with Chicago’s contemporary dreariness this is a good recipe for sucking the will to live right out of you in one short weekend.

What else has been happening in my life? Let’s see. I received a coupon for 30% off everything at Blick’s, which only reminded me that I have a whole set of new canvases, brushes and colors but have as of yet lacked the time to actually get back to painting. Have some ideas I really want to put on some of these canvases, but I just cannot find a two to three-hour window during which I would be able to paint without stressing out about my dissertation. Maybe I should just take 30-minute writing breaks and paint something that is an expression of the anger and frustration induced by my dissertation. Maybe this could be some kind of non-representative art in which I trade in brushes and spatulas for old copies of chapters I dip in paint diluted with blood, sweat and tears and then whack them against the canvas, but then again the short window in which action paiting made political and artistic sense was quite small (as many artists sadly do not seem to realize, judging from the contemporary wing at the Art Institute).

Other than that I kinda felt the urge to blog about Guy Debord and the contemporary status of his Society of the Spectacle but whenever I post theory entries my blog traffic comes to an abrupt halt, so maybe I will sneak this in somewhere in the future (between posts on Wolfowitz and Fear Factor–I also have an interesting theory about the connection between cognitive capitalism and eating pig rectum on that show I kinda want to try out on the public–maybe I should explore that in the future). But that is all neither here nor there. What is truly weighing on me heavily today is, as the title of this post indicates, the degree to which Berlusconi has ruined my day, NAY!, my childhood, as well as Christmas. Let me backtrack a little in order to explore this in depth.

One of the rituals I have with my brother when I return home for Christmas (apart from drinking until 7 in the morning on any given night, which is our regional way to celebrate Christmas–in fact there was a legendary event that took place in the early morning of December 25, 1999, which revolved around me being late for Christmas brunch with my family because I apparently frantically ran out of the bar at about 8 in the morning, attempted to take a shortcut home across a graveyard, fell into an empty grave and was too intoxicated to get out, so I decided to sleep things off in there–Kai may have a better perspective on this, as he remembers the events leading up to this more clearly–but I digress)–so as I said, we have this ritual that includes lying on the floor in front of the TV, trying to digest all the alcohol and food, while watching the 645th rerun of pretty much every Bud Spencer and Terence Hill movie ever made. Now, to be sure, these movies are not at all Christmas-y, but hey, it is not our fault they always put them on TV! Seeing fat people smack each other silly in various scenarios ranging from Westerns, through Sicilian police inspectors raiding Japanese sumo dojos, to protecting the world against an alien invasion by means of fistfighting and a little child with a universal remote is just what Christmas is all about for us. Having learned that people in the US do not seem to be familiar with these films, even with the large number of Italian Westerns that are a part of these men’s “oevre”, I planned on blogging about this. Doing some research, however, I found that Bud Spencer in fact recently ran for office on the Forza Italia ticket, following a special request by Silvio Berlusconi. And there goes not just my day, but all the fond memories of exaggeratedly enjoyable Christmas brutality, now forever tainted by right-wing politics. One thing that could salvage this may be the fact that Bud Spencer and Terence Hill also starred in a remake of the famous Don Camillo i Peppone series (about a communist priest always in conflict with the capitalist mayor of the town), in which Bud Spencer plays the capitalist Peppone (are people in the US at least familiar with this series of films?). I always wondered why this Italian series of films portrays the fight between a communist and a capitalist. I would have expected an anarchist in there. But then again that weird Italian radicalism is steeped so deeply in catholic liberation theology that a catholic liberation theology operaismo anarchist might have been too complicated for the films.

Just for good measure:

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Well, in any case, this is all I have to say for today. Oh, apart from mentioning the comedic value of last night’s debate I luckily tivo’ed. If you like your comedy unintentional there were some good laughs in the debate for you! The general gist of the debate and candidate profiles are well summarized by skunk’s (http://skunkcabbage.wordpress.com/) last posts–you might want to check them out.

Day 74: Fascist America

Dear all,

I realize it has been a while since I wrote something, but I have been going through somewhat of a rough patch, which prevented me from blogging.

To get back into my routine I will just a post an article my friend, sociology rock-superstar Natascha, just sent me (in fact, after severe worldwide pressure, she indeed just recently officially adopted the acronym s.r.s. as her middle name). I do enjoy the rhetoric and doubtlessly demagogical project of the article, as we are facing another severe right-wing push in the aftermath of the VT shootings, which tend to situate Ted Nugent as the voice of reason.  Here the link to the article:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2064157,00.html

On a different note, I just saw Hot Fuzz to cheer myself up and the movie is truly funny. Seriously, any movie that exaggeratedly replicates Point Break will find a direct way into my heart. (I do in fact own Point Break, just in case my strong attachment to shite movies has not become sufficiently clear yet.) Makes me nostalgic for England and shows me that aesthetically I am more susceptible to Ivory Merchant than to Sam Peckinpah. Strange.

Oh, I do want to make a serious exception here for the Bud Spencer and Terrence Hill movies. I should really write about those sometime, as I am still shocked by the fact that people in the US do not seem to know them at all. (Yes, I will be resorting to low-brow posts for a while–need to spend my daily dose of smart on other things in order to make sure I’ll get a job someday).

Day 68: Is Political Satire Dead?

Ok, I have to write about something else than Virginia Tech. I just saw this South Park spoof on 300 and in typical South Park fashion it pushes the envelope regarding the troubling politics of the movie even further. Does that automatically make it into a progressive critique? If not, why should South Park get away with its reproduction of regressive politics? Does it get a free pass because it is SO over the top, so uninterested in hiding its problematic political project, that we cannot judge it? It seems like over the years people have just come to assume that South Park is doing something progressive and that therefore we are able and allowed to laugh at their brand of social critique. Is this, however, the kind of one-dimensional work satire (if we even want to call this satire, as satire is far more complex and intelligent than a mereover the top repetition and exaggeration of problems) has been reduced to, merely reproducing stereotypes in exaggerated form and acting as though this were immediately a deep analysis and strong commentary? I personally am quite weary of the political project of South Park, especially after I saw Team America World Police, which I had hoped would be funny in precisely a progressive way, but which turned out to be troublingly regressive and conservative. The latest example of this is the episode you can see an excerpt from below, which, if we are honest, does not do anything to counter the politics of the film its references. If anything, it concretizes deep seated cultural stereotypes. The only difference is that it does so in a way that invites Persians to laugh at them as well, which seems to be the standard brand of contemporary Comedy Central humour: we are all so anti-racist that it is ok to laugh at stereotypes again. It is just important to make sure that the people who are being ridiculed can laugh along with us. This reminds me tragically of Adorno’s dictum: “there is laughter because there is nothing to laugh about.

Viacom seems to be removing this video from youtube quite quickly, so if you cannot see the embedded video, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsjfrr0sZ7Q (that should still be there)

 

Day 67: Memorial Site

Just quickly this link to “Hokies 4/16: A Memorial Site:”

http://hokies416.wordpress.com/