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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Starting with Anthony Powell and ending with De Kooning via Hegel









 
Several weeks ago I was invited to lunch by a good friend,Addison Parks, who asked several mutual acquaintances to join us. I recalled that one of the guests in his role
of gallery director had shown the work of a friend of mine, Don Shambroom ,whom
I had met at college almost forty years ago. I told the gallery director,John Wronoski,
that this friend had appeared and disappeared in my life and had
recently reappeared after an absence of ten years by being highlighted
as someone I might want to link up with on LinkedIn. The gallery director, 
who is also an antique book dealer, said that my description of this
 relationship reminded him of the Anthony Powell twelve volume book
”A Dance to the Music of Time”, that follows the lives of a group of Oxford
 graduates over a lifetime as their movements conjoin or pull apart.

Recently I decided to make the leap from virtual reality to
the real world and actually get together to chat with this artist friend.
We arranged a visit at his home in Massachusetts.
One thing we learned in our five hour talk is that there
were other people, whom we both knew, who were participating in
this dance, some, in particular, art professors from College whom we
both knew and others whom we had become friends with separately. The first
of these latter connections was our visits with Norman Rockwell in the
Sixties as aspiring young teenage artists. We both got the same
advice from him to go to art school and not college, which
we both ignored.

Our conversation touched briefly on my blog and in particular the piece on
the “Humpty Dumpty Effect”. My description of this process had a strongly
entropic bias to it. As Yeats said in "The Second Coming: ” Things fall apart
the center cannot hold”. De Kooning’s name came up as someone who took
things apart and then tried to put them back together again. Cubism allowed him
to tear  apart but the holism of the human body and the force of his gesture
allowed him to tie everything back together in a way that the human body had
 never before been subjected to: centripetal and centrifugal
 at each others throats. Last night I came across a book on Heidegger’s late
writings entitled “Four Seminars” that are transcripts and analyses of
gatherings of Heidegger and his students in the South of France to discuss
 in particular some portentous Hegelian sentences. All of this is off the cuff.
His references range from Wittgenstein to Marx to Norbert Weiner. A quote
from Hegel becomes the source material for a long discussion, which I think is
relevant to what has been said above in regards to de Kooning.The original
statement by Hegel goes as follows:” A mended sock is better than a torn one”.
 Heidegger transforms it into his preferred form:” A torn sock is better than
a mended one.” His discussion revolves around unity. When the sock is whole
and being worn we are not aware of its unity. When it is torn we become aware
or self-conscious of what holds it together in its being as sock. Therefore the split
points to a preceding wholeness. To mend it brings it whole again but with a
self-awareness of an underlying unity. Is this not what de Kooning does: he
takes the world apart and then tries to mend it. Hegel says that the scission
points to a need for philosophy. I think that this bringing
back together is explosive in two ways: #1 the effort to tie things back, the
mending. #2 The force that resists this mending and wants to dissolve again.
His work participates in a dialectic as it moves back and forth between
 the whole and its parts and back again to a new whole.

      

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Impossiblity of transcendence in American Art

I remember an artist, who had recently lost his wife to cancer,  telling me of his inquiry into what various religions had to say about the afterlife. All I remember is what he had to say about the Mormons, for whom heaven is just like the world we live in on earth,  just permanent.When you die, you will be greeted by all your dead kin and I assume go on pretty much as you did here, but, forever, as one big happy family. Such a belief doesn't make the real inferior to the ideal, but in a strangely counter-intuitive fashion reinforces the validity of the here and now. It is as though the higher realm of heaven gives its divine seal of approval to life on earth. I wonder if this belief is quintessentially American. I read recently in the diary of Bataille, where he described the arrival of the American soldiers in Paris at the end of WW11, and how with their swagger seemed to epitomize a certain immanence of the ideal in the real. Americans don't struggle to transcend the real but are masters of manipulating it and reinforcing it. It explains the predominance of Pragmatism in American philosophy.There are problems to be solved and social injustices to be abolished. Pragmatism  dominates the airways: on cable TV with their shows on loggers,truckers, fisherman. There is no time for meditating on the meaning of the universe when you got a lien on your equipment and have to produce to make the payments. The strangeness of existence, the why and wherefore of our individual life is not an issue, except as raw survival.  I think the sitcoms we see today and those of the past show American Families shoehorned into a kind of eternal present and through the magic of film are eternally young in the endless reruns,(is that the Mormon heaven on earth?) until you see somewhere that the actors have died of drug overdoses or god forbid die of old age.Whether the family is traditional or not,  the story is the same old notion of trying to get along despite one's differences.

Richard Rorty, an American Pragmatist philosopher, is sympathetic to deep thinkers who problematize everything as long as they don't get in the way of the liberal agenda of according  more and more rights to more and more social subsets. We have to be above all good citizens. Strange thoughts of our origins and destinies are to be kept to yourselves. He sees them as intriguing mental exercises, which when applied to society, result in the violence of German and Japanese politics between and during the two World Wars. The Nazi's fell under the spell of Nietzsche and the Overman and the Japanese fell under the spell of Zen. On the one hand you had the will to power and on the other the will to nothingness. On the one hand you had the Holocaust, on the other Kamakazi pilots. A nuanced study of Nietzsche's thought and Zen Buddhism find that both belief systems can be interpreted to be heuristic attempts to control excesses of self-assertion, that Nietzsche thought the German's prone to, and infatuation with the void, which Zen tries to disabuse its adherents of. Because they put the region of that struggle within the individual's consciousness and not in the self as part of a community, makes them susceptible to thymotic excess. No more drama of the saints trying to be at one with God. No more struggles with right or wrong within the soul; the battles are all societal. Heidegger deconstructs consciousness as too wrapped up in Christian theology and wants through Dasein to place it back in the world. Our sitcoms do the same as they disabuse us of any notion of individual superiority to the group.The dads are all either castrated clodhoppers or bigoted buffoons.

I have been reading a book by Malcolm Bull. Never heard of him until I stumbled across his book on Nietzsche at Barnes and Noble. Browsing in bookstores will soon be a thing of the past,alas!!
He seems to be a student of Deleuze and  contemporary social theory. He quotes on several occasions  Kojeve, the famous interpreter of Hegel, who was responsible for introducing Sartre to the work of Hegel and Heidegger, an enounter which generated Sartre's "Being and Nothingness". Kojeve sees humanity in the modern world as  resembling more and more a herd. Unlike Nietzsche, who was horrified by this process toward a mass culture, Kojeve embraced it as inevitable, beneficial and sees it as a sort of negative transcendence. We would now transcend our humanity by becoming more animal. Malcolm Bull says:"Becoming animal is becoming modern, perhaps as Kojeve suggests the future of modernity".  Kojeve imagines  this new humanity(if "human" would even apply any more to this new species)would "perform musical concerts after the fashion of frogs and cicadas." No more solo parts.No more tension between the hero and the chorus. Maybe we will all look like "Swamp People" who in the latest ad are made to resemble their prey.By the way, Kojeve is one of the fathers of the European Common Market.

Not a very pretty picture:the Mormon happy family as sclerosis of the ideal in the real and on the other hand an animalization of the race which is masked as humanism. All that science does with its logos is to provide a rational for this herding of the species.It makes it more reasonable.

see my essay on Heide Hatry