Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ashes to Ashes !

Emile Zola is best known as a novelist and founder of the Naturalist movement in literature. He transferred his convictions and values to the area of criticism, and provided a fresh and challenging perspective on the art world of 19’th century France. Of particular note is his review of the Salon of 1899 that appeared in a prominent French newspaper of the time, L’Evenement.

Among a number of topics’ Zola attempted to introduce readers to his aesthetic and emotive outlook on art. He establishes a system of hierarchy of the attributes that make up the work. At one end, Zola observes the “element of reality.” It is the unchanging set of perceptual ideas that we derive from nature and can “serve as a common measure,” if such a thing is possible. At another end, is the “element of individuality.” The unique characteristic of vision of the artist and his creation, without which “no picture could be more then a simple photograph.”

The importance of the individual and unique character in the works of art is stressed through the article. There is little doubt that Zola was delighted by the works of some of his contemporaries with whom he admitted to be “at ease.” (1966 My Hates) In particular, the ideas of the “strong, harsh character” that “seizes nature in his two hands” corresponds perfectly with the works of Gustave Courbet, expecially his famous stonebreakers. The unflagging honesty and roughness of forms give a unique character two the painting of two tired road workers. From the review, it is evident, that Zola could not help but embrace the works of another famous painter of the time. Eduard Manet shared a close bond with the author, and produced works that demonstrated many of the principles Zola held dear. In the work entitled “Olympia,” Manet captured an unprecedented directness in the gaze of a reclining prostitute, mimicking in composition Titian's Venus of Urbino, but achieving a very different feeling. Manet is not treating us with “the little tricks and scheming flatteries” but confronts us with the reality. It is a tired and dispassionate face of the courtesan and the pose untouched by the virtues of chase that give a powerful and unsettling character to the work. On a slightly different level, Zola’s ideas can also be found in the works of Claude Monet. His “Women in the Garden” dated around the same time the review was first published was one of the precursors to what later became impressionism. It depicts a group of people relaxing in the garden, painted with loose brushstrokes in natural light. While the forms are fairly traditional in their representation, the work possesses a unique feeling of personal involvement of the artist. Zola noted his profound interest in the “man” behind the painting rather then a picture.

It will not be fair to constrain Zola’s vision by the statements and propositions as he himself note in conclusion, the changing nature of the arts and expectations and notes the error of judging “works of tomorrow” by contemporary standards.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Yarr ! There be Ribbons !

Yo Mama’s Last Supper (by Renee Cox)

(Fictional)Except from Derrida’s Article “On Supperology” first Published by Ad Busters in December 2004

“…but it should be noted that the deconstructive commentary is not limited to religious institutions, it is a parergon that encompasses a much broader area, including feminism, racism, classicism, art history, concept of originality, even linguistics. There has been much discussion over gender ambiguity in Hebrew and Aramaic writings. Still, despite (or perhaps because of) this grandiose scope of disciplines and institutions that are being questioned and tried, the work falls short to dent the systems and engage us in a serious discussion. It is the response of those who believe themselves to suffer from Cox’s affront, that requires the most attention. Such and emotional and forceful attacks can only indicate the innate instability of the systems and a looming collapse. “

(Fictional)Except from Bell Hooks’s Article “She-A Black Messiah” first Published by Ad Busters in December 2004

“…as such, the image of black Jesus is not unknown in predominantly black communities. But a black female nude is quite a different subject. It is a direct and powerful slap in the face of white religious patriarchal society. It goes without saying, that none of them were prepared to turn the other cheek. Christianity and especially Catholicism, as Renee herself pointed out in a number of interviews, traditionally repressed women, had direct ties to European slave trade and endorsed fascism. A rather large Eucharist for a black woman to swallow. On a different level, “Yo Mama’s Last Supper” offers a chance for men of both colors to practice their gaze. “

Semiotics of Booze

A known British art critic and philosopher Clive Bell left the exhibition accompanied by his American college, a distinguished modernist and scholar Clement Greenberg. A unilateral decision was immediately reached that both behemoths of art criticism were in desperate need of drinks. They set in a dimly lit pub with a row of mugs dissecting the table in half. After a generous amount of beer has been consumed by both men, Clive Bell cleared his throat and broke the silence:

- My dear friend, this is a perfect opportunity to show you a practical application of my Aesthetic Hypothesis. To have blunt copies of established archetypal works, elevated to a status of art is little more then a crude exercise in rhetoric. Granted, it is a peculiar concept, but it wouldn’t pass even as a descriptive piece of work. In fact, it is little more then a banal philosophical exercise. The only significant form is that which is left by the original artist and the lass is claiming authorship for a whiff of air.

Greenberg listened to the impromptu lecture with a mysterious smirk on his face and emptied another mug before replying:
-Ahh but she did get you, didn’t she? Was it not you who defined art as objects that promote emotions? True, the actuators aren’t exactly of the visual nature, but really all that entails in the narrowness of your original hypothesis. Personally, I find the idea quite rejuvenating, as the new avant-garde rising like the phoenix from the ashes of the kitsch! Look around, in this day and age; we are practically surrounded (much as I predicted) by the mass-produced and commodified art. The girl came up with something fresh; the new creation uber-naturalistic in it’s representation of the original and at the same time complete abstraction of its meaning.


The result of that legendary meeting is unknown, as the critics woke up with no recollection of what followed, and rather severe headaches.

Follow the sun

Just to clarify, I am using this blog as simply the means of transferring text between machines, as it seems much faster then dealing with e-mails. Therefore, it is routinely filled with assorted scraps and bits that are of little interest to anyone but the secret services and amateur psychoanalysts. Let it be known that the latter ARE NOT WELCOME!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


He sees my thoughts
- A madman cried
He reads my dreams
And dwells inside
He’s always watching
Ever – wake
He combs the soul with chiding rake
The madness shattered reason’s guard
Like venom mixed with subtle art
He had his prison built of bone
For he can never be alone

Kipchak Khanate
As strands of hair fell in place
She raised a darkened, troubled face
The clouds covered crimson sun
We ride to war – cried out the khan
Across horizon riders spread
Divine Temujin was at head
The greatest force the world had seen
Beside the khan, his impious queen.
She cursed her eyes that made her see
As pagans reign and kinsmen flee.

Abbot heaved a loud sigh as he rose from a tiny wooden table at the west corner of the dimly lit scriptorium. His back ached mercilessly from hours spent bent over the freshly lettered manuscript pages. But today, the pain was the last thing on his mind. He caught the rascal! For the last six months, the abbot harbored a terrible suspicion, that one of the scribes was literate. The vile implications of this possibility were too much to bear, and he effetely tried to shield himself from believing, but day after day, zealously leafed through piles of manuscripts for mistakes that only a literate man can make.

Vendémiaire was nearing its end, and Sanson’s blade began to tire and slow down. A young man tiptoed out of the humble sanctuary in the dusty attic above an old abandoned house, which he hasn’t left in two weeks. The boy that usually brought him food has not showed up, and fresh linens were coming to an end. The man skimmed quickly over the roof and landed on a narrow empty street. Forcing himself not to look at the lampposts, he briskly walked towards a small hovel, and disappeared in the passage.
- So wrote St. Just, president of the Convention for the Month of Ventôse, Citizen of the Rupublic.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Stage Fright

In Being and Time, Heidegger provides a summary of Sheler’s position on the questions of actions and personhood. We are given an incentive to draw distinction between the psychical being, as a secluded inner entity, and the personal Being, that in Scheler’s view (as presented by Heidegger) “exists in the performance of intentional acts.” This leads to an investigation into the nature of the acts.
To establish a link that connects the acts and the person, it is necessary to investigate what it means for the acts to be performed. Performance is usually viewed as an effort to begin a certain task with intent of carrying it to completion. The problem arises, when the outcome does not reflect the intent. Should such an attempt be considered a performance of an act? If an act is defined in terms of the correlation between intention and outcome, failing to perform a certain task should not be considered as an act, but could be composed of an array of other acts. For example, a writer who spends a year unsuccessfully trying to publish a book, does not perform an act of “publishing a book” but accomplishes performing a number of underlying acts such as purchasing notebooks and writing pages. Similarly, “failing to publish a book” should also not be regarded as a genuine performance of the action. However, such a hardline definition does not accommodate for “trying to publish a book” – a performance rooted in a supposition of a desired outcome. Similarly, mistakenly publishing a movie script, due to sending the text to a wrong address, should not negate the act of trying to publish a book.

We are discouraged from viewing acts as mere physical manifestations, yet an act usually carries with it a physical component. They can be argued to originate from our spirits in a form of motivation and be physically enacted by our body. Granted, some motivations reflect the needs of the physical body, but it is the spirit that gives them meaning. This union of body and spirit in act has traditionally been seen as the basis for personality.

A spirit for Sheler, is not locked in the confines of mechanic rationality, it is a driving force and the originator of all that separates us from objects such as tables and pieces of chalk. The concept of a “soul” is subject to religious interpretation and it’s meaning, properties and value are inseparatable from a particular system of belief. It can be seen as either an involved originator of action or as a mere bystander that has little effect on the decision making process. Thus, it will perhaps be fitting to limit the consideration of the concept of a soul that leads directly to a lengthy theological discussion, and is practically useless without resolving the questions of faith. A spirit, though frequently used as a synonym to soul, is free from dogmatic connotations and does not rely on a belief of certain incorporeal presence.

Let us assume that a spirit is a sentient quality that arises from physical phenomena such as the firing of electric impulses between the neurons. That entails that a “meaning” could be charted and represented in its entirety as a consecutive series of signals. But would such a measure provide a valuable insight into the value of the meaning? Similarly, a painting can be represented in binary code that a machine can use to put together, but it will not carry a full account to the meaning behind the piece. Thus, even a deeply materialistic view of the origin of meaning involves a presence of a certain spirit as a sentient manifestation of a virtual “presence” of the higher order then the body that creates it. We are thus left with a more inclusive definition of a meaning that will shed light on the question of its origin and it’s relation to the intentions that are instrumental in formulation of the acts.
The attempts to identify the personhood through examination of the psyche ultimately lead to tautologies. Sheler’ solution, to view persons inseparably from their performance of the acts provides a way to overstep this pitfall. A continuous string of meaningful acts bring together the physical and psychical components as well as the outside influences and responses, giving rise to such considerations as need and responsibility that a purely psychical being is barred from.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Comical Tragedy and Tragical Comedy of Pufferfish

Joseph Kosuth - Conceptual artist and critic
Judith Butler - Gender theorist
Jean-Francois Lyotard - Philosopher and literary theorist

Act I
Scene I

(The small dimly lit room of Don’s Club Tavern. Only few casual diners before the bar section.)

(Enter Kosuth, Judith Butler and Lyotard. All three appear to be in the middle of an ongoing discussion as they settle around a table and order drinks.)

Lyotard – As I already stated and repeated through the lecture, Habermas’s definition of the nature of Postmodernism is rather flawed. He stubbornly continues operating with opposing terms, refusing to acknowledge the continuity of the two projects and indeed their oneness. If you read Kant…

Joseph Kosuth – Oh please! There you go again, quoting philosophers, those morticians of crumbling ideas. You spoke (as some length) of the post modern connection to modernism and hereditary nature of arts, yet you miss the point that the only connection between earlier works and pieces is determined when the new demands cause us to discover some aspects of those works that have relevance today.

Butler (to Lyotard) – Your implications about the lack of direct distinction between the Modernist and Postmodernist theories makes about as much sense as some of the Wittig’s claims…

Kosuth (under his breath) – Not the Wittig’s quotes again!

Butler (continues) – If we look at just one area of thought, such as gender identity, the difference is overwhelming. While no one in her(sic!) right mind will deny that the roots of Postmodernism are in the Modernism (such a denial would be foolish even on a purely linguistic basis) there exist a wide gap between the two theories. As the restrictive patriarchal supremacy (glares at Kosuth) denies me the right to quote whom I will, let me move on to express my sincere concurrence with your definition of art as boundless and unobstructed by totality. A belief that all three of us seem to share.

(The trio hugs and storms out of the tavern holding hands and dancing along the 6th Avenue.)


Drowning Chickens

The sour and musky air of Wan-Tong Lucky Tiger restaurant mixed with a quick gust of fresh wind, as a curious trio stormed into the main lounge. A slender aging man with mild middle-eastern face positioned himself near a small table in the corner. He was immediately joined but two companions, a tall black gentleman with a small beard and a petite lady whose features betrayed her Indian origin. After ordering three plates of General Tao Chicken and a bottle of rice wine, the woman spoke in a deep soothing voice:

-Now Edward, I can not agree more wholeheartedly with your assertions about the depth to which the west misunderstands the east, and indeed the very nature of this crude distinction. But the constructed charm and appeal of the oriental rests in its relative isolation from the European influence. At least, you have a sense of the way things are in reality amongst yourselves. What the post-colonial cultures have to go through is confusion over the actual nature of our presupposed values. The western perception of India has penetrated deep into its very soil and is now almost inseparatable from the authentic. I think Olu will confirm my words.

The tall man disposed of another chunk of succulent chicken, then proceeded to wash it down with a hearty gulp of wine. Finally, he spoke:

- Yes Gayatri, you are quite right. After all, there should be a sense of camaraderie between those who lived in the ex-British colonies. (Olu paused for a second observing the effect his Marxist joke has had on his colleagues) Nigeria today really is a peculiar eclectic mix of reality and it’s perception that takes root and becomes just as real. As I am sure can be said about India or even this merry ex-colony where all three of us happen to end up. But it would not perhaps be prudent to suppose that the same process did not take place in the context of the orient. In fact, Eddy pondered the very subject in the beginning of the lecture that you had to miss.

The older man looked at his companions and a broad smile spread across his face.

-My dear friends, have I forgotten to mention that I grew up in Egypt? We are all three of us products of British colonialism. My lecture was not however centered as much around the impact of the west, as it was a discourse on the constructs that originated in the west and continue to propagate here. We have to acknowledge the problem with the source, before we can attempt to counter the effects it has on our respective cultures. Now, I have always wanted to try sushi, will you care to join me in this little exotic experiment?