Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Kitsch or Why Art Matters

Art is to life as Kitsch is to death. Kitsch has become our COMMON Communion, IMMUNE TO HISTORY, RESISTANT TO REASON. Kitsch is the Ventriloquist’s dummy, a bloodless Corpse at the scene of a real murder. Swept along by the flow of information, we Are detectives forever collecting the evidence, Forever making the case. Seekers of An Undying truth, we have replaced the inconstancy of human witness and memory with the incontrovertible proof of email. –

--from a Petit Manifesto
(for full text and a beautiful downloadable pdf version go to )

Let’s say you make this little film for youtube using public domain images. Let’s say you want to add a soundtrack to it. Let’s say, like me, you have no musical talent and you can’t afford to pay the Rolling Stones a million dollars for a snippet of “”, and you don’t want to appropriate something because most likely you’ll be sued. You might find yourself parked before your Mac with only an inarticulate notion that you wish to generate in the listener a sensation of happiness—not of the transcendent variety, not Ode to Joy joy, just an everyday good feeling. Stymied, you might see what possibilities the application “Garage Band” offers. You might try searching the free loop library for “Cheerful.” You might then, for reasons as varied as personal taste or wanting to invoke a pastoral contentment, limit your search further with the category “Acoustic.”

Play sound file of loops below.

And, damned if they aren’t all cheerful, acoustic--every single one. If one invokes a cowboy riding across the wind-swept plains, and the other a careening red pick-up truck full of drunken teenagers—the general result is the same. Cheerful, acoustic. It is diabolically mechanistic, and too true.

The power of kitsch resides in its ability to imitate the visceral effects of art, if those effects could be simplified. To argue that kitsch does not generate real sentiment: wringing sadness, bleeding pity, bounding joy is wrong. Invoking limpid emotion—eternal and delocalized-- is all that kitsch does well. The purity of feeling acts as a substitute for depth. If kitsch generates an idea as well, it is in the form of a nearly meaningless abstraction like “freedom” or “truth” or “love,” or “hero” or “tragedy.”

The Googlification of knowledge includes the Googlification of sentiment; the most popular will always float to the top.
We cling to the purity of sensation as if to an angel. Yes, I feel. Let the tears flow. Because I have no language left for the more difficult feelings, to say nothing of the more difficult ideas—those located in time and space in the context of a mutable and unreasonable collective or personal desire. I am mute, but I feel. Cheerful, acoustic.

Technology has not forced this upon us. Technology arises from the same social, political and cultural conditions that enable us to utilize it. We need to begin to talk about why this is happening and what we ought to do about it.

We used to have ways of perpetuating the illusion of solid ground: place, season, ritual, history. We used to have words like “sky” and “reason” and “god.” IN A WORLD OF IMAGES, IN A GROWING ECONOMY OF SPECTACLE THE WRITTEN WORD BECOMES A FORM OF PROTEST. WORDS CREATE A LIMINAL SPACE WHERE MEANING CAN BE LOST OR DISTORTED. T
HEIR DISTANCE FROM THE WORLD IS THEIR TRUTHFULNESS. Even if used for propaganda, words are ideologically unstable. The possibility of a secret code is always present. Words operate primarily through ideas. The sensations they invoke are always at a remove. Because written language operates in a looser conceptual space than images, it is in a unique position to disturb and challenge the desire for a particular narrative. It is inherently anti-kitsch.