Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Resisting The Lure of Kitsch

Perhaps I am a romantic when it comes to the divine
(though I do think there is neurobiological data to
back up this bias) but I consider verbal
language to be the most
human of attributes. I am afraid of what it will mean
if language is reduced
reduced to genres of speech "cheerful, acoustic."
The foreboding I have for our future is the loss of
language. I can not imagine it. And it brings up a
terrible question of what the new human will be. Of
course, the Futurists explored the idea of new
languages, new ways of communicating, but visual
language is different from the written word.
Eisenstein knew this, all the fascists certainly did,
they couldn't wait to instruct the masses. In the
present time, the military-industrial complex has
evolved into a military-media complex.

There is an
aestheticization of politics on a scale that perhaps
only the clairvoyant Walter Benjamin could have
imagined. The last paragraph of The Work of Art in
the Age of Mechanical Reproduction bears repeating.

"Let Art Flourish--the world pass away," says fascism,
expecting from war, as Marinetti admits, the artistic
gratification of a sense of perception altered by
technology. This is evidently the consumation of l'art
pour l'art. Humankind, which once, was an object of
contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become
one for itself. Its self-annihilation has reached the
point where it can experience its own annihilation as a
supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing
of politics as practiced by fascism. Communism replies
by politicizing art."

And us? What should we do? Is
the only "ism" left "humanism?" What does that mean?
What does it mean to be human in the 21st century?

I am not an eternalist. I embrace the freedom that
comes with this ability to re- organize knowledge. I
think the lurking problem with this free-for-all
organization is that everything becomes equivalent, a
currency to be traded. Popular sites, those capturing
the most attention, will determine not only the
popular aethetics but
the "nature" of the world. It brings up the problem
of kitsch, aethetics and power. Without stability,
the seductiveness of kitsch increases. Not only does
it provide familiarity, it provides community. (The
relationship between kitsch and architecture
especially these very strange planned communities like
Celebration USA is also interesting.)

I take this consideration of kitsch from U. of C.'s
media theory site:

"The appeal of kitsch resides in its formula, its
familiarity, and its validation of shared
sensibilities...The self-congratulatory spirit of
kitsch can also be seen as a deception. Kitsch holds
up a 'highly considerate mirror,' according to Hermann
Broch, that allows contemporary man to 'recognize
himself in the counterfeit image it throws back at him
and to confess his own lies (with a delight which is
to a certain extent sincere).' By providing
comfort, kitsch performs a denial. It glosses over
harsh truths and anesthetizes genuine pain. As Harold
Rosenberg perceived: 'There is no counterconcept to
kitsch. Its antagonist is not an idea but reality."'

You see the problem. In the web-based world, there is
no reality. There is no antidote to kitsch. And what
does that mean for the art of the future?
Mayakovsky and Burliuk threatened to throw Pushkin off
the boat.. But, what happens when there are no old
gods to throw overboard or what if there is simply the
next batch of gods. What is radically different now is
the development of a culture industry and an economy
of attention that can feedback to alter those visions
in real time.

Artist and writers, and all those who want to resist, will need to explore and create
alternative forms of organizing information because
that perhaps above all other systems of "mapping"
shapes our perspective of the world and the vision of
the future.

Some very interesting examples can be found at

Artists and writers need to develop alternative systems for
distributing information and collective/nomadic
actions. We need to explore and demonstrate how these
alternative systems can effect social space and the
construction of community. Psychogeography is one way
to transform a city. Perhaps we could employ a code
and a method for mapping (like the stickers or the
chalk or even texting where clues can be communicated
to everyone participating) with the goal being that
people will arrive at a certain time and place to
witness a performance (preferably something this shy
of legal) on a rooftop or at someone's house or in an
abandoned warehouse....And it ought to be one hell of
a party.

Billboard by artist Suzanne Opton

Movie poster from the U.S. Army

For instance see

check out the pdf file of a mass anti-war effort in
1936 by Princeton students who wanted to be paid a
bonus with the expectation that they would be veterans
of future wars since war had become an endless

Another way to resist is to develop an artistic vision that
recognizes that we are still bodies in
space. That is why live performance is so important.
Performance acts as an antidote to kitsch
because it is happens to real bodies that excrete
sticky fluids.

I would argue that the other antagonist to kitsch is
poetry. It is the hardest form of language, it resists
easy consumption, at its core, it remains unfamiiar,
untranslatable even to the native speaker. Of course,
you will remember that Plato kicked the lyrical poets
out of his perfect Republic (the ones who wrote epics
could remain) "to educate our soldiers."

One of the most effective antidotes to kitsch is humor, (not the safe haven provided by irony)
but slapstick because it involves the body and offends good taste
parody because it represents the possibility of making
the monologic, a dialogue. This regarding Bakhtin's
idea of heteroglossia: If a speaker assumes another's
discourse and "objectifies it" for his own purposes,
the double-voicing is a stylization of the original.
The "stylizer" assumes the assimilated discourse to be
essentially correct and in agreement with his own
aims. Stylization turns to parody when the intentions
of the quoting discourse are somehow different from
the intentions of the quoted discourse. "In contrast
to stylization," says Bakhtin, "parody introduces ... a semantic intention that is directly opposed to the
original one."