BREAKING NEWS: Question of "What Is Art" answered conclusively

More information here. Film at eleven.

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  • 45 Thoughts on “BREAKING NEWS: Question of "What Is Art" answered conclusively

    1. That’s a lousy excuse for art.

    2. turff on April 29, 2008 at 9:50 am said:

      Yeah, this sort of thing really bugs me.

    3. Dang! Too bad you guys are three hours ahead of me. I was itching to get one of those in.

    4. I feel this group has taken its artistic lice-ense a bit too far.

    5. It just gets under my skin how loosely they define art.

    6. I’m itching to tell them off.

    7. (Oops — Mike already took that one. Dang.)

    8. As my son says of modrun art, “I am not convinced.”

    9. I’m not sure, but I think this is art.

    10. jeff on May 17, 2008 at 5:34 pm said:

      Bravo, Dale. Bravo. One can only speculate what led you to this particular website. I don’t think I want to know the answer to that question.

    11. marc on May 19, 2008 at 9:21 am said:

      There’s this whole domain of humor out there that I can’t approach too closely because it involves playing with material that leads to physical sensations of disgust. I couldn’t even bring myself to click on a page to view the pictures.

      It’s like the whole dwarf thing.

      Even “Old Greg” had me a little shaky.

      At the level of theory I want to see myself as a Rabelasian, but in practice, I just don’t think I can stomach it.

      I am trying to view the site and the POE page as some instance of Marcuse-like libidinal expenditure that will shock the mighty and lead to Revolution, but even that is difficult.

      I wonder if web surfing makes us vulnerable to equating the outrageous things we stumble upon with a kind of naive genius at work. In other words, we idealize people realizing their perverse fantasies in cyber space as a kind of primitive art. We see shameless audacity as innovative boldness.

      It’s like getting carried away and losing perspective on vintage Seventies porn and trying to see it as edgy ironic textured cinema.

    12. jeff on May 19, 2008 at 9:32 am said:

      And what’s so wrong about “shameless audacity?”

      I, personally, can go for some big girls in some party hats.

      “Old Greg,” on the other hand …

      (My daughters introduced me to “Old Greg” just yesterday. Frankly, I just don’t get it.)

    13. marc on May 19, 2008 at 12:13 pm said:

      “Shameless audacity.”

      I did trip myself up there, didn’t I. It’s a sexy phrase. Make you wish someone would attribute it to you, I suspect. And why not.

      Is art shamelessly audacious if it’s a perverse fantasy rendered in some material representation?

      And yet. Robert Crumb is a great artist to my mind. He’s like a Bosch. Through a visual representation, you are invaded bodily with unwelcome sensations. An image obtaining a shocking intimacy. Unbelievable.

      However, Fat Chicks in Party Hats is like someone getting attention by showing a winking sphincter. I suppose it will get talked about. It has an air of inspired shameless audacity about it in its singularity (actually it’s the phrase, the title, isn’t it?–the images themselves are kind of secondary).

      Einstein: E=mc2
      Miquel: Fat Chicks in Party Hats

      Two singular achievements.

      How dare you make me sound like a bun-headed school marm…

      Aha, makes me realize I need to think through my own fantasies of meaningful subversion, shameless audacity, etc., and determine what I value. What would I embrace and not dismiss?

      Why can’t I just make a funny comment and get along?

      That train? That one goes to Dachau. Kosher livestock. Hah-hah…

    14. jeff on May 19, 2008 at 12:37 pm said:

      Actually, you wouldn’t be one-tenth as interesting, Marc, if you “just made funny comments and got along.” Let me do that. We need you to do more important things. Like provoke us.

      And I think you’re right. It’s the title. The pictures are secondary. I barely looked at them. Barely.

    15. Turff on May 19, 2008 at 12:50 pm said:

      (enter unwelcome mental image of Jeff perusing site)

    16. If you read more than five pages, it becomes funnier and funnier, although of course the genius of it (and here I refer to the inhabiting spirit) is due to the absolute inability of Miguel to wrestle English to the ground in any satisfactory way. Yes, primitive art. Marc was right.

    17. I’ve only seen the one episode of Old Greg, but Grayson told me some of the rest of the tale, and I think that Old Greg is a tragic figure along the lines of Ariadne.

    18. marc on May 20, 2008 at 8:31 am said:

      I’ve had dark moments where I’ve been so desperate to achieve some kind of recognition that I’ve imagined trying to pretend to be primative. But I don’t think I have enough of any kind of gift to calculate and disperse all the “delights” we sophisticated types like to discover in Primative Art. Talk about too much consciousness getting in the way of creating.

      It’s often asserted that the best art shows evidence of the artist having by-passed consciousness in some way and tapped in to that great Ur-thing, the Source, the Universal, Essence, Reality, what have you. It seems to me, though, that “consciousness,” even if we see it as some kind of incidental burp of synapses, as a collection of epiphenomena, is still a perfectly viable material with which to work. It’s as real an aspect of experience as sight or hearing, surely. It isn’t just something that gets in the way.

      What does this have to do with Fat Chicks in Hats? I haven’t gone to the photos. Is it a conscious achievement of the sublime by some cyberspace Ur-artist? Or are we finding things in ourselves as we investigate it? Does it matter?

      Sigh, why does JB keep implying I’m not funny?

    19. jeff on May 20, 2008 at 9:10 am said:

      I’m laughing on the INSIDE, Marc!

    20. jeff on May 20, 2008 at 9:14 am said:

      You should read Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained.” His take on consciousness is fascinating stuff.

      Also, Pinker’s “The Blank Slate.” One of my favorite non-fiction books.

    21. marc on May 20, 2008 at 10:13 am said:

      How do you know I haven’t read Dennett’s Consciousness Explained? Did my observations strike you as too…primitive?

      Sore spot. Wrote a paper in grad school in which I used Dennett a bit and tried lacing it with some Lacan. Made the mistake of using mathematical symbols in a non-mathematical way (on purpose) to make some point about autonymous symbolic processes and to try and link that to Dennett’s notion of consciousness as a set of “emergent” phenomena. My professor, however, a former physicist, couldn’t get past the fact that I’d used mathematical symbols incorrectly. He also, being a good West Georgia Transcendental Psychologist, didn’t like the fact I was implying consciousness might be, in part, a series of contingent structures. I was being “reductionist.” Didn’t do well.

      Zizek does some work with Dennett. Let me look around here. I think I have a copy.

      Remember, I’ve read everything. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

    22. marc on May 20, 2008 at 10:17 am said:

      As for being the thoughtful one and not the funny one: It’s like when she tells you you’re the one she wants to marry but not the one she wants to have nasty settee-breaking sex with.

      It hurts.

    23. jeff on May 20, 2008 at 11:50 am said:

      I’ll have nasty sex with you anytime, Marc. All you have to do is ask.

    24. jeff on May 20, 2008 at 11:52 am said:

      And, yes, I am very aware of the fact that you have read E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.

      One of the benefits of … oh, never mind. I can’t say that.

    25. marc on May 21, 2008 at 9:19 am said:

      You seem to have created an outer boundary for yourself beyond which lies the taboo. How sexy for you.

      For me, it doesn’t represent a giant gorilla in the room; I’m happy to talk about it.

      I didn’t set out consciously to become a zero net worth individual, but being one has led me to try and be both philosophical and sociological about the situation. And maybe a touch religious. Being a lily in the field has its pitfalls and challenges.

      You may be offended at my gospel appropriation there, but I am as sincere as it’s possible to be given my precarious situation. Perhaps I could also invoke the cliche “there but for the grace of God…etc” If I was not married to a bread winner, I honestly don’t know if I would be making my own living or not. I might not be in a position to have the luxury to speculate, certainly. I possess a vague nagging sense that if I were not being underwritten I’d be a homeless person. And I don’t say that in a state of self-pity. It’s something of a clinical appraisal. In fact, I view that likelihood with a certain cool headed curiosity.

      Questions that circulate around the issue of human survival have always been with me, even before I realized I had settled into a problematic state. In a way, I could call it my own particular conversation with the Divine. I hope that doesn’t sound too insane. Is necessary predation or an inevitable battle for resources part of an eternal state of being in sin? Or can everything evolve? What do we do with Kropotkin’s observations about social organization among species that works against the battle for individual preservation?

      From a sociological perspective with a psychoanalytic flavor, I think I represent to others an uncastrated or uninitiated male. You may call that bullshit, but it’s still a valid possibility considering how most societies work. And as an unfinished male, I get certain responses. Consider you’re own self-imposed prohibition on making a comment, perhaps thinking that would go too far. You sense I have not received the necessary cut, but you recoil from the violence of it because you’re a nice guy. We want the cut to be imposed institutionally, anonymously, perhaps. My indecision, my reading, my collecting of degrees, my current situation, all these elements can be summarized in a certain kind of narrative that emerges from the times in which we live. It’s not the narrative I own, however. I have the luxury, the privilege, the luck, to explore other narrative possibilities and so I do. Just doing my bit for the troops. If and when the bottom falls out, it’ll be interesting to see how the narrative changes, both in terms of what is imposed from without and what I do within.

    26. marc on May 21, 2008 at 10:01 am said:

      “All you have to do is ask.”

      I never ask for sex, only for occasional discounts.

    27. marc on May 21, 2008 at 10:03 am said:

      And then hand over my wife’s credit card.

    28. jeff on May 21, 2008 at 10:14 am said:

      Actually, I was going to say, “One of the benefits of having a classical education,” but thought better of it.

      (I believe in politics that this is commonly referred to as “back-pedaling.”)


    29. jeff on May 21, 2008 at 10:15 am said:

      And that is one HELL of an “initiation” you propose, my friend. Keep me out that THAT society.

    30. jeff on May 21, 2008 at 10:26 am said:

      Actually I was in a similar situation for two years following my failed venture into politics, which required my resignation from my job. So I have some experience here. And I must say that in my own personal situation I did not make good use of my time. But that’s just me.

      I am interested in your “narrative possibilities.” Maybe we can expect a follow-up?

    31. marc on May 21, 2008 at 1:39 pm said:

      I think all of us UGA journalism majors are grateful for and proud of our “classical education.”

      “I did not make good use of my time” is a narrative possibility. One can certainly make use of it. This particular narrative possibility gives a nod toward the expectation of productivity, of personal and professional advancement. It’s a way to somehow signify to the symbolic Other that we know the Law even if we could be found guilty of breaking it.

      “I have never made good use of my time” is a variation. If I employed that one, and I certainly could, I’m trying to offer a narrative that positions me in another way with respect to social expectations. Even the hyperbole is part of the transaction, adding a touch of irony designed to modulate everyone’s anxiety. I’m even trying to assert myself a bit as the “lovable exception.” It’s offering an acceptable manner for people to “worry about me” without things getting out of hand.

      We have a number of narrative possibilities available to us that are “off the rack” in a certain way. And in many situations it’s what we use to make do. We make do with the pre-manufactured stuff because crafting a totally new narrative is exceedingly difficult. Almost impossible. Think about it. What else can you say about your two years “before the mast” (obscure allusion is certainly another narrative option) that will pass social inspection or at least register as comprehensible to others and the Other? To yourself, even. And without ignoring other established narratives that help maintain social coherence. And re-enforce your status as an initiated male in good standing (maybe you’re not truly initiated if you were under the radar for that long…very suspicious).

      I find my situation physically exhausting because I don’t have a narrative to deploy in certain situations. Which means I haven’t found an alternative that gets rid of fear and guilt and shame and all the rest. So at times I take the path of avoidance.

      It’s about time for Dale to interrupt and offer The Solution.

      While we’re waiting, I will add that new narrative possibilities are creative challenges and can make for interesting political possibilities, too.

      In analysis you could have fun with the resonances of the phrase: not working.

    32. Dale has been busy all day and just discovered that y’all have been having a conversation without him. Let me do car riders traffic and then I can really read this.

    33. jeff on May 21, 2008 at 2:33 pm said:

      I love this:

      “We have a number of narrative possibilities available to us that are ‘off the rack’ in a certain way.”

      What I love is the metaphor employed here … narrative possibilites as types of clothing, with some choices being pre-fab and others spun by hand.

      I also enjoyed this:

      “I find my situation physically exhausting because I don’t have a narrative to deploy in certain situations. Which means I haven’t found an alternative that gets rid of fear and guilt and shame and all the rest. So at times I take the path of avoidance.”

      To which I have the following question. I ran across a tape of Peener Man while I was cleaning out my recently totalled van last weekend. Was this play a type of early narrative defense? And of course this type of defense was only plausible so long as the Peener Man was living at home, in danger of wandering off into the wild world at any moment, in need of constant protection.

      Fear? Guilt? Shame? This sounds familiar. When I took my two-year sabbatical, I felt justified since my salary was a pittance compared to that of my wife (even now she makes three times what I do!)

      But it came up so often in conversation .. “So, what do you do, Mr. Bishop?” Well, I used to be a journalist. Now I mostly shuttle kids around town and dream about projects I’ll never get around to actually completing.

      So my current job is kind of a shelter, I suppose. “Why, it’s funny you should ask. Don’t you read the newspaper? I write for the newspaper!” Perfectly acceptable answer.

      Now free of the fear, guilt, and shame, I feel much more FREE (psychologically speaking) to pursue those things that I really want to do.

      What am I trying to say? What I mean is, even though I had much more “free time” prior to my current employment, I didn’t FEEL free. I felt shackled by the expectations of others. My guilt PROHIBITED me from doing the things I really wanted to do. “I should be doing something that will ultimately lead to some money,” I would tell myself, “and not this thing I’m really passionate about.”

      Now I can answer all those questions at dinner parties. In fact, the questions never even come up. Everyone already knows what I do.

      So even though I may be “castrated,” as Marc has said, I certainly FEEL much more free than I did before, and I feel purged of every ounce of guilt, shame, etc.

      So, yeah, I’m initiated.

      But even though I would love to have more hours in my day, I’m not envious. Honestly, it’s a big burden, to choose that life. More of a burden than I could handle.

    34. jeff on May 21, 2008 at 2:36 pm said:

      And this conversation, by the way, is “for drunk.”

    35. Warning: This is not a Solution.

      Marc’s description of his state—notice how carefully I followed his lead in not typing ‘himself’—as “uncastrated, uninitiated” struck me. Yes, the initiation is a “cut,” but the cut is not a “castration.” Quite the reverse, isn’t it? The threshold of initiation is pubescence, the dropping of the balls, the growing of the hair, the lengthening of the dick.

      While I’ve never had the burden/opportunity of unemployment, I think the sense of uninitiation is one we all share. The sense of inadequacy, the sense of not being as big as Daddy, the impostor syndrome.

      No, I’ve never been an entrepreneur, a captain of industry. I’ve never had a job that was impressive in the least, especially not now. “I’m an elementary librarian. I check out books to kindergarteners.” And yes, my wife is an executive who makes twice as much as I do.

      I think Marc’s situation is almost exactly like a middle class woman’s of the 1950s: kids are grown or almost, and now people begin to wonder, how does she fill her time? What is she doing? I am not attempting to “feminize” Marc’s dilemma in any way; I think it’s a peculiarly American dilemma, neither male nor female.

      Although, of course, a woman in Marc’s position would not find herself questioned by society in such a pointed way. That’s the “cut” we have to sustain as men in our culture.

      So, to return to my original idea, I think Marc’s “fear and guilt and shame” are based on a sense of being an American not-man, a boy, one who, if I may use one of my patented sexualizations here, wraps a towel around his hairless groin to go out to the showers in the middle of the open-air changing area, envious and fearful and desirous of the tall, muscular, and above all hairy and hung men around him.

      Um, not that that everhappened to me. As a boy. Ever.

      But a solution to that fear and shame? Don’t look to me for one. I can’t figure out my own response to Marc’s situation, much less proffer advice to him on how to resolve it.

    36. jeff on May 21, 2008 at 5:16 pm said:

      Maybe the only “problem” is the that society has a “problem” with it at all. In other words, maybe it’s society’s problem, and not Marc’s. But I will tell you this … society is BRUTAL on this point. You are CONSTANTLY reminded that you really aren’t a man. It’s a tough situation.

    37. Agreed—I didn’t mean to suggest that it’s Marc’s problem. It all boils down to whether Marc has a problem with it. But, as you say, it’s tough.

    38. marc on May 22, 2008 at 6:06 am said:

      I don’t wish to disrupt Dale’s revery, but let me quickly explain the odd Lacanian take on the word “castrated.” The boy-child may have the fear, rooted in some idle comment from a parent or just from imagination, that if he continues with his attentions toward Mommy, Daddy or Mommy will punish him by cutting off his pee-pee. In other words, castration brings an end to the special incestuous relationship with Mommy.

      Lacan took that Freudian observation and applied it to our experience in society. We are not permitted to maintain an exclusive incestuous relationship with Mommy. We have to give that up. So we have to accept the castration. Symbolic castration. For instance, let’s say the child has developed a private language that is incomprehensible to parents or peers. Lacan might offer that the child is attempting a certain merging with the mother in this, even if the mother does not understand the language. Sooner or later this special intimate maternal linkage will have to be discontinued, the kid’s going to have to communicate with others, or there will be problems.

      So in a tribal sense, when the boy is taken from the world of women and submitted to some ordeal, some “cut,” it is an enactment of this necessity, a castration. The symbolic pact among people is a sharing of having been cut off from the one impossibly great good thing, Mommy, jouissance, etc.

      The hero often receives a wound during the journey or ordeal. Same idea.

    39. marc on May 22, 2008 at 6:25 am said:

      You can see how if you keep it a brief thumbnail sketch, the question of the woman’s place in all of this is going to generate dissatisfaction all around. That’s why in Lacanian stuff you get into Masculine and Feminine positions, sexuation, lack, the phallus, etc. We may not find tribal rites very PC, but there is an attempt there to grapple with something.

      Obviously, both men and women submit to symbolic castration. We all renounce the impossible incestuous link. Or we don’t. Or we’re somewhere in there, mushing things around, hedging our bets. Voila, the Lacan clinic: neurotics mourn their castration, perverts enact the facade of castration as their jouissance, and psychotics didn’t get cut at all.

    40. So. Why do you fear the cut? It only stings for the moment, and the subsequent pain is bearable. Then, like Coriolanus, you can show your wounds to those who berate you, for all the good it did him.

      Or is that the wrong question again?

    41. And I have to say, I’m a trifle nonplussed by the Lacanian casting of maturation as a castration, symbolic or otherwise. Are they suggesting that it would be a good thing to suckle at the Mother’s Breast forever? And even if we grant that being forced away from the Breast sucks—see what I did there?—why portray growing up as castration? Circumcision is as far as most societies go.

    42. jeff on May 22, 2008 at 12:31 pm said:

      I’m with Dale on this one.

    43. Perverse, I calls it. ::sniff::

    44. marc on May 23, 2008 at 8:33 am said:

      “Castration” is a provocative appropriation of the Freudian language, true. It’s more a working term for analysts than a concept you offer to help educate people as they seek personal growth.

      However, I am heartened to see how it is taken up. Dale’s comment on Coriolanus is very perceptive. It leads me to offer that Coriolanus is engaged in an agon with the whole notion of symbolic castration. Why does the displaying of his wounds not satisfy? They, in fact, are not signs of a castration but of his jouissance which, in his madness, he offers as proof of his castration. But castration involves the sacrifice of jouissance. The true rite of castration in the play is the moment when Coriolanus must dress as a commoner and supplicate in the forum. It does not hold sway over him. It will not make a place for him. His identity lies in an excess of jouissance. It is the excess that makes sense to him, not the sacrifice.

      Consider some of the other signs that Coriolanus is doomed because of a botched castration. His name change, supposedly an honorific, is actually a sign of trouble. What can be seen as a new honor can also be interpreted as a symbolic instability. How do we get this thing to fit in the symbolic order? Let us try re-naming it. It is similar to the idea of giving birth to yourself without acknowledging the need for a preceding and legitimizing father. Which is a psychotic ploy.

      The presence of his mother is, of course, another clue. Here is the exalted hero still bound to the mother. And a mother that represents a monstrous super-ego, which itself is a sign of an overstepping jouissance on her part in her link with her son. It is an obscene alliance in its way.

      Another psychotic ploy is to attempt to supplement a symbolic insufficiency by dwelling in the shifting and unstable imaginary register. Coriolanus seeks out someone he perceives as his double, his only equal, the only confirmation of his own identity. This double, of course, brings about his destruction. Good stuff. I wouldn’t call Coriolanus a psychotic because he’s not a person; he’s a fiction. But his dilemma represents a very accurate depiction of the knot of issues that can be connected with the question of symbolic castration.

      We neurotics are always already castrated, so it isn’t a matter of submitting to the cut. Compared to the ordeals the un-cut sometimes undergo to approximate our already ensured castration, which can be quite harrowing, we’re relatively lucky. Our problem is our restlessness as we try to cheat our castration or our despair as we brood over it.

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