kerry on snowden: “Edward Snowden is a coward, he is a traitor and he has betrayed his country,” Kerry said in an interview on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” with Chuck Todd. “And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.”
this, i tell you, as well as revealing once again the miserable authoritarianism at the heart of the american state, is completely disingenuous. they were never going to put him on trial, and if he hadn't escaped from the usa before he became famous he would simply have been disappeared. but they will never, ever, put edward snowden on public trial. if he turned up at the baldknobbers jamboree in branson, say, they would use absolutely any procedure except arresting him, charging him, and bringing him to trial. "let him come back and face the music" is kerry pretending to have testicles. who's the coward, the man who is inside an infinite bureaucracy of surveillance and death, doing its bidding, or a man standing alone against that?
the shootings in isla vista do kind of raise the specter of a shooting war between the genders (also thematized by maggie rose, below). boys against girls: that was always going to be our species' evolutionary destiny. we've been enacting it since we were cave-toddlers on the darwinian playground. obviously, at most one gender can survive. it's all going to turn on who can recruit the trannies. my advice to both genders and everyone in between: nuke up immediately and think in terms of devastating pre-emptive strikes. otherwise, you appear weak and vacillating on the world stage, which no gender super-power can afford.
you can't kill country music, i believe, and let's take the stunning new album by sturgill simpson, metamodern themes in country music, as yet another wave of evidence. first off, the name and story are, er, almost too good to be true. as i get it, that's kentucky coal-mining people (his grandfather "from way back up in the holler" introduces the album), navy, drifting and drinking, saved by the love of a good woman.
as in jamey johnson, waylon has to be the basic influence, and perhaps johnson writes somewhat better songs. but sturgill is an even better singer: maybe as good a country singer as there is alive. he is still emerging, if you ask me, and metamodern sounds is transcendently better than his good debut, high top mountain. but to the jamey/waylon thing he adds here touches of keith whitley, vern gosdin, george, randy travis, alan jackson; he's got the whole history of male country vocals right there. it is derivative, but at its most riveting moments more than that: he blows like a howling storm, baby. "it ain't all flowers" - which doesn't seem to be up on youtube, will show you what i mean. (i'd also like to give you "the promise")
he could still emerge more in the whitley hyper-supple emotive sector, but it's remarkable what he can do with that voice all the way round .
he can play some guitar. as to the "metamodern" thing; there are samply and phase-shifty touches, but i wouldn't make too much of that. "a picture's worth a thousand words, but a word ain't worth a dime": the writing's maturing too. he does steer away from country outlaw cliches, which come so easy for people who work in this style.
just an elaboration of the entry below, to get bloggin again. i say that picassos are almost impossible actually to see, so swathed is the boy in mystical hooha and pseudo-ecsatatic aesthetic claptrap. all you can really do in response to a painting by picasso is groan like a lover or a victim. sometimes the reputation just replaces the work. when you dis picasso you dis yoursef, because you can't not like it without disqualifying yourself from the artworld. that is a very difficult environment in which to resist a consensus, which is actually what makes the basic reputation flimsy as hell because critically unexamined, untested for decades, merely enforced.
in any artform, it is obvious that if being overrated is a matter of having a larege ratio of prestige to achievement then the most overrated artists are likely to be among the very most celebrated, except in cases where their achievement is astronomical. but what i'm saying is that the achievement part becomes well-nigh inassessable; you can't even express a negative assessment in public, but after awhile, an extremely positive assessment is something you perform by rote, perhaps each time even reflecting that you actually are not feeling it at all, but thinking as well vaguely that you ought to. but you oughtn't if you don't. if you were really looking for astronomically bad overrated scores, infinity to 1 or whatever, you should look for them among the very most myth-enshrouded, consensus-great figures.
the repulsive painting below just sold for $30 million. it's another picture of a brutal fascist massacre. no wait! it's holiday-makers frolicking on a beach. it always occurs to me that people are just pretending to think picasso is a super-important super-genius. indeed, it seems like maybe they are only pretending to look at his paintings at all; it is really hard for me to keep my head facing in the right direction and my eyes open, while every fiber of my being is going 'blech'.
a bit more more on g.e. moore. i do think of him as the originator of ordinary language philosophy, which flowered in austin, strawson, ryle, and wittgenstein, among others. he was giving hints even as a cambridge undergraduate in the 1890s, and it was fairly full-blown by the end of the 1910s (obviously, this requires documentation). i don't think he has gotten enough credit for this. also, though it is hard without really getting into the texts to show this decisively, i think wittgenstein's transition from "early" to "late" and from a building-on-russell ideal language theory to "meaning is use", from the tractatus to the investigations, was due in large part to the direct influence of moore. certainly from early on you see wittgenstein wrestling with moore, both live and in writing, and often extremely explicitly. i see moore as witt's inner and outer interlocutor throughout, and by similarity and contrast the influence is pervasive.
and i think that ordinary language philosophy is still a good - often the best - technique for dealing with philosophical questions, and i still think it should be applied to more of them. because the people who did it back in the day were so leary of the traditional philosophical questions, they tended to pull up short of the big metaphysical things. so, what is truth? one way into this question: what is the meaning of the word 'truth'? now i do think that if that question means anything it must mean: how do we use the word? what do we mean when we say of something (a sentence, a love, an aim), that it is true? the question we are actually asking is : to what sorts of things do we actually apply the term now? how do we (centrally, properly, etc) actually use the term? (or it might be: how did the greeks use 'alatheia'? there is evidence about that.) if we are not asking what we actually mean, then i am not sure what question we are asking, and when we ask that we are asking to what sorts of things the term applies, that is, its meaning involves or encompasses its extension as actually used; that is, we are ultimately among other things asking what truth is - the metaphysical question - when we are asking how the term is used now. there are many such applications of olp in entanglements.
we survived the era of evolutionary aesthetics only to land in the era of neuroaesthetics. i would like to point out a couple of things, and then you evaluate whether they are compatible with these approaches. the idea of a distinctively "aesthetic experience" originates in the 18th century in europe. the distinction of the fine arts from the crafts or from religion or from science - picking out, say, painting, sculpture, poetry, music or movement of certain kinds, etc - as a distinctive sphere of human activity, comes from the same period. neither idea is conceptually defensible; the distinctions between fine and popular art, between art and craft, between art and religious ritual, between aesthetic experiences and other sorts of experiences, have never been rendered coherent. class distinctions are all over these concepts.
i have argued these points in a series of books, etc., but i will just enter this challenge: show me a distinct concept of aesthetic experience or pleasure in any thinker or any diary etc etc - show me the concepts you are detecting in the brain - anywhere in human culture before, let us say, the works of shaftesbury. show me a clear expression of any of the basic concepts you are using emerging from any culture besides western culture. then you might want to deal with the conceptual problems with these ideas, the many critiques of them by serious thinkers (oh, i don't know, go sample george dickie's myth of the aesthetic attitude), their total collapse within art itself in the post-modern era (there's a reason the writer of that piece goes to de kooning, in modernism's last gasp).
now this is a problem that is all over neuro-anything: the people doing it are good at scanning brains, terrible at pressing critically on the concepts they start by deploying. they don't even really think they need a coherent taxonomy, or a historic sense, or a clarification of basic terms. they freeze momentary cultural configurations into our neurons and thus biologize their own prejudices. but all the work is done by the initial set of assumptions, and the empirical portion is hardly even relevant to the resulting loop in which they find whatever they brought. they take their political or aesthetic or ethical assumptions and stamp a big red "SCIENCE" on them, which is intended to flummox or silence you with authority or prestige.
one problem - or the big conceptual problem - is the idea that the mind is the brain. (i say this as a materialist.) you will not understand something like art except by moving outside the body, into social systems embedded in a wider environment. however we may describe, let's say, the experience of beauty, we cannot account for it in terms of neurological states, but in terms of those states embedded in an organism, embedded in social systems including languages, embedded in a physical environment. the research model is fundamentally wrong about the nature of the material it is studying.
dana milbank (no right-wing flak) explains some of the reasons benghazi keeps hanging about, and why the press - which is not just fox - is getting quite irritated and suspicious. he then goes on to emphasize that there's no problem, and the white house "unwittingly" broke the "get-it-all-out-there"-kerry washington principles of scandal management. but why does he insist there's nothing there? the way they're behaving certainly suggests that there is. what? well, at a minimum i think it's pretty obvious that the white house shaped susan rice's talking points and that there was only one goal: no political fallout before the election. essentially, it's the same thing that motivates, say, the government of malaysia to just issue confused, contradictory crap: because they don't want to be blamed for incompetence etc, and their image is all they care about, far more than, say, human lives.
now, i also feel that underneath this there may be some pretty awful truths about what, exactly, a knot of cia agents was doing in benghazi, and how they came to be under attack and why. obviously it's just a suspicion. but then, if you're not suspicious you're not conscious, and that the cia was engaged in something deeply embarassing, deeply stupid, or deeply evil: this is not an arbitrary hypothesis based on no data. so what if it was a torture facilty? what if they were secretly funding one militia against another, who kicked their ass? for that matter, what if their own people kicked their ass? stranger things have happened.
ah, the common core. the thing richly justifies violent revolution, which i would definitely recommend if it cannot be blown up through electoral politics. now i realize that there's an emerging demographic progressivism, and that women, black people, latinos, and gay folk unanimously want to be personally subordinated by idiots. only white het guys don't want a personal overseer following them around and telling them what to do all day: a symptom of our privilege. on the other hand, slavishness is one possible result of being oppressed. who, they ask, will duct-tape my child to a chair and force her little hand to move, in unison with all the other little hands, as some numskull prescribes? you've got to think about the collective, not just the individual. if there was someone who could tell us all what to do all day, and with the guns, money, and internment facilities to make it stick, we would be as one. but perhaps somewhere there are non-masochists even in these groups and we can cobble together an anti-sadist alliance.
so here's a somewhat better, or at least more seamless, version of the current mating of hip hop and country, currently top five on the country chart. one would think that this would be pretty controversial among country fans, but if so i haven't hear about it. it really is a version of the origin of all american popular music styles, which is not to endorse this particular song. it could be worse, though.
one possible goal from here would be to use this vocabulary to mean something.
somehow i sort of missed pistol annies (angeleena presley, miranda lambert, and ashley monroe), like when i did my 2013 top five country albums. i had them vaguely in mind as a bit of fun commercial exploitation, a kind of country spice girls. nothing could be wronger, or - looking at it the other way round - less right. instead, for lambert, it is a shelter from the demands of being the queen of country music. the music is extremely traditionalist, the arrangements sparse and direct. the harmonies are very lovely.
[left to right: monroe, presley handling the low end, lambert]
one reason i missed them is that it took me awhile to catch up with monroe and realize that she is the great whitegirl hope, one of the very best singers and writers working in any genre today. pistol annies is to a large degree a vehicle for monroe; she's all over the writing, and perhaps also the dominant vocal presence. miranda lambert is actually quite a wonderful singer, which shows here even more clearly than on her solo records, and she writes up a storm too.
the material is part of the current revival of a great country tradition: the realistic, detailed representation of the lives and emotions of working-class women, as in the work of brandy clark and kacey musgraves. the whole country chart right now is filled with "get drunk and fuck" party songs; pistol annies gives you the various dark sides, which again is a return to the tradition, with various new flavors. the whole thing would sound great on the radio, but it is definitely not in the mode of the moment. lambert has to compromise with that if she wants to win a fifth acm best female vocalist award, but she also wants to do other things. that is admirable.
the closest analogy might be the 'trio' albums from the 80s: emmylou harris, linda ronstadt, and dolly parton.
god that is an incredible performance, and if i had to choose, i would choose dolly, emmylou, and linda as singers. no one needs to be embarassed about losing that competition, though i am beginning to hear ashley monroe as a singer getting to that level. but if i had to choose between the repertoires, i'd take the annies': they write their own songs (unlike DEL), and i actually didn't much listen to the DEL albums because of the songs. you know 'sandman' was just a gimmick, etc.
i hope that elizabeth warren runs for president. obviously that's not because i agree with her about everything. but look: even though, judging by the incomprehensible partisan standards of today, she and hillary are on the same side, seem demographically similar, and so on, she cannot possibly want hillary clinton to be president. that's because, as well she should, warren does not like the fact that the democratic party in the clinton and obama administrations has been annexed by the banking industry. and nothing could be more obvious than that they have been; they literally just hire representatives of the biggest banks to run the economy, and then send them back to the banks afterwards. when they're back in the private sector, they contribute massively to democratic candidates, issue groups, and so on, and hillary and co spend their days sipping champagne with them and telling them how great they are and how much they can do for them. (after that, they pretend to wonder why economic inequality is increasing, to which the only possible answer is that they are trying to increase it.) it has got to have occurred to warren that when it comes to matters like this, she's no more happy with hillary than she is with paul ryan or whomever. elizabeth warren out on the stump for hillary clinton is elizabeth warren repudiating in every way except rhetorically everything she ever advocated about the economy. right, i hate the left-right spectrum and think it's senseless. but i would rather have a proper leftist than people who talk equality and then spend all day kissing the ass of the fatcats and doing their bidding.
don't make the mistake of thinking that, because fox is obsessed with benghazi and the republicans in the house are launching a probe, there is no real problem. that itself would just be a mirror image of fox's partisanship: you already know what happened, not in virtue of knowing anything about what happened, but because you hate fox news and love hillary clinton, which has absolutely nothing to do with the truth or falsity of any particular account of the events. it is a mess, and the initial and continuing response of the administration reeks of cover-up and raises many suspicions. the way they acted immediately after the event appears incomprehensible, and there has been nothing since that would justify anyone in thinking they are doing anything but obfuscating. lord knows why; if the events are anything like the admin is picturing them, all they had to do was say what actually happened and express regrets and reflections; this sucker would have been over.
i want to say that i like a partisan press in some ways, as long as there is also a less-partisan press. in a democratic administration, we need fox, and you should watch it. and of course in a republican admin we need msnbc. fox has raised many of the basic questions. the way they admin has released and failed to release the info is ridiculously suspicious. it's not only fox, as witness this devastating exchange between jon karl of abc and jay carney, pressing on the crap the admin has put out on the 'talking points'.
not to undercut my own attempts to sell it something, but i have gone very off the nytimes op-ed page. it would be hard to imagine a more superficial, repetitive, predictable discourse. one convention is that everything you write about has to show something pseudo-profound about where the whole culture is going etc. today's piece by david brooks about isaiah berlin and anna akhmatova is perhaps itself supposed to be an ecstatic tribute to poetic profundity or something. instead brooks tries to describe excellent and deep writers with flat, blank cliche-peddling: "Today we live in a utilitarian moment. We’re surrounded by data and fast-flowing information". why is that sentence and several more like it in this piece? oh because that's what brooks writes in every column. indeed, everyone has written it in every column since 1992. it is without signification, much less the love and pathos and power he is writing about. the volcanic passion he is supposed to be describing becomes "the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing". he emerges as a person who could not possibly understand the intellectual and emotional exchange he is describing. he is the situation he's lamenting.
Avant-garde art is a battle for the visible future. Modern art movements always tried to show what art would look like next, but also what the world would be like in a transformed tomorrow, in which we would see things differently and hence be ourselves remade.
This is one thing that makes art a political battleground, and nowhere has the combat been more excruciating than with regard to the Futurists, a group of poets, painters, sculptors, and designers active in Italy especially in the 1910s and '20s, currently getting blockbuster treatment at the Guggenheim. For a hundred years, their artistic achievement has been obscured by their politics, because figures such as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Giacomo Balla, Luigi Russolo, and Umberto Boccioni were connected to one extent or another with the fascism of Mussolini.
Italian Futurism: Reconstructing the Universe provides an occasion to consider again the relations between apparently distinct dimensions of value - the aesthetic and the political, beauty and justice, painting and war.
Vitruvius designed buildings for Augustus, and wrote fawning tributes to him. Michelangelo worked for the papacy at perhaps its most corrupt moment. Jacques-Louis David painted for Napoleon. Kazimir Malevich made art for a time in the mode approved by Stalin, with the patronage of the Soviet state. Critics and casual appreciators of art are constantly confronted by the question of whether an artist's politics is relevant to the assessment of the work, and, if so, how.
These days, we have little at stake in the political battles of the early Roman Emperors or the Borgia popes, but the charge of fascism still packs a wallop. Indeed, Vladimir Putin is lobbing it at the new government of Ukraine like a concussion grenade, while Hillary Clinton and many others compare Russia's actions in Crimea to Hitler's approach in the lead-up to World War II. And perhaps the fascism of the Futurists - a very complicated matter - still affects assessment of their work.
"There is not a single painting in the Guggenheim exhibition that I find entirely satisfying" Jed Perl writes in the New Republic (February 24). Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker (March 3) asserts that Futurism is "the most neglected canonical movement in modern art - because it is also the most embarrassing."
I think these critics undervalue the aesthetic quality and the historical significance of the work. Futurism yielded some of the first abstract paintings and sculptures in the Western tradition, and some of the most beautiful and challenging; the paintings of Balla and Russolo compare favorably in many respects to the images produced by their contemporaries the Cubists, for example. Where Cubist works are static, muted, contemplative, the Futurists worked with intense colors and extremely dynamic and unstable compositions. And their self-consciousness as a movement, their claim to represent the future, their relentless innovation, and their quasi-political manifestos were imitated by the cohorts that followed, such as the Dadaists, Suprematists, and Surrealists.
In this and other ways, the Futurists are an essence of modernism, and they presented themselves as the champions of every aspect of their own present: the industrial factory, the machine, rapid transport, flight, and, most notoriously, war. As Marinetti famously said in 1909 in the first Futurist manifesto (included in the <website of the Guggenheim show>), "a roaring automobile . . . is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace".
(russolo, "dynamism of a car", 1912)
The Guggenheim show is full of work that has held up extremely well in terms of visual pleasure and aesthetic challenge, and also as absorbing commentary on the emerging modern world. Works such as Balla's hilarious and disturbing "Numbers in Love" (1920-23) and Benedetta's "Speeding Motorboat" (1923-24) are as various and as radical as contemporary work by Matisse or Picasso, and are at least as successful in developing new abstract vocabularies. And appreciating them in a museum does not indoctrinate the average viewer into fascist ideology. Paintings, even good ones, are not capitulation machines. Unlike most dictators, they don't club you over the head or throw you into an internment facility; they invite you to interpret. What mix of skepticism and appreciation you bring to bear, that's up to you. Paintings present a minimal threat profile.
(balla, "numbers in love")
The Futurist project was, putting it mildly, politically problematic, but the politics also had an element of over-the-top comedy that has featured in the avant-garde ever since. It crystallized one response to the radical changes occurring early in the twentieth century by trying in spite of everything to affirm them. The Futurists wanted to learn to love the machine. That's one reason why the images, as in "Speeding Motorboat", are often beautiful, with a sort of beauty not seen in art before. At a moment when artists were still trying to escape to Tahiti or paint water lilies and bowls of fruit, Futurism made people reflect on the aesthetic possibilities of the technological landscape, and hence changed the way people experienced their world.
The boldness of the Futurists' art was matched by the carelessness and of their politics. As Marinetti wrote: "We intend to glorify war - the only hygiene of the world - militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of anarchists, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and contempt for woman."
Repulsive, but also a mere hyperbolic provocation. The audience was supposed to be outraged, and, remarkably, it is outraged still. Marinetti's politics is a theatrical gesture, like a lyric by death metal band. He had no coherent political position, just a strategy of transgression and provocation that artists have been employing in one form or another ever since. It is not so far from Marinetti to Damien Hirst's diamond skulls and quartered animals.
But perhaps Marinetti's poetry of steel, speed, and death also shows something about one of the ways Europe slid into the world wars, a sort of moral unseriousness and aestheticism that led some people into real evil. It shows something, too, about the terrible alienation from modernity that the artists tried to erase by affirmation; the work is a measure of what it tried to overcome.
We are no longer so distracted by the politics of the 17th century Spanish court that we cannot appreciate the power of Velázquez's paintings of it. That the political positions have become historical artifacts has enabled us to detect aesthetic qualities that might have been concealed when war was raging. We cannot fail to see the Futurists through the lens of the world wars and the Holocaust. But the totalitarian ideologies of the era have faded into history. We confront new, post-modern totalitarianisms.
Many avant-garde movements were roughly connected with Marxism or "international socialism" (for example, the Mexican muralist tradition of Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros), and modern art ended up being associated primarily with the left, though there were many tendencies throughout. In art criticism, the left was dominant, and its critics tended to delete the Futurists even as their own heroes often emulated them. But though people are still, for propaganda purposes, calling each other fascists or communists, I'm not sure there are any real fascists or communists left except among historical re-enactors, any more than there are any Whigs or Blanquists.
We live in the actual, as opposed to the Futurist, future. The way of thinking about European politics characteristic of the era of the Futurists, from fascism on the right to communism on the left, didn't make it into the time we now inhabit.
Every work of art, every artist, every movement, is a place where aesthetics and politics intersect and interact. But neither dimension of value is reducible to the other. Beautiful injustice, if there is such a thing, isn't any more just than ugly injustice. Perhaps we should detach the Futurists (and for that matter the Mexican muralists) from their political positions to some extent, in order to experience the quality of the things they made and the ways they crystallized their situation.
On the other hand, perhaps the works of Michelangelo or Velázquez have been too de-politicized. We see the Sistine Ceiling as a sort of eternal form of beauty, without always being sufficiently attentive to the ways that politics, among other factors, affected how it looks and what it meant, to the artist, his patrons, and the audience. Some greeted it as the greatest of human achievements. Others reviled it as a symbol of idolatry, oppression, and institutional corruption.
Like a Futurist masterpiece, the Sistine ceiling is a political thing. And like the Sistine ceiling, a Futurist masterpiece is also quite a bit more than that.