I really don't like that bloody thing. Upworthy -- what the hell does it even mean? It's kind like RL Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verse which some people find poetic but I always found it to be saccharine, maudlin "why the hell did they give me this instead of the book about Vikings I wanted" even when I was a kid. But, in the words of the old Russian proverb, Даже слепая свинья находит желудь иногда, or as we say in Dusquesne, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON WITH THIS SCREWY INTERFACE?
Ok, it's ok now. Actually, it translates like this...
And if you're taking a course in Aesthetics and Politics with Herr Professor Doktor Sartwell, compare and contrast values based on this contrasting versions of the Clash piece by Mr. Yoakum and Ms. McColl with extra credit if you can describe the similarity in the personal sitations of Ms. McColl and Mr. Strummer in 2012. Guaranteed C-, I tell you. Trust me. I used to be in govenment...
i think pop music is very gay. but both hip hop and country have been among the last cultural bastions of homophobia; we live in a rather complex cultural landscape, don't we? the tv series nashville has a sub-plot involving a closeted male performer who is a sex symbol for women. one theorizes that this may have happened to randy travis, for example. back in the 90s, you could still say things like: travis has been accused of being gay. i speculate that that very great country singer may have been having a very difficult life ever since. on the other hand, i don't think you could say that country music is infested with actual anti-gay rants, routine insults and so on like hip hop is. what it's full of is normative heterosexuality. but on either racial end, it is only now even becoming vaguely conceivable for, say, a major artist to come out. (there have been attempts. chely wright came out, but maybe only after her commercial possibilities had petered out. at any rate she was never heard from again.)
i do think the macklemore song 'same love' and his performance at the vma's was a moment. now let's see kanye do something like that. and, in parallel, though without the star-studded mega-spectacle, the first anti-homophobic country song that i've ever heard from a major commercial artist was performed at the cma's: 'follow your arrow' by the really amazing kacey musgraves, who is also, at age 12 or whatever she is, one of the best and most important songwriters in nashville. anyway, i think that the thing below was a bit of a turning point. maybe country music doesn't much matter, but you might contemplate the possible effects of the expression of a completely changed attitude in the places where country is dominant.
the line she's dropping under the usual meaningless censorship constraints is 'roll up a joint...or don't.' really, we don't give a damn how your song sounds. only we can't let you make the noise 'joint'. reallym though, you can't blame anybody, because your little censors, whether at the fcc or wtihin a network, are not in control of the extent of their own intelligence. you know? no one decides to be stupid. it's all inadvertent, really.
that song is by far the most optimistic thing on kacey's 'same trailer, different park'. as many have remarked, kacey's is essentially a very bleak vision, and, i would add, also a very traditional realist project (courbet's, e.g.), which is also a project of hip hop (or was until there was nothing left except brand-name consumer products): representing the experience of, say, shattered working-class or impoverished families and neighborhoods (try 'merry go round') .
a ritual enactment of heterosexuality and a great country song:
one way to think about kacey would be as a melancholic taylor swift, natural because they're both about the same age, they're both astonishingly good writers, they both are kind of modely-looking. but that would unfair to kacey, who is an original figure. also they each have a very distinctive melodic sense, and they are very different. still, it's pretty cool to sort of have the light and the dark side of of girlish genius; they're a nice yinyang.
you know, it is kind of annoying how much easier it seems to be for pretty than for non-pretty people to make it as musicians. it's kind of irrelevant. but on the other hand, one shouldn't infer from the fact that someone is pretty that they're not good. if the looks helped in these particular cases to get the music out there, the looks did us all a favor.
In which Crusader AXE reflects on the current right wing loons in the Right Wing Loon party and their combination of intemperance, bullying and general dickwadedness...find the hidden music and win a prize...actually, just get to listen to the music.
And to celebrate Crispin's continued success in Academe, here's Ray Wylie Hubbard...
Soon after moving into Liberace's gaudy Las Vegas mansion in 1977, Scott Thorson, then a teenage hunk in the foster care system, learned that the jewel-smitten showman could love just as extravagantly as he decorated. Touring the premises before their relationship began, Liberace pointed out some decorative highlights, which included 17 pianos, a casino, a quarry's worth of marble and a canopied bed with an ermine spread. On the ceiling was a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel with Liberace's face painted among the cherubs.
When the pair became a couple, Liberace, who was 40 years older, was just as excessive. He couldn't bear to let Thorson out of his sight.
"We were at a hotel in Florida, and Liberace had the manager give us another suite, with windows that faced the beach," said Thorson, now 54. "He knew I'd be near the water and he wanted to be able to look at me."
i guess liberace is being treated as a profoundly liberatory figure. now, was the admirable part the abuse of foster children? or maybe it was the music? it's as though we were lionizing the lifestyle of roman polanski, and also it's as though roman polanski's movies just sucked all day every day. if you make such people your heroes or aesthetic exemplars, you better face up to the fact that you could have chosen something else instead, and the fact that you didn't really says more than i need to know about your taste or decency or intelligence.
look i understand that you can get into a mode where the worse something sucks the better it is. maybe you get sick of stuff that keeps trying to mean something; maybe good taste gets oppressive. but there are many kinds of cool schlock, mindless yet amusing cant, kitsch that arises from the depths of human depravity or consumer capitalism. the liberace variety of grotesque conspicuous consumption, excruciating mediocrity, and total, fatal corruption is only one of your myriad liberatory possibilities. for god's sake try something else.
i suppose one possibility is that all the aesthetic and ethical problems are redeemed by the homosexuality. really, you might want to think about that again. or: maybe my critique is driven by homophobia. so, really, you're going to put liberace above criticism on the grounds that he had sex with men (while denying it in public)? there's nothing wrong with men having sex with men (though i do hold that there might possibly be smething wrong with men having sex with boys), but on the other hand there isn't anything heroic about it either. also it doesn't per se improve your art, if any. also, if you will excuse my saying so, it's common as dirt and just not that outstanding or interesting.
obviously, i've been working on a chart of the interplay of gender, orientation, and aesthetics. in a positive moment in my aesthetic critique of girls and gay men, i said we love y'all anyway, in part because of the differences. now let me try to say a bit more about why, and how i'm thinking about this.
first you get the disclaimer: everything is at an absurdly general level; like, for example, david halperin, i'm trying to describe a cultural imaginary; no person occupies any point in the taxonomy with perfect centrality - and that goes for male and female as well as gay and straight and the various clusters of taste. also every interstice is occupied. i'm identifying an aesthetic coalition of straight women and gay men, and i'm saying that this alliance accounts for a lot of the way things look and sound in popular culture; i suppose one could sum it up like this: a celebration of artifice, an apotheosis of appearance, an orientation toward spectacle. but then just to portray the other side, where i was trying to pair lesbians and straight men, as the wholesale outlet of reality or sincerity or something would just be begging the question in favor of what i'm calling 'our side'. because, true, the appearance/reality split itself needs all sorts of examination. but one way it needs it is precisely as a gendered and orientated pair. it's a complementary system, a yin yang. you can't have one without the other. but i could also say: we're classical, you're baroque. you're rococo, we're neo-classical. you're impressionist, we're cubist. you're pop, we're minimalist.
look i think all these things arise in a system of complements, but then you've got to put them in action in time, like art movements, which they also literally are; they merge and diverge, divide within and coalesce across; the situation at a given time is complex and it's in the middle of reconfiguration. without touching the biology or genetics at all, the way male and female and straight and gay function makes them, i think obviously, interdependent and unstable. the center can be seen in all the sexual and erotic and aesthetic pairings, all the ways people in different groups are drawn to each other and repelled by each other, all the places and ways they merge and segregate themselves from each other, and each other from themselves: psychologically, linguistically, musically, visually, sexually.
the distinction between straight women and straight men - the immense venus/mars differences that supposedly make us incomprehensible to each other - are of course also the center of heterosexual erotics. right? we want to be incomprehensible to each other, and hence be ourselves. this really is actually symbolized in the yin yang, for example: it's a fucking cosmology of difference. and within heterosexuality, the differences become more and more intense because they are the center of the erotic lives of both sorts of people: men get manlier and drive trucks and watch sports, women get girlier and wear frills and makeup and stuff. they drink chardonnay and gossip or whatever. yo we despise that. we can't stand that shit. but what it means to be heterosexual is to emphasize the differentiation and want precisely people who drink creamy lattes and have closets full of incomprehensible grooming products. we are conniving to make ourselves so different that we can't communicate, and so different that we can't not want, can't not be for one another what the other lacks. then again, precisely because of wanting, we are drawn into proximity. we get to know each other. we want to be friends. we are frustrated that we can't communicate. we try. we oscillate toward similarity, and of course we are massively the same as embodied human beings and as part of the same culture or system of identities, even if our bodies and cultures are a bit different too. we try to approach our heterosexual relationships homosocially.
but and so, i don't think there's any objective normative weight in the eroticization of difference: sameness can also be eroticized (and every nuance in between). so we might call that homonormativity or, you know, yinyin or yangyang. well, guess what: heterosexual men and women are the same in that we are heterosexuals, and gay men and women are both gay. so this dimension is not just in play within gay and lesbian groups. now, as, say, lesbians emerge into a kind of erotic solidarity, straight men are migrating to similar symbol systems and erotic configurations, and vice versa: or as the hets push out they enter into an erotics of identification with the homos of the other gender, scattering outliers throughout the journey. one thing i'm trying not to do here is make the het categories fundamental; or to define the homo categories as parasitic on the het categories: i do think in their contemporary configuration they are mutually simultaneously caused, and inconceivable except as a whole system.
the thing is almost an erotic vortex or tornado, in which people are pulled in all sorts of directions by identifications and by disidentifications or disavowals. so the fact that i'm not female, and that i signal that with an entire repertoire - the way i move, the way i dress or groom, the way i adorn my environment, and so on - just is also the fact that i'm male: a complete aesthetic arsenal, but one that only makes sense in relation to its complements. and then the fact that i'm straight: well, that makes use of the same stuff. and so does the fact that you're not a straight woman. and then, with a tilde, that you're not a lesbian; then, that you're a gay man; then, with a tilde, that i'm a straight man, and so on, on each whirl picking up more debris, the whole thing changing shape as it spins.
pretty soon, you have, for example, the diva thing and all its doubly complex longings for the same and for the different. look one thing a diva is likely to be is a sex symbol among heterosexual men: the diva manifests various flavors of extreme femininity. and gay and straight men end up appreciating beyonce from different angles, but certainly erotically both ways round. if, say, lesbians at a certain point distinguish themselves from straight women by identifying with masculinity, then part of masculintiy is precisely eroticizing femininity: voila, lipstick. or if gay men are disavowing heterosexuality by disavowing masculinity or identifying as feminine, then part of being feminine is eroticizing masculinity: pretty soon you've got muscle-bound dudes with mustaches everywhere, more masculine than me by a ways.
but then these pairs might also put the eroticization of differences at an ironic distance, might put them in play, might be too conscious of them to regard them as natural, might see them as erotic resources rather than unbridgeable gaps. and that might be something you could teach us: to stop regarding our own sexuality as natural etc, or to not regard it as only natural, to see that it too is at least in part a performance, and put us in a position where performances of straightmaleness could be critiqued by straight males from different angles, or to see even paradigmatic enactments of masculinity as vulenrable to aesthetic and other sorts of critique. a muscley straight guy with a mustache might re-think his look and come to think of it as intentional. meanwhile, the hets are yearning across the gap and trying to keep the other side's interest or loyalty, and you've got straight women in business suits and metrosexuals. even in a very simplified picture of sameness difference/sameness sameness, there is a constantly volatile swirl of possibilities within all the groups and between them.
there are many oppressions in this unfolding situation, long histories of oppressions that are also eroticized, as dominance and submission, for example. alright? but still we do not want to be without the thing, because then we'd stop wanting, and also become incomprehensible to ourselves. and there are also many liberations, many zones of liberation, many stonewalls. all sorts of loves and all sorts of beauties are opened up as possibilities in the midst of the storm; it's the longings opening up within and across that make the beauty possible or give rise to it or even are it. the het male beauty of a michael jordan or a v-8 engine, the gay beauty of a judy garland or the exact right outfit. and it would not be crazy to look at these as both homo as well as hetero-erotic, as expressing solidarity and difference at once, or the erotics of identification and the erotics of distinction. there might even be transpositions over time as an expressions of yearnings-across.
what you actually want to do with these identities is not destroy or overcome them: no one really has that power even if they are sheer or mere cultural constructions. what you want to do is play with them. we need to try to reduce some of the weight, or some of the power of these systems to configure hatreds even as we try to hold on to the ways they configure loves: hatreds of the same and hatreds of the different. for these are also systems of exclusion, of course, or that's just to say the same thing again. what you want to try to do is increase the pleasure of them and decrease the pain, and i say the best place to focus and celebrate is the art, taking art at its broadest possible sweep, from body presentation to food to music to scent to interior design to cityscape. this is where the play of differences is relatively harmless, but profound. you can't have the identities without exclusions or at least judgments of taste that more or less condemn what is in contrast. but a question is: to what extent can you have these judgments without contemplating destruction? we often actually do pretty well at that, and straight guys in particular need to do it better without abandoning ourselves.
so one thing i am not going to do is just try to disown my male straightness. rather i am actually going to celebrate its aesthetic. we have given a lot of great stuff to the world, and we are, in our own way, extremely aesthetically oriented, or if you could take the oppression out, what you'd have left would be all kinds of interesting symbols and gestures, including all these signifiers of sincerity and authenticity and simplicity, hard work and self-discipline. you might think those are oppressive ideas; you don't actually want to be without them though. that's how we want to be seen, how we dress, how we want to think, how we want to talk.
i think the oppression has been taken out of this aesthetic repertoire at least to this extent: gay male/straight female aesthetics dominates our culture, even if it's still for the most part (apparently! straight men might always be gay men passing) straight men in congress or the board room. now, i say that our various aesthetic expressions and principles constitute a contribution and that you love us for it. and we don't want to lose it partly because of course you do want it. need it, i believe. and of course these categories play out in the tornado in a complex and equivocal way: we become self-deluded in our dedication to the simple truth, and y'all come out of the closet or delight to dress fashionably as an expression of the truth that should not be hidden. bruce springsteen - dressed simply, workin hard all night - might be as much of a gender/orientation re-enactor as rupaul, but might be less conscious of it.
and then i will say, albeit with some grudgingness because i do have the aesthetics i do have, that y'all have made all sorts of contributions too. and even if they were correctly described as frivolity or play or appearance or pop or hedonism or melodrama or spectacle: well, who the hell wants to live without those things in the world, right? anyway, even if i tried to withdraw from them, the withdrawal is defined by their presence. but i don't withdraw: i distinguish myself from them and i eroticize them, see? but looking at it the other way round: hedonism is not sufficient for anyone's liberation. liberation requires hard work, and you want to liberate yourself into something true or meaningful. on the other hand, folks like me seem to be somewhat pleasure or play-deprived. you need anger, but we're perhaps too angry. sheer insulation or ever-growing polarization are unfortunate, but they also intensify the yearnings that end up in new syntheses.
in short, we should really love each other. secretly or not, we do. we certainly need each other and depend on each other and want each other. we should stay different and we should yearn and try to appreciate. we should slum in each other's bars from time to time, and smile, etc. right? i think if you let these things play with you and play with them, the system might become more liquid or improvisational or multi-dimensional. but really who knows? it might even get more extremely differentiated or simplified, which could be interesting too if it doesn't freeze. but you want to start thinking of the gender/sexuality square as an immense set of aesthetic resources, which are also ways to be.
so, y'all think you can dance. could jerome robbins or rudolf nureyev improvise a great dance while you were trying to kick his ass? didn't have the stones, baby. but my people can do that. and we go a step further too: we dance while we kick your ass. we kick your ass by dancing.
i went back and actually watched the full 1992 buchanan speech, embedded below. everyone might think the republican party is moving right, but this speech would be unimaginable this year. he just goes straight at gay rights, for example. it's quite disturbing from this angle. it's also remarkably gracious to bush, a model of the heal-the-party genre.
however, it is a remarkable text and a remarkable performance. this was one of the few times in this era that the speechwriter emerged from behind the curtain. certainly buchanan had minted priceless phrases for agnew and nixon. here he issues an incredible string of alliterative aphorisms. and he wrote them all himself: that's why he delivers them with such ownership and conviction. i'm sure obama is capable of writing a speech; i don't know how frequently he does. they certainly have that collaborative feel these days: written by committee, though no doubt a better committee than romney's. we'll see next week.
to a large extent, the american presidency is an expressive office, and to a large extent the expression consists of words, though of course it is multi-dimensional. but the words are too rarely his own, so the role and the person come apart in a disturbing way: a form of pervasive inauthenticity.
trump endorses romney: whatever. in accepting the endorsement, however, romney described the trump hotel in lv as 'magnificent' (start this at about 2 minutes).
surely we can't elect a president who associates himself with the trump aesthetic, any more than you'd vote for a candidate who likes andrew lloyd webber. i mean, there are limits. character matters. there has never been a more repulsive style than trump's, a more crass, banal, and tasteless display of conspicuous consumption. the thing in nyc is grotesque enough. i hope when these things are in ruins, they will be remembered as emblems of the era in which we celebrated by a degraded aesthetic our own economic degradation. the only signifier is gold.
where is william jennings bryan when you need him? yo mitt, you shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold.
watching up w/chris hayes and seeing corey robin, author of the reactionary mind: conservativism from edmund burke to sarah palin. see the problem with robin's frame, also pointed out by mark lilla in the nyrb this month, is that the definition of conservatism as the defense of privilege and hence reactionary in the face of movements for emancipation, obviously begs all the normative questions. then the only remaining mystery is that conservatism can sell itself as a popular philosophy at all, and the fiendish manipulations by which it does that become an object of study, along with the false consciousness of the reagan democrats or whatever.
rather we should see the left/right spectrum as a contest between different cultural coalitions, led by elites in a contest for power. what? are columbia or harvard profs the representatives of the downtrodden in a democratic movement of emancipation? the idea that the left is emancipatory and the right oppressive is just a reproduction of the rhetoric of the left circa 1848; it doesn't look like what's there. where in reality is the non-hierarchical left? not in american liberalism, e.g., or in marxist communism. what robin's thesis gets half-right, however, is that the left and right take shape in response to one another. but as lilla said we could really use a taxonomy of the right. because the fact that robin's thesis takes the left/right split as fundamental and coherent in itself disqualifies it as social science. add that he accepts the account of the taxonomy itself of one of the positions, and you have something that by definition is a mere polemic, not a 'study' of the 'conservative mind.'
just take a hyper-primitive idea of progress and reaction: changing things vs keeping things the same; moving into the future as against stopping time, as though that were among the choices. well, the average working-class person might have various stakes either way. no one can just endorse change or no change, and for example various government programs for the amelioration of this or that might effect you one way or another. working people too can get entwined in the coils of the state or rightly regard it with extreme suspicion. the managerial expertise of professors might not be so obviously attractive after all even on a sober analysis of one's own interests.
at any rate, you can't start with interests as only economic interests, and these are bound up at every node with religious interests, moral interests, psychological predilections, individual autonomies, regional interests, racial interests, aesthetic interests, social affiliations, and so on. that there would be the precise failure of the left: reduction to the economic, while regarding everything else as mere ideology or superstructure. rather, you had better listen to people's account of their own interests, and the role of religion in the inner city or in deeply rural zones of america makes answering that a religious question. appeal to managerial expertise or cold-war style militarism or constitutional fundamentalism is an aesthetic as well as an economic issue, etc. we need to be pluralists about real values and hence real interests.
i would start by dividing the poltical spectrum along the lines of domination and resistance to domination. of course, what resistance is at a given moment also depends on the shape of the dominant ideology, which might be right or left.
don't tell anyone, but i love the way the major-party candidates for president are chosen: this whole iowa/new hampshire thing is charming and antique.
i have to say that that cain cigarette ad is the best i've seen since gravel. it makes fun of political advertising, and actually gives a little slice of human reality, which traditionally must be completely expunged in political discourse. you empty focus-group fuckers just got smacked by something real. that smile is priceless.
i'll be delivering some version of 'political aesthetics' - complete with immortal tech videos - at notre dame [corrected date and time] at 4 next friday (april 8). annenberg auditorium of the snite museum of art.
i think we'd all soon tire of a trump administration, among other things because it would be the most colossally tasteless - the most grindingly gauche - administration in history. that's saying something, because nixon and reagan, for example, favored simulations of a european royal court: they went all rococo and shit. but that trump tower thing on central park is just the most nouveau-riche blingbling goldmustbebeautifulbecauseit'sexpensive eyesore in nyc. well we are a gauche people in a gauche era; still i feel there are some limits. i can't find an image that really does it justice, but i like the globe out front, suggesting that donald girdles the earth.
nixon's praetorian-guard uniform:
i am having a helluva time doing youtube videos. but i do have a couple hundred subscribers! anyway, i'm trying out a new like 40 buck polaroid video cam. it keeps freezing my imovie etc, so anyway i'm sorry about the annoying form of the titles, which believe it or not was the only thing i could make work.
christ. anyway, political aesthetics (2010, cornell university press) will feature four "case studies": national socialism, punk, black nationalist aesthetics, and american republican neo-classicism. i'm gonna do a sub-series on each. here is the first installment of the first installment: on garvey and rastafariansim, as well a little-bitty intro to "political aesthetics."
this bit should be good for my students in "politics and hip hop" next semester, among other things. playlists etc will get posted along with videos here.
the north american anarchist studies network thingummy was kind of bizarrely situated in hartford. i don't think i've ever found a city more depressing and disturbing. joni and i stayed at the marriott downtown, but also drove around: it is a concrete wasteland, like they just demolished their city and started again with a few basic principles: (a) stalinism = everything must be conceived as coherent and gigantic and be designed at once, dropped on reality like a hippo on an infant. (2) death: all living things must be expunged, except the human bodies, which must be rigidly channeled into the approved grooves. (c) security state: all must be bathed in screeching klieg light and monitored with cameras.
really there were many huge insurance complexes and bank towers, not a single one of them even interesting or odd or distinctive: the most banal modernist gigantism. each building, including the convention center/hotel where we were, is surrounded by a "plaza": just concrete platforms, barriers, and stairs. you see these things everywhere, but in this case it composes a whole downtown that has been cleansed of the human stain.
it was bizarre, and when you saw a few old houses or buildings, sad, because you realized there was a habitable human town on this location at some point.
there was a lego convention next door: thousands of 7-10-year-old boys. and it struck me that there is a solution, and if i was running hartford i would in all seriousness do exactly this: issue this army of boys sledge hammers, spraypaint, and the occasional grenade. come back in twelve hours. lather and repeat.