A Total Critique of Culture
1998 thoughts for the next draft
© 1998 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.
Against "Participation" is a lengthy book manuscript meant to reconstruct my argument of 1963-4, which made a blanket condemnation of the fine arts, entertainment, and institutional pastimes such as chesson behalf of "brend" (see below). The analysis depends on my iconoclastic philosophical and social views and ranges across many issues of principle. In no way do the following thoughts reprise the book; they select a few points for greater elaboration or emphasis.
It was just happenstance that I came of age in a civilization whose arts I found myself instinctively despising. The major novels not only bored me, but made me feel abused. I found opera and ballet to be excruciatingly corny. Before Jackson Pollock (and after him as well) painters never painted anything in which I recognized my sense of style, or my life, or that of my peers.
While I was a college student, I began for the first time to encounter "art" (actually music) which I felt it a privilege to have access tonamely Hindustani music. (There was also Noh theater on Nippon Columbia recordings; also snippets of African drumming on private recordings made in the Fifties by Hugh Taylor.) Later, John Coltrane. (But today I appraise Coltrane as a fluke; his well-known intensity was not at all typical of the jazz genre.)
When I speak of "Europe" in these discussions, it is not invidiously to distinguish the European continent from the United States. It is shorthand for all regions of the world which take Europe as their source culture, and that means the United States and other settler colonies. After the Second World War, Japan adopted or adapted the posture of Modernism; and all of the traditional Asian culture was more and more rapidly undermined by a mode of life which spread from Europehaving been given labels such as global capitalism, technicity, mass culture. I treat non-Westerners who affiliated with this sensibility indistinguishably from the European inhabitants who originated it.
Once I had acquired the capacity to approach European culture with some detachment, I concluded that European art had gone awry long before the twentieth century. The comparison is provided by surviving artifacts (and in some cases living traditions of performance) of the following regions:
Indian Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese
(Not to mention the case of Africa, for example, where the arts are not necessarily professionalized.) I do not want to encourage demagoguery in any way. Having said that, there is a European problem or an Occidental problemwhich is inseparable from Europes "worldliness," "objectivity," "pragmatism." The advantage and the liability are one and the sameemerging already in ancient times. It is not the same thing as the shocks which the world received from Europe after the sixteenth century because of Europes imperialist adventures and because of the spread of capitalism and scientific technification. However, while imperial adventures were also found in the Arab, Turkish, and Asian regions, science and capitalism were specific developments which exacerbated the Occidental trauma.
The decisive step was the Greek arts development away from Egyptian culture. Let me focus on the "visual display." The Egyptian image is schematically neat and intelligent. There is a fantastic and stylized delineation of the human subject in combination with
symbol, pictograph or ideograph; and
perspective on a space.
Generalizing, we find in Egypt and Asia a practice of exalted stylization or fantasy. The seeing of a world not there photographically. The other world visibly and visually is stylized differently from the mundane world. It occupies a plane as writing does, and shades over to and from writing and the sign. There is no modelling in the other world. Rendering on the plane involves non-photographic stylization. Intricacy depending on precision. Precision of pattern in support of fantasy. Art shone forth from a world beyond the materially present realm.
Europes achievement is supposed to be the turn to the real, the introduction of modelling (albeit originally in an idealized way). The Greek turn to the modelled body in sculpture, the corporeal forms. The shift to the idealized photographic treatment, as we would now call it. But that is where it goes awry. Vulgar immersion in the mindlessly corporealin the name of copying nature.
Christianity inherited the realism of Graeco-Roman art, distorting it in support of asceticism and unworldliness. The pathology of asceticism; enlongated, emaciated bodies.
The bizarre conciliation in the Renaissance of the Medieval and Classical sensibilitiesin which Christianity embraces so-called nature, meaning corporeal presences as photography captures them.
The European approach excludes everything from the visual display except the iconic and realistic. I will mention only two exceptions relative to painting: the corporeal object which serves as symbol; left-to-right narrative composition of the scene.
From the Renaissance through the nineteenth century, the iconic approach prevails. Confirming the separation of the corporeal from intellect and [spiritual, the fantastic or inspiration]. Its all surface and corporeal desire. There is no depth of thought, configuration, or signifier. It divorces the surface, the corporeal, from intellect, configuration, and signifier. Focus on the sentimental and mindless appeal of human bodies.
Now that everything but the iconic has been removed from the display, the mathematical impulse plays out as perspective theory and the geometry of composition. Painting as the camera lens sees, to give an apparent recession from the plane of the canvas. The invention of a permanent medium, oil on canvas. Greasy romanticization of the subject.
There had been a Christian control of public life, and art was supposed to have only religious subjects. The art-works which succeeded with the public in the modern centuries defined European civilization by a narrow group of stereotypes, or set pieces. In painting, the still life, the plump female nude, the landscape, a few religious set pieces, the illustration of Graeco-Roman legends, the portrait of a prince, balletic settings, the occasional battle scene.
From a detached standpoint, the European sensibility is appallingly mundane, appallingly subordinated to the physicality of the ambient environment. The treatment, or stylization, ranges from the unctuousness of early classic painting to the candybox look of the Barbizon school and the powderpuff stylizations of Degas and Monet.
The basis of European art is the enslavement to objectification, to facticity. Greasy, saccharine rendering. Perspectivethe tendency toward photorealism: countered by the daubs and puffs of Impressionism. Barbizon, candy-box art.
Post-medieval European painting is shockingly "here." Its not photographic realismits photography stylized by
blurriness, visible brush stroke.
The heterosexual domestic sensibility. The artist whose mistress is the model for his nudes. Perspective; modeling. Mundane; its dime-store realism; daubs. There is no eeriness to speak of. Soft focus, but so "here," so banal.
The styling comes from blurriness or coarseness: soft focus; paint streaks. Brush-stroke effects, the tooth of the canvas shows. Turner paints fires, skies, storms at sea in order to fill the field with shading rather than figure. The technique of texture becomes uppermost. Impressionism: resultant colors come from close lines of alternating primary colors. Typical palette: blue, green, brown.
In the late 19th century, Europe consummates its escape from theocracy to "secularism." Vulgar, "social" hedonism. Impressionism and after. Corot, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani. Confirming, consolidating the naturalist perception of the body. A mindless attraction to the corporeal and to sociality. Anticipating magazine illustration. (The customers for fine art were precisely the people whom George Grosz satirized.)
B. The spiritual contrasts
Before I bring the discussion up to the present, let me try to generalize about the gulf which I find between European arts and the arts of North Africa and Asia. I would have to appeal to two expressions as slogans: "inspiritedness"; "self-respect." However, the phrases as they stand have not been given the necessary meanings, and remain cloudy. It is not possible for me to borrow some pre-existing doctrine to make my case. Even though I speak of self-respect expressed by the arts of Asia and North Africa, they are also expressions of the enslavement of superstition and social domination.
What is more, the traditional arts demand a rigid obedience concomitant to the apprentice system. The results justify that punctiliousness. In general, the Eastern arts hold their value in spite of their anachronistic placement. All the same, the culture is as if immobilized in amberand it did not arise in the first place from that circumstance. There is a price paid for living in the past or for living in a nostalgia costume. A regime of obedience in the United States would have precluded Ornette Coleman, whom I admired.
Why does the art which holds its value come typically from settings of pronounced superstition and social immobility? To answer in reverse, some of the conditions cheapening art are: the fetish of change (known in marketing science as the product lifetime problem); supersession of aristocracies by an elite of commerce (Babbittry); capitalism and scientific "materialism."
Europes spokespeople would not concede that Europe is at any disadvantage in regard to spirituality and self-respect. An extraordinarily pretentious spirituality is asserted by Kepler and Leibniz, claiming that scientific cognition is itself ultimate spiritual fulfillment. These positions are discernibly similar to Platos Seventh Epistlesuggesting once again that European attitudes which originated with the Greeks remain consistent over the centuries. What is more, Kant would have claimed that the European discovery of the individual whose norms proceed from his own nature rather than being imposed by a god or king is the height of self-respect. The dignity of the person; the entitlement of the individual.
To get beyond such rationalizations to the zone that matters is a profound task. I hardly suppose that my commentary in the previous section really got to the bottom of the matter. And yet the issues should be verbalizable, because we are not talking about individual exceptions but about systematic differences between civilizations. Also, the civilizations of Asia and of Islam are already in the stage of artistic professionalization. (For cultures which do not have art at all, in the sense of the museum piece, one has to turn to Africa, for example.)
Moreover, we cannot extract an explanation from some ancient doctrine, because to be able to occupy ourselves with one of these cultures, and then with another, means that the perspective has become global. Moreover, the arts which I commend issue from very different mythologiesthe Egyptian Ennead or Enneads; Hinduism; Buddhism; Islam. There is no question of converting from one mythology to another as we go from one nation to another. Nor is there a question of ignoring the vast expansion in human manipulation of nature that has taken place in recent centuries.
In order to understand what we glean from Hindustani music, or the Noh theater, or Muslim architecture, or Egyptian imagery, and in order to counterpose these cultures to Europes claims of enlightenment and transcendence, an entire new philosophy is needed.
I have a large body of work which embarks on this enterprise. Branching off from the early "radical empiricism" to the "personhood theory" series; and the "inspiritedness" series. But it wouldnt make sense to reproduce that massive body of work in my aesthetic treatise; I can only mention the importance of these collateral investigations for my aesthetic perspective.
Even after I have proposed, as paradigms, the traditional artifacts (and in some cases living traditions of performance) of certain regions, that does not answer the question what does art do, e.g. how does it communicate in the intended way?relative to issues of
1) Obedience, versus initiative and originality.
2) Unbridgeable differences of value in arts which are equally surrounded with social pretension and doctrinal legitimation. (Hindustani music versus German classical music).
3) Differences over the direction of art among colleagues in a single tradition. (The Hindustani milieu is not a "we like everything" milieu.)
Continuing with my opening remarks, it was just happenstance that high art entered the unprecedented terrain of Modernism a few decades before I was born. That I had to live with the turn to fragmentation, privation, facetiousness (reacting to the cloying and saccharine quality of academicism and romanticism).
The question has not been settled whether most of Cubism and some of Fauvism, not to mention Vorticism and other idiocies, should be considered charlatanism. I concede that these oeuvres possessed some validity as symptoms, that they had a constituency, not just promoters. We must also acknowledge that public life underwent a change in the twentieth century (with mechanization, modern physics, and all the rest), and given that the fine arts were already expected to correlate with the most advanced developments in other fields, it was inevitable that artists would reflect what was happening around them. Also the importance of snobbery to the culturati: to have as a badge of membership a taste which the average person cannot follow.
Another disclaimer is necessary. As has been made clear, I have no patience with those who hold that the painting which immediately preceded Modernism is sacrosanct, or who hold that the European past in general is sacrosanct.
When one appraises early modern art on a case-by-case basis, one finds that the renowned painters commonly had a great range. Like the Impressionists, they could produce superb renderings if the wanted to. Some of their pieces were credible or creditable in the search for a topical visual sensibility.
What, then, do I mean by charlatanism? It is probably reasonable to say that the renowned modern artists each produced work varying widely in quality. But that is precisely what the canonization of these artists does not acknowledge. Matisse, Vlaminck, Picasso produced some works in which the innovations are arguably warranted. But the rest of their work did not constitute an improvement or higher competence. (In the case of Picasso, most of his work is a disgrace. Like the deliberately stupid mangled woman at N.Y.U. which I have to pass almost every day.) It was an embrace of incompetence. (A simulated derangement, which garnered a constituency out of snobbery, and a sense that the world had become unmanageable after 1900).
In other words, most of the work on which the artists reputation rests should never have been done. It is understandable only as a symptom. Scientific counter-intuitiveness, and technification, and commercial depersonalization, and the colonizers pole of the colonial relationship took Europe deeper and deeper into psychic horror. European civilization was exhausted, and yet paradoxically, technifications transformation of the landscape spurred a rapid evolution of this dead culture. Modern artists celebrated a mode of lifes degradation; they exulted in it.
Modern dance affords another case. It announces as its ideals all the uplifting abstractions: awareness, imagination, freedom, intuition, feeling, expression, spontaneity, liberation, creativity, insight, fearlessness, creative delight. "You will learn precisely these by studying a modern dance method. By tripping the light fantastic any way you want to. Modern dance technique is a traditionless protocol or method to realize creative delight." they say.
Its "process process." Everything can be taken in any direction and everything is wonderful. No criteria, no judgment. Self-indulgence, private languages. Actually it is far more specific than that. The genre typically manifests anxiety, alienation, senseless effort, etc.
Modern dance claims that it has acceded to a generic spirituality. No matter what it says, it is a "non-founded" way to be.
Again reminiscing, the fine art that surrounded me as I came of age in the Fifties was a dogs dinner. My native civilization imprisoned me in a house of degradation, traumas without remedies.
I urgently needed an understanding that exempted me from respecting the arts; that gave me the right not to read an "improving" novel, not to be conversant with Stockhausen. All the while, I was extremely aware of culture outside the fine arts as alternative: jazz, entertainment, ethnic music, etc. As a composer I had already begun experimenting with rock. As I framed my theory I sought to disabuse myself of the brainwashing I had received.
Observations which I made in 1962-63 now seem more valid than ever, as follows.
E. Cognitive pretensions
(1) Modern art is monumentally cognitively pretentious, as has been evident ever since Cubism. The preposterous mysticism of Malevich. Preposterous claims that evoking the idea of two-dimensional forms moving into three dimensions on the canvas alluded to our own movement in fourth-dimensional hyperspace. These metaphysical pretensions just get worse as we come up to the present.
The logical positivists proposed that the art work was exclusively a medium for expressing emotions; it had no cognitive value, and needed none. Of course, serial music took the very opposite of this position, and my theory made an example of serialism. But I casually assumed that my contemporaries in the "informal" avant-garde of 1960-62 were up-to-date enough to accept the positivist conclusion. I thought everyone had had to accept the positivist doctrine that art could not be made obligatory by rational argument that art was now understood to be a purely non-arguable expression of emotion.
In hindsight, the artists of the second half of the twentieth century had not in the least become positivists. My background in positivism played me false. The positivist rationale had never been viable. Modern art could not proceed on the basis that it just expresses personal affect, or that the audience may accept or reject it as a matter of taste. We find that modern art at every point depended on pretentious aesthetic theory to push it forward. How far it was from being ingenuous can be seen from Cages essay "proving" that Hindustani music and Schoenberg are the same thing. Modern art claimed to be a counter-intuitive solution which, like science, could only be discerned as right by pretentious arguments; and those arguments made what was intuitively distasteful into a mandatory object of adulation. It was inseparable from pretensions to objective value and knowledge.
I announced my iconoclastic critique of cognition in the early Sixties. (E.g. 1961 Philosophy Proper, 1962 Noscol. The concept art which I introduced in 1961 proceeded from a critique of logico-mathematical cognition and the role of mechanomorphic structure in serious modern art.) I could only react to the pretensions of the modern artists to objective value and knowledge with total contempt.
But there is another lesson here. As I said, the positivists floated a view that art had no cognitive aspect, that it was purely emotional expression. If one really thought that, then one artist could not be better than another, and the professional artist was not needed. My proposal of brend meant to take this view seriously, to carry it to a valid conclusion. I would not have proposed brend as the solution to the crisis if I had not been exposed to modernist developments.
(2) Classical aesthetics was massively cognitively pretentious. I could only react to these pretensions with total contempt.
F. Creep and the inseparable issue of "the sordid"
One of the themes in 19th and 20th century art was "erotic realism" or "risque realism," presented as the norm of the adults experience of sex (i.e. the male consumerthe artists mistress as model). Déjeuner sur lherbe (1863), Olympia (1865), Lady Chatterleys Lover. I was a creep and such works annoyed me. That didnt mean that I condemned them or proposed to withhold risque realism from the majority who wanted it. It meant that I was entitled to say that the normative depictions of the sexual adult did not please me, and they certainly did not express me.
But my estrangement from the official culture did not end there. The very examples I have givenalong with schools such as Impressionism and those that followedare surrounded with a mystique of courageous defiance, rebellion, transgression. There was a certain social theater in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries which left me, as a creep, on the sidelines. "The Establishment" was defined as prudish; and it was a role assigned to the artist, the bohemian, to misbehave and to advocate license. It was a role of the artist to instruct the public about what sex means, and this instruction annoyed me. It was all bound up with the Salon des Refusés of 1863 and the apology for Impressionism by the naturalist Zola. The claimed transcendent radicalism and newness of Impressionist painting. Without giving a detailed commentary, let me just say that this casting of the Establishment in the role of prude was entirely a construct; in fact, the designated transgressive offerings came to be Establishment norms. Anybody today who believes that Impressionism was transcendently revolutionary, that it turned the universe upside down, is an ideological slave. Moreover, Bohemias cliché that prudery was an imposition which we bravely had to oppose was a construct. Sexual anxiety and modesty are found in all cultures. The canard that "in foreign climes, they are sexually liberated like animals" is a racist stereotype.
But there is yet another phase to this aspect of the official culture. In the course of épater les bourgeois, artists did not limit themselves to "erotic realism," to the promesse du bonheur. It was far more about wielding the lurid as a bludgeon the point being the succès de scandale. There was sex but no bonheur, and the sex was continuous with manifestations which were simply lurid or violent. From de Sade, to Paiks Gala (1962), to Yoko Onos Cut Piece (1964), to Schwarzkoglers self-castration, to the British Sex and Suffer artists, it was not about bonheur. And with Kosugis Music for a Revolution (1964), or Paiks Cutting My Arm (1967), or Damien Hirst, it was hardly about sex. (The examples are pulled out at random; I do not intend to provide a catalogue of scandals.)
Thats not even to mention the punk rockers who eat live rats on stage and whatnot; I take them up later. And artists gestures of criminal sexualityso popular with the in-crowdfor example Bellmer and Burroughs. By the way, why do the cognoscenti, who trumpet their horror of Right-wing egoism and violence, embrace sadistic or criminal theatrics so eagerly? It deserves an answer even though I wont give one here.
The occurrences in question comprise a single role for art. It has been called "nasty art"; my term is "the sordid." What is defended as erotic realism, or as representation of adult sexuality, is inseparable in the art world from de Sade or Bellmer or Schwarzkogler or Hirst. Its not about bonheur; its about épater les bourgeois and the succès de scandale. Those who defend Kosugi or Schwarzkogler or Hirst in the name of erotic realism and the battle against prudery lie to the public and to themselves.
My creep discomfort with certain icons of sexuality was hard to separate from my condemnation of the artists assigned role as custodian of the sordid: because these phases are not separate in the art world. In the European orbit, de Sade and Schwarzkogler are defended in the name of sexual bonheur. If there is no vomit and no beating, then its not sex. I and my celibacy were not the issue. Evidently white people cant tell the difference between sex and eating a live rat on stage. Im calling this a problem. (Actually, they are wrecked beyond what I would have considered possible.)
G. The avant-garde
With the avant-garde, modern art becomes a regime of absurdity and fragmentation. There is a claim that the lessons of modernity are applied comprehensively, eradicating every trace of traditional form.
Circumstantially, I came of age in a mid-century decade which was the crowning decade of the modernist value-system. The implication or principle that "anything is art" in fact led to the lionization and commercialization of gratuitous egoic gestures. All the way from Duchamp to Seventies Minimalism. (All the more when artists said that they were "using chance to escape ego." These worthless programmatic claims.)
Part of the mystique of the avant-garde was the search for ingenuous experience or for unclassifiable experience, with no regard whatever for art as an institution, for career, for success, etc. Again, my proposal of brend meant to take this seriously. Again, I would not have proposed brend as the solution to the crisis if I had not been exposed to modernist developments.
As a random example of avant-garde pretensions, one may consult George Brecht, "Something About Fluxus," May 1964, unabridged version. He claims that the Fluxus school is defined by art or "activity" which is strange and new. But if we examine it with detachment, we see that there is nothing that intrinsically warrants being called strange or new. What Brecht means, described from a non-involved vantage-point, is that the works of his friends violate conventions of the context from which they springthe gallery, the concert hallby being diminutive and pointless. Whoop-de-doo!
The school which legitimately claims the label avant-gardethat of the Fifties and early Sixtieswas only a practice for a short time. After that the label was sensationalized, or attached for prestige. Certain artists exploited the absurd and the negligible as scandal, or for snob value in order to propel lucrative careers. Lets be frank. The reason why there was a fraternization between Cage and Morris or Paik and not me, even though I was the one substantiating Cages announced iconoclasm is because they brought product to the art market, they had careers to push; and I didnt. (The art worlds open resentment of my priority in concept art may be mentioned here as well.) The artists radicalism is never anything but careerism, the hunger to be the next institutional artist/superstar.
The nineteenth-century mystique of the starving artist is now so quaint that a critic can say explicitly: the only artists that matter are the ones who are institutional successes. As for unsuccessful artists, there are literally hundreds of thousands of them and they dont matter its just a hobby.
When people got tired of minimalisms sterility, the avant-garde impulse lost its following. Now the avant-garde label is used for tokens of "excluded groups" in the Modernist market. But that is ridiculous, since these "excluded groups" are represented in any period of European art. As to substance, what was called avant-garde in the Nineties was overripe and screamy: nearer to Expressionism (or Cocteau) than to Cage.
H. The manifesto artists
Yet another aspect of Modernism overlaps with Modernist style, the avant-garde, and the recent highbrow piggybacking on mass culture: what I call Manifesto Art. Beginning with Futurism, various art schools defined themselves by manifestos, sometimes linking themselves to, or placing themselves in competition with, putschist politics, and proposing the agitation of society as art. (From Futurism to the Situationists.) To illustrate these comments, I will take the 1948 "Manifesto" by Constant Nieuwenhuys, considered definitive of Cobra, which in turn had the Danish painter Pedersen as a godfather.
The pronouncements in these manifestos took as their point of departure realistic appraisals of social traumas and dislocations in twentieth-century Europe; then they twisted these realistic observations for corrupt purposes. There was a nominal self-criticism: the World Wars had proved that the European tradition was dead. At the same time, the rise of technology and mass culture had made Europe infinitely modern. "We" lived the infinite new; nothing of the past survived. It followed, then, that todays art had the responsibility to make the infinite revolution. With every squiggle and daub on the canvas, the artist would infinitely revolutionize the universe, forcing the cosmos to its knees, infinitely eradicating the old, erecting the infinitely new. There would be a social revolution in which the most radical principles of anarchism would be instantaneously realized by technically illiterate and anti-intellectual bohemians. Moreover, "we" took our stand with infants and savages, who recognized no distinction between the beautiful and the ugly. That gave "us" permission to paint canvases which looked like swirls of tinted vomit. (But they couldnt even get their story straight, because simultaneously their cohorts were saying that it was necessary to paint ugly art to show how bad the world is.) And when the distinction between the beautiful and the ugly was abolished, from then on it was all ugly.
Ultimately, in fact, the infinite revolution consisted in taking these canvases to sell to the collectors to make a lot of money and become famous. Infinite revolution of the universe was the input; paintings like those of Pedersen (one may examine paintings by Futurists, Dadaists, Cobra, the Situationists, or any of the rest) were the output. Conveniently, the infinite revolution required collectors to buy just these paintings.
In hindsight, what is astonishing is the number of groups dispersed through West Europe and Russia who managed to get famous for proposals making the infinite revolution the artists responsibility. To one or another degree, these groups promoted their paintings by agitating society, launching stylistic crazes in the big cities. Surely the number and dispersal of such groups in Europe in the twentieth century was a major sociological novelty.
From the Futurists to the Situationists, these artists were pictured contemporaneously and in hindsight as heroes, as "our leaders." They indicted the old, they erected the new. They were slick enough to sell paintings that looked like puddles of vomit for a great deal of money, having proved that in the new time, there was no longer a distinction between the beautiful and the ugly. Thus, these shock troops of the new deserved our unconditional endorsement for their valiant stands. The words of their manifestos were like lightening bolts of truth in a murky age.
This phase of twentieth-century cultural history exposes the public as frightfully superficial and gullible. Somehow, the arbiters of taste were never bothered by the fact that the bottom line of the infinite revolution was a commerce in paintings which were traditional product in every respect except that they were blatantly incompetent. (The artists who said "we had to do it to show how bad the world was" at least knew how bad their art was.)
Clearly, they never meant a word of it, about the infinite revolution. But it never bothered the pundits that artists were trifling with revolutionary claims and slogans. There was never a suggestion of holding the artists to account. It is shocking to realize how important posturing is in campaigning for social rewards. Somehow, it is implicitly understood that the "revolution" talk is fantasy; and it is palatable precisely because it changes nothing, precisely because it only gilds collectible objects. It was lying that brought the vanguard artists respect as heroes. The civilization has been carried up the mountain on the back of a lie. Are we to conclude that a white person is somebody who believes that saying infinite revolution is an infinite revolution?
When I wrote in 1962-3, the topic of entertainment or amusement or pastimes was positioned in a certain way. The word did not necessarily imply a centrally manipulated commercial market. Even commercial entertainment was defined by its appeal to popularity without an apparatus of theoretical pretension. It meant rock n roll, or for that matter, Perry Como, as opposed to Hayden or Schoenberg. The inducement was enjoyment or fun contrasted with high art as, at best, a pretentious bore. It was supposed to be a self-justifying activity which did not need the analytical defense that Schoenberg did. I turned to rock around 1960, when its roots in R&B and hillbilly music were still perceptible. My subsequent path as a composer had to do with refinements of rock and ethnic music.
(Sociologists such as Adorno and Riesman cut across the question in a tendentious way. To give them credit, they saw that mass culture was a new twentieth century phenomenon inseparable from technology and capitalism. It had already been said by Ortega. The menace of manipulated mass entertainment was already evident in the Forties. Adorno attacked pop culture in the name of authenticity. "Its inauthentic because it is a tranquilizing facade." They wanted to argue that the shallow artificiality of mass culture was dangerous, even equivalent to totalitarian art. Partly they were right; partly they voiced the defensiveness of the high bourgeoisie. Their case was inseparable from the Eurosupremacist condemnation of accessible culture on behalf of the supposed profundity of serious modern art. Hostile views of popular culture from intellectuals trying to discredit "innocent enjoyment" on behalf of snobbery. Adorno and Riesman on jazz.)
Since the late Sixties, "entertainment" in academic discourse has meant centrally manipulated commercial mass culture. Two correlative developments have transformed the realm of entertainment. First, the wholesomeness or artificial vapidity of early mass culture has been replaced by grotesquerie, venomous unwholesomeness, criminality. I do not intend to provide a catalogue. Its enough to mention Evil Jared of Bloodhound Gang, who eats live rats onstage. Or Marilyn Mansonor gangsta rap. The explosive success of these products now defines entertainment. It is one of the most profound reversals occurring in public life. (Marilyn Manson would have been inconceivable as a popular act in the Fifties.)
At the same time, academics so called pop theorists have jumped on the train: larding the product with sociology as if it were high art.
Let me devote the briefest word to the rationale which accompanies nasty art and punk. What is most striking is the dual nature of the phenomenon. On the one hand, it is defined as the inarticulate rebellion of the weak against an evil Establishment. On the other hand, they are precisely the drummer boys of the latest and biggest capitalism. In 1984, Orwell proposed that the public would accept the identification of polar opposites in societys institutions. That has happened in this case. It is intolerable to hear a recital of the justification of punk in terms of defiance and helplessness and rebellion. The actual justification is the annual report of Time-Warner. Are people so stupid that they really believe that the Ramones will lead us to a perfect world, or even a universal revolution? Or does the audience know itself to be a privileged class which has long since agreed that all its joys will be lies?
I cannot pursue these problems here. Let me say in summary that commercial entertainment now has the character of nasty art channeled as mass propaganda. So it merely makes the bad worse. It confirms the diagnosis that the problem is the civilization itselfthat the civilization has no place for innocent, self-justifying activity.
Resuming with the earlier meaning of entertainment as e.g. paid performance which was assumed to be innocent and transparently self-justifying, I did not experience it as a coerced imposition but as a choice from available submissions. Even if entertainments production had an element of manipulation, its acceptance by the audience did seem to be spontaneous. I did not experience the bland character of a Perry Como as fascist, more as vapid.
So "entertainment" as addressed in the brend theory was supposed to be innocent and self-justifying. In finding fault with this modality also, the brend theory took an exceptionally iconoclastic tack. Let me recount an anecdote to suggest the nature of the critique. Recently I was walking on the sidewalk in SOHO, and I heard one hipster making a pitch to another.
If you were a Deadhead, if you liked the Dead you were cool. Thats what Phish is now. Thats why they can go to the top of the charts.
It was this role of this swill as a badge of affiliation which I opposed with every particle of my being.
I accepted the principle of the innocent and self-justifying pastime in which everyone was the equal of everyone else. However, only brend could realize this principle. I would not have ascribed such validity to "mere enjoyment" if I had not been exposed to the watchword of purely expressive activity and the watchword of ingenuous experience which were found in modernism.
J. The politico-economic setting
The accession to the innocent, self-justifying pastime or to ingenuous experience or unclassifiable experience was clearly incompatible with a mode of life dominated by the capitalist market. As long as the capitalist economy persisted, commercial ambition and the engineering of demand were inescapable. What is more, the far more extreme cognitive iconoclasm implicit in my perspective could not be implemented in the interpersonal sphere in a capitalist society given commodifications need for objectification.
Where that put me in 1963 is very different from where it puts me today. In 1963, a movement using the label Communism enjoyed a certain moral authority and was gaining ground across the world. On the other hand, Communism had formulated its own doctrinaire approach to culture an approach which was a phase of the regimes totalitarianism (with a profoundly destructive attitude to spontaneous "peoples" culture). In any case, the world Communist movement did not play out like the bourgeois revolution. Incredibly, it proved to be a hoax. It evaporated overnight without ever having acceded to, or even defined, a non-capitalist mode of production.
My loyalty was to the project of a non-capitalist mode of production.
Let me recapitulate some insights which led me to propose that the crisis of the Occidental "arts" should be solved by a phase of private experience.
Even the Eastern culture which I admired embodied superstition and social domination.
Even the Eastern culture which I admired presupposed a degree of obedience and imitation which I couldnt accept.
The cognitive pretensions surrounding modern art were insulting and disgusting.
The classic arts of Europe were not sacrosanct.
The enshrined art ignored creeps or affronted uspicturing Manet and Lawrence as valiants when to me they were just self-serving.
If one accepted the view that art had no cognitive aspect, that it was purely emotional expression, only brend fulfilled this principle.
If one accepted the search for ingenuous experience or for unclassifiable experience, only brend fulfilled this principle.
If one accepted the innocent and self-justifying pastime in which everyone was the equal of everyone else, only brend fulfilled this principle.
Commercialism, careers, objectification were inescapable as long as we were capitalist; conversely, the arrival of communism would undercut these behaviors and expose them as contemptible.
One would not have reasoned as I did if one had not been exposed to modernist developments. I could believe that brend carried the avant-garde to its logical conclusion. (But I found myself utterly at odds with the avant-garde artists, who had never intended the avant-garde aesthetic to divert them from their drive toward successful careers. The realization that the standard-bearers of the avant-garde never meant a word of it boggles my mind.)
Art/entertainment embodies the lie of the advertiser who says "wear my clothes to be yourself." The only success possible to entertainment is to please subjective taste or penchant. But here is the difficulty: how can another persons production match my subjective taste better than experience which I "create"once we get past entertainments pragmatic function of regimenting people?
In utopia, entertainment would be supplanted by a new modality of self-identified gratifications which cannot be objectively defined (and thereby transferred).
Art and entertainment are to be replaced by moments without labels called brend. (The following definition from an early manuscript is only a signpost; my expositions of brend are elsewhere.)
Brend is every doing of an individual which is not naturally physiologically necessary (or harmful), is not for the satisfaction of a social demand, is not a means, does not involve competition; is done entirely because the individual just likes it in doing it, without any consciousness that anything is not-originated-by-self; and is not special exertion. (And is done and "then" turns out to be in the category of "brend.")
Brend narrows the frame to a selfs valuing. As a philosophical aside, whether brend can be interpersonal is an open question. Not only would you have to apprehend "the other" out-of-role; their enjoyment would not supply the definition for you. (Watching from afar, or overhearing, could be the basis.) It would be phenomenologically stranger than brend, because the whole point of being-in-society is to apprehend people as willful and thematic.
Since I encountered Hindustani music in the Fifties, my awe of it has grown. It convinced me that "Occidental man" has never known what music is. I want to uphold the example which Hindustani music has set (as far as I am able to understand it); that is as much of a priority for me as advocating brend. Nevertheless, and I do not need to dwell on this, we have to look away from a lot of the musics social presuppositions in order to enjoy it.
As music, it is living on borrowed time; its social preconditions are steadily being eroded. But surely there is a promise in this music whose fulfillment would extend beyond musical jobs and concerts. The horror of Occidental civilization is not caused by poor musicianship. It is the other way around: it is because Occidental civilization is an expanding horror that it does not honor musicianship. It is the totality that needs "reconstituting," difficult though that realization is.
Generally speaking, the Occidental arts have as their accomplishment the objectification of self-hatred, of vulgar worldliness, of hollowness. As a phenomenological characterization which does not attempt to specify the direction of causation,
the people around us who submit to crass and degrading lives display a lack of the inner resources which make it possible to be psychically vital while renouncing success and "participation."
The Occidental arts are competitions in self-degradation. Evidently the people we know are suckered into these competitions as compensation as exercises in burying pain under pain. There is one merit which art always possesses. As a symptom, art never lies. If people are vile and worthless, their art will slap you in the face with itand then you have been notified, even if the experience is not pleasant.
L. Applied arts
I understood in the mid-Sixties that I had to address architecture and the applied arts. Public space and mass-produced utilities necessarily express a public taste. My earliest perspective on these activities/practices came from George Maciunas. I thought the solution lay in two principles.
b) no-decoration, ultra-functional design. Maciunas called this efficiency.
But Maciunas proved to be far more limited than I realized at first. As it actually played out for him, he had a distaste for the scientific cutting edge in consumer design. He made an arbitrary assumption that present technology constituted a ceiling on technological change. Maciunas always designed down to a no-frills, low-budget solution, one might say a regressive solution.
He typeset headlines by enlarging electric typewriter text, claiming that this maximized uniformity and minimized the resources employed. In fact, the letters that resulted were crumbly and gnawed. That became his stylistic signature. But if it was not the point you were trying to make, then the look sent the wrong message.
Maciunas was always a craftsman working backwards from the leading edge of technology. He never thought of spending more money or choosing the high-tech solution in order to incorporate more features. He could never have envisioned digital recording, nor could he have designed a VCR or personal computer.
Maciunas was not a relevant guide to what was actually going on in architecture. He only proclaimed his own ultra-functionalism while ridiculing other architects buildings for their lack of functionalism. He never commented on other architects written rationales. Maciunas claimed that architecture was a science with its own syllabus; and he gave as an example standards for the height of tables, doorways, steps in a stairway, number of steps required by a stairway, etc. Applied rectangular geometry.
There was a whole side of architecture which I did not see in the Sixties because I was not looking for it. This particular branch of the useful arts was as theoretically pretentious and aesthetics-driven as abstract painting or serial music. In fact, if one pays attention, one finds that prestigious architects justify what they do by pseudo-scientific aesthetics of "space," "surface," etc. Even worse, deconstructionist architecture.
The problem was, how to rid architecture of the pseudo-science; while acknowledging that as a high-tech useful art which necessarily embodies a public taste, architecture has to have its own "knowledge."