Saturday, October 24, 2009

Creativity, Censorship, and...Hitler?

"They will draw a sigh of relief and express their joyous agreement with this purification of art."

Adolph Hitler

After my insurmountable boredom with, and consequent inability to muster any kind of scholarly, insightful, or even sarcastic response to last week's readings, Doctor Maruca's essay on "Women in the Eighteenth-Century Text Trades" is more like it. Hell, by the end of the second epigraph I was already stirred, because the issue of how exactly censorship and creativity work together--or more aptly put, work against each other--is a very delicious topic to me.

According to Doctor Maruca's second epigraph, Lord Chesterfield declares that despite the admitted plausibility of the eternal insistence of many, "that arts and sciences cannot flourish under an absolute government; and that genius must necessarily be cramped where freedom is restrained," Lord Chesterfield insists that this "is false in fact." No, no, no, according to Lord Chesterfield, artists and scientists should always be able to flourish, because, "the despotism of government" notwithstanding, artists and scientists will always, in some confined, imprisoned, suffocated, unrealistic way, be able to find "subjects enough to exert genius upon." Awesome...piece of cake!

The first thing the aforementioned imbecilic balderdash  from Lord Chesterfield brought to mind, is a book that I have dealt with entitled Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, by Frederic Spotts, and in particular, chapter eleven of said book, entitled "The Failure of National Socialist Realism." Now, despite the ways in which Doctor Maruca illustrates how "eighteenth-century English censorship, rather than being purely repressive, was productive of certain types of discourse," the other 99% of the time, the imbecilic balderdash of Lord Chesterfield is as wrong as wrong can be. And the aforementioned chapter from Spotts' book, lucidly illustrates one example of how.

Basically...well...aside from being the eternity-wide poster-child for pure, unadulterated human malignancy, Adolph Hitler was also a patron of the arts--in fact, he was an artist himself, albeit a misunderstood and undervalued one. Anyway, after the capitulation of the Weimar Republic to the murderous force of the SS juggernaut around 1933, Hitler, among many other acutely nationalistic endeavors, sought to show the world the brilliance of the art of the Third Reich. So in July of 1937, at his garishly constructed House of German Art, he had the first annual Great German Art Exhibition, "simultaneously and right across the street from" what was referred to as "the degenerate show." In other words, across the street from the show of artists who were not Nazis or Nazi supporters, which included according to Hitler, "Modernist, Bolshevist, [and] Jewish influences." Hitler liked the century old German Realism of "the fatherland," which included subjects like "landscapes, flowers, animals, family scenes, [and] portraits," not "sloppy paintings where you cannot tell which is top or bottom." And he had his first exhibit right across the street from, and at the exact same time as "the degenerates" to show "Germany and the world" the supremacy of  the art of the Third Reich.

Hitler's whole exhibit quickly became an enormous and humiliating fiasco, complete with him repeatedly throwing pitiful--yet obviously ominous--temper tantrums, that would ultimately result in the resignation of his head curator, Gerdy Troost. Aside from the modernist influences that unavoidably found their way into his exhibit, the bottom line was that the massive amount of art that he commissioned, plain and simply sucked. As Spotts writes, Hitler "erred in thinking that by getting control over artists he was getting a grip on the arts...he soon learned that even totalitarian power has its limits...

...It can ban and burn art, and imprison and kill artists, but it cannot incubate talent."

Which in some cases, is Some despots and dictators are fine with failure and people that don't listen to them...psych! To follow Lord Chesterfield's line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, we need only examine Hitler's response to the failure of the artists in Germany to succumb and acquiesce to his ideas of art. Or to put this in Lord Chesterfield's words, we need only examine Hitler's response to the artists in Germany who refused to confine themselves to what Hitler thought was "subjects enough to exert genius upon." To these artists Hitler warned:

"By standing foursquare on the principle that someone who considers himself a painter but submits some kind of garbage is either a swindler, therefore belonging in prison, or a buffoon, therefore suited for an insane asylum, or, if his mental state is confused, a concentration camp to be reeducated, the exhibition will be a real terror for the incompetent."


Saturday, October 17, 2009

This has nothing to do with our readings and will inevitably piss someone off.

Disclaimer: The following contains coarse and vulgar language. Those with fragile temperaments, sensitive ears (eyes), and/or who do not get out of the house much, should probably abandon ship right here...seriously.

This week's readings bore me. I do not want to write about either of them. And seeing as I am ahead on points, and have plenty of weeks left to fulfill the 100 possible points for these blogs, I am going to write about something that pisses me off, concerns all of us here at Wayne, and will probably piss at least one of you off (at me, I mean). How does that old saying go? "Tell people lies and they will build monuments to you, tell them the truth, and they'll kill you for it," or something like that. Anyway, although there is a particular incident that the following broadside is pointed at, this incident is merely one foul manifestation of a much broader debacle. I've wanted to say something about the following incident to someone...anyone, for a while now, and since I have come to respect many of you--my dearest classmates--through this forum and our class discussions, I figure who better to share my concerns with?

So, to get right to the heart of the matter, and to introduce the wretched hyena of a problem that my grievances are directed towards, I will starkly and simply state...

...fuck "Midtown"!

Fuck Starbucks. Fuck condos and $100,000.00 lofts right next to squalor. In this respect, fuck the expensive gated-community on Alexandrine, between Second and Third. And fuck what has happened to what used to be a Dally in an alley.

"Midtown" is a fatuous, public-relations, marketing euphemism for what is, and always should be the Cass Corridor, and the complex mixture of human beings that the Cass Corridor has always been comprised of. I like how all of these hipsters, artists, yuppies, intellectuals, and affluent eccentrics, who all think they are the most progressive and conscious individuals in town, think that you can turn the Cass Corridor into "Midtown," and not have it be at the expense of a whole community full of poor people. For as often as these urbane people decorate their progressive, conscious outlooks with impressive and lofty ideals that condemn ignominies like blatant, cruel, and unapologetic gentrification--or even more fitting to what is happening to the Cass Corridor, sterilization--they sure don't mind that it is exactly this sterilization that has made it safe enough and clean enough for them to move "to the city" to reinvent themselves as the hip, urbane, conscious city-goers that they--for now at least--fancy themselves as. Never underestimate the power of denial.

Wayne State is an open sore... a good friend of mine once said, "it is the meeting-place of the haves and the have-nots." It is a section of this area, where one daily witnesses disheartening manifestations of what it takes to turn the Cass Corridor into "Midtown." It is the most rigid police state that I have had to deal with on such a consistent basis. One particular incident that I had the misfortune to witness, aptly illustrates one aspect of the problem.

One morning, on a weekday, a few weeks before the end of the summer semester, I had been skating downtown all morning, and around 11:00 or so, I was skating north on Cass, back up to my apartment at Antoinette. An ambulance, heading north, rushed pass me around Willis or so. As I approached Warren, I got off of my board so as to walk across Warren. Ahead, in front of the science building, and across from La Pita, the ambulance had stopped, and I saw a couple of cop cars as well. All of a sudden, I saw someone attempt to run away from the cops and the paramedics, just to fall to the ground in the street, at which time I heard the unmistakable, nauseating, and troubling sound of a taser. 

The man was black, and from what little I saw of him, looked like he was probably homeless.

As I was about to jump back on my board, once I had crossed Warren, this random bunch of frat-boy-looking white males were passing me, who had just witnessed this shit situation, and they were joking and fucking laughing about it. One looked at me, with an infuriating shit-eating grin on his face, and exuberantly told me that "they tased him!" I guess he expected some kind of empathetic response from me to his jovial approval of the aforementioned man's tasing, because this frat-boy-looking white student--along with most of the group that was with him--looked fairly confused when I growled back at him...

..."and you motherfuckers think that's fucking funny?!" 

The whole scene was the foulest thing I witnessed all summer, and as far as I am concerned, aptly illustrates what kind of deplorable circumstances surround turning the Cass Corridor into "Midtown." As I skated by the cops, the paramedics, and the man that had been tased, I didn't look, because I am cool enough with myself, and life, that I don't need to gawk at this kind of treacherous shit. What I couldn't help to catch, were the smirks on the paramedics (for crying out loud); the man still laid-out groaning on the concrete; the smiles on random passers-by; and most of all, the elation and pleasure and entertainment a bunch of jackals and hyenas across the street at La Pita were having over this man's problems, while they ate tabouli and hummus at the sidewalk tables, on this otherwise beautiful summer day.

I don't--necessarily--blame the cops, because I did not witness what led to the tasing. Hey, maybe the man had left the cops no other choice, and tasing him was the most humane way to deal with him (however that works). Nevertheless...

...fuck the group of frat-boy-looking white students that derived such pleasure from one man's problems, and fuck all of those students at La Pita with the smiles on their faces as they ate their tabouli and hummus, and were so entertained by what had happened.
I know this kind of indifference to other people's misfortunes is indicative of the kind of moral and social rot that increasingly plagues this terminally declining country, and which people love to watch on their televisions, but come on, this is supposed to be a place of "higher learning." I expect this kind of jovial indifference and pleasure towards the plight of homeless people, from all of the inebriated, white assholes that make downtown unbearable during sporting events (and the Hoedown), not from students at Wayne State.

As we each witness the disheartening manifestations of the transformation of the Cass Corridor to "Midtown," that spill over on to this campus, the very least we can do, is remember that these individuals which are being rousted, harassed, arrested, and assaulted by the police, are human beings, and conduct ourselves befitting this realization--conduct ourselves how we would want others to conduct themselves if we were in similar circumstances. 

"Now look who is laughing at his brother in the mud. Now look at who is asking, 'where is that brotherly love'?"

Sizzla Kalonji

Friday, October 9, 2009

"At the expense of others"?

In the introduction to The Zinn Reader, historian and activist Howard Zinn writes:

"There was never, for me as teacher and writer, an obsession with 'objectivity', which I considered neither possible nor desirable [my italics]. I understood early that what is presented as 'history' inevitably a selection out of an infinite amount of information, and that what is selected depends on what the selector thinks is important....I was relieved when I decided that keeping one's judgments out of historical narrative was impossible, because I had already determined that I would never do that....the world is already moving in certain directions--many of them horrifying. Children are going hungry, people are dying in wars. To be neutral in such a situation is to collaborate with what is going on [my italics]."

I must beg the pardon of whatever readers that I am fortunate enough to share my thoughts with here, as I know that such a lengthy quote in this type of forum may not necessarily be appropriate, but...

...I simply could not help myself.

That passage from Professor Zinn's book, was in my mind throughout my reading of Ronald J. Deibert's--admittedly--thoroughly and convincingly argued chapters from Parchment, Printing, and Hypermedia. And I will soon get to Deibert's chapters, but first must say one last thing about Professor Zinn's view of dealing with history. This would be that Professor Zinn has concisely summed the aforementioned sentiment up by simply asserting that:

"You can't be neutral on a moving train."

No, no, no, some of us--for good or ill--are simply not made that way. And thus, I (me, personally) can wholeheartedly relate to Professor Zinn when he warns his readers, as I guess I am warning you, dearest readers, that in the following words, and unlike the case of Deibert's chapters,  you will not find "any hint of 'neutrality'."

With all of that said (and I apologize, I know it is a lot), and as I stated above, Deibert's argument is thoroughly convincing. Simply put, he seems as correct as correct can be. There is no getting around the substantial part that printing has played in the rise of capitalism, and "the new world order." And of course, under the sweeping and malignant umbrella of capitalism, as Deibert notes, we find circumstances such as, for instance, centralized governmental bureaucracies; "complex division[s] of labor"; the narrowing, hardening, and proliferation of borders; and of course, along with all of this fun stuff, wars. War is immensely lucrative. In fact, war just might be the most lucrative capitalist venture there is. As the incendiary journalist, Randolph Bourne, wrote back in 1914: "War is the health of state." I mean, World War II ended the Depression--stopped it dead in its tracks. From a capitalist perspective, World War II was the best thing that could have happened to the U.S. at that point.

But I digress. Or do I? 

Once again, I am not trying to refute the validity of any part of Deibert's argument, as I have already said, he's done his homework, and these chapters are indeed convincing. My problem is how completely creepy it is to read someone, who so thoroughly examines all of these disheartening stages of the growth and spread of something that exists at the expense of such a vast multitude of human beings--meaning capitalism--but who does so in such a cold, utterly objective, matter-of-fact manner, and with such dismissive indifference to the oppression that grew right along with capitalism. He does not once express a sentiment of regret or dismay. And hey, that probably makes him a much better historian or political scientist than I will ever be...but, so what?

I mean, at the end of chapter three, he concludes by writing that he has "described how the introduction of printing in medieval Europe brought about specific distributional changes that empowered certain actors and social forces at the expense of others [my italics]." But the only "others" he specifically mentions, is the hegemony of the papacy. This is really irritating to me.

"At the expense of others"? How about the mass of people that all of a sudden were now imprisoned in a capitalist state? After all, printing in these new centralized bureaucracies simply made it so the class system was infinitely more organized, solidified, and methodical than it ever could have been under the papacy. Simply put, the oppressed had never been so oppressed. Or as Deibert even indifferently notes, the mass of people, under the development of capitalism, now could be said to be increasingly living in Michel Foucault's "disciplinary state." At the expense of others indeed. How about all of the "common people" fighting, being maimed, and dying in all of these wars, to protect these borders, and all of these "imagined communities" that all of this printing has helped to proliferate and strengthen? Is it at their expense too? Do they not deserve at least a trace of recognition...perhaps just parenthetically? 

As a de facto Marxist--if you will--I have to balance the undeniable advantages of something like printing, with the undeniable disadvantages (of course, any conscious soul must). I know this. Nevertheless, I can not help feeling that my problem with Deibert's chapters, are in some way, an example of the problems that arise from "the interdisciplinarity" that Howsam writes about. In just trying to focus on printing and the printing press, he unavoidably has to brush up against other issues and circumstances, outside of the thesis he is focusing on, and though he illuminates them in some degree, by brushing by them, to stick with his narrow topic, he is forced to completely ignore them...or something like that...I guess.

I also have to acknowledge that my conclusions are based on an incomplete reading of Deibert's book--just three chapters. But based on these three chapters, I feel that Deibert's thorough and objective study of  this narrow topic opens a number of doors to other, more dire consequences of the introduction of printing, and then just walks past these open doors without taking the slightest glance in...

"To be neutral in such a situation is to collaborate with what is going on."

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Hands, touchin hands, Reachin out, Touchin me, Touchin You"

Disclaimer: Once again, what follows contains allusions to debauched and immoral behavior.

This is going to be a difficult one to be serious and scholarly towards, and consequently, I beg the pardon of whatever readers may happen upon what follows, as I am sure to occasionally, arbitrarily, and--perhaps--involuntarily sink into lapses of fatuous doggerel and outright immature sarcasm.

Case in point: so let me get this straight, Johannes Trithemius (that old SOB) has a monastery full of young monks, whom, like all young men, are unavoidably subject to "vain and pernicious thoughts," and of course, indulging in these "lower passions," and Trithemius (that old SOB) thinks that forcing these young monks to sit, alone, in their "cells" (and isn't it ironic that these rooms for the young scribes are called cells?) vast amounts of time--in fact, most of their days--copying scripture and such, is going to prevent these young monks from...well...since we are all adults it a yank from time to time? 

Sure...piece of cake. Trithemius has it all covered...keeping the hands and eyes occupied...hand, eyes, writing, eye/hand coordination...yes indeed, I'm sure his intention to suppress these young mens' "idle desires" wouldn't have been nearly as efficacious, if he would have, instead, suggested something like...say...long-distance running.

Given the fairly glaring nature of Trithemius' real  reasons for writing this "praise," it is damn nigh impossible to take anything he writes about, concerning the alleged merits and benefits of "the labor of writing" seriously. I mean, of course, dude is utterly and completely wrong about the life-span of books and paper--which is probably unnecessary to even note, considering he does not make the slightest attempt to justify, explain, qualify, or support his assertion, and thus, probably didn't believe it himself.

In this respect, any and all of his points regarding subjects like the longevity of the written word as opposed to the fleeting nature of the spoken word, or the spiritual benefits of the work of scribes, and of course the right to eat that accompanies this work, all start to sound like the glum and dour buffoonery of a spiteful and unrealistic old monastic wing-nut, making up a bunch of bullshit, so as to cram his ideas of the indispensability of "obedience" down the throats of a bunch of--for the most part, poor--young men (and thus obliterate the precious, fleeting,  and beautiful vitality and spirit of youth in all of them) who have been forced into the drudgery of monastic life due to matters of circumstance. 

I think that Johannes Trithemius sounds like he must have been a riot to hang out with. Generally, I have found that such has been the case with the people that one encounters who insist that "nothing but good can come of obedience." Nothing but good indeed. After all, without "obedience," and especially the kind of absolute and blind obedience that Trithemius (that old SOB) is talking about, how could history have had its Nazis and Hitlers, and Stalins, and indian-massacring Andrew Jacksons, and Pol Pots, and slavery, and genocide, et cetera...