Saturday, December 24, 2005

This is the 365th and final addition to this file. The subhead above [paraphrased from WB's Konvolut J, as it happens] has been changed to mark its completion -- or, better, stasis.

I want to reassure regular readers that laying this blog to rest has absolutely nothing to do with anything that has occurred in the 'sphere in recent months; nor, for that matter, in the Lebenswelt. (Though I've sometimes had to be reminded that the two are not co-extensive.) The decision was made, rather arbitrarily, as early as summer '04, as a way of fixing a stopping point that wouldn't just feel to me or look to you too much like giving up or flaming out. Can't say now whether I'll start up something else in the future -- but it won't happen for a year, minimum, and will probably be very different in form. Hope not to lose touch w/ those of you I've made or deepened contact w/ through this venue: though I'll be damned if I'll stoop to comment boxes, the email link at right will remain current as long as these pages stay up.

Could go on, but I've rarely seen a final post that didn't get too self-important. Thank you for checking in.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

In California until 12/26. Haven't been away quite long enough for returning to seem truly strange, though my first sensations, driving to Bree's sister's from Bob Hope International was of the scraggly wildlife along the sides of the fwys and the film over the air -- ugliness. (It's a damn Xmas-special set in Evanston right now.) Bree came home (a week before me) to moisture leaks and mold in her shut-up condo.; we'll hear from a toxicologist by Wed. whether it's bad-bad or just bad. Everything in the apartment has to be at least wiped down; books and sheet music, riffled and shaken out, fabric, washed. Went to a WeHo party w/ friends of her family on Friday, where one stranger seemed to be very convinced that I was, in fact, someone who had recently appeared on Desperate Housewives. This conversation would not have occurred in Chicago. Also met Ian Birney, the head of the LACMA film dept. (We had no idea the host knew him.) I've probably mentioned that Bree and I have admired him from afar for years -- not just for the good programming, but for his unpretentious manner of introducing and interviewing (Jeanne Moreau, Eva Marie Saint, many others). Just as charming in personal conversation; turns out he's from Toronto and put himself through school (until dropping out and getting involved w/ film distribution -- worked for Janus for a while) as a catalog model. Fascinating description of the way pages used to be shot -- the text would be made up on glass, and then the photo of the model was shot through that, which partly explains the weird poses in, say, a Sears catalog. Oh, where'd he drop out of? Northwestern.

Locals who happen to see this today -- Simon Pettit + local slate (Hofer, Maxwell, Apps) at The Smell tonight, approx. 6:30.

Ok, yes, you can go wrong with the Everlys -- they recorded a lot of indifferent material after leaving Cadence for Warners (apparently for major money by the standards of the time) in the early '60s. But they become interesting again later in the decade; after the US hits stopped, they were still fairly big in England, and there are several albums with a British Invasion sound. I particularly like 1966's In Your Image, pieced together from a few freestanding singles over the previous year or so -- the playing is tougher than what one associates w/ them, the vocals are still great, and there are good songs both by the bros. and outside writers -- "Leave My Girl Alone," "The Dollhouse Is Empty." I've always loved their hits (and there are early singles that aren't well-known anymore as well), but I had no idea this other stuff existed. (And why does Graham Foust, in Leave the Room to Itself, feel compelled to supply a "note" to a reference to, say, a Wilco song, but not to "All I Have to Do is Dream"?)

And Louis Jordan belongs on that list I mentioned before. And I almost certainly don't belong on this one, but thank you.

Wondering if my capacity to be argued into the valuelessness of the kinds of music I'm most capable of making is as much a big excuse as a sign of intellectual openness or probity.

"Men bought chips with markers backed by their failing businesses and unattended investments, their cars and houses; women pledged their wardropes, credit accounts, and children; and those the club managers deemed attractive enough were permitted to endorse vouchers promising future sexual labors for periods of up to five years of what would be, in fact, indentured prostitution. That lives were constantly being destroyed filled the casino with a thrilling and reckless energy, and awestruck, voyeuristic visitors were quite willing ot pay absurdly high fees simply to watch the action on the floor. Many of them, pale and trembling and sticky with cold sweat, had to be helped to their cars or rooms after an hour of two of watching the gamblers in their hopeless ecstasy." (Gilbert Sorrentino, Under The Shadow)

Negative space of the cookie sheet.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

1) Downside of listening to the local Top 40 station: The fact that they play "My Humps" even more often than its chart position dictates; the constant announcement for an Xmas sweepstakes, the sole prize in which is money toward a boob job ("you can make 'em smaller -- we don't care!"); an ad soliciting dancers for a gentleman's club, in the form of a conversation between a young woman who is already working there and one who has always wanted to ("it's safe -- and the hours are flexible!"); Nickelback's "Photograph," which is one foul combo of post-Goo Goos and a melodic bite from "Hard For Me to Say I'm Sorry"). Major upside, currently: Rhianna.

2) Recent talk about photography reminds me to point to the work of Jill Magid, whose work includes "performances" staged in front of various London security cameras, forming a sort of citywide narrative. (which footage she then somehow obtains and screens); basically using the extant system as her medium. Here's an interview. Oddly, she claims not to be thinking of the work politically, which on the face of it sounds disingenuous. Apparently, some of her work is in "Balance and Power: Surveillance and Performance in Video Art," up now in Champaign, but the weather's been too iffy for me to get serious about making the drive.

3) Re Ange's mention of Sasha's thought about indie-rock ("there are no children in it"): the topic is interestingly touched on by Xgau, playing Kim and Thurston (bohos-w/-kid) against Ira and Georgia (w/o). "Only childless couples enjoy the kind of slack that accrues to shy kids with a junk room." (N.B. -- he likes both bands.) Maybe worth adding that indie has preferred those who act like kids to those who raise them. This can be of use when it's a route to something else (2nd and 3rd Beat Happening album; J. Richman as founding figure of the genre); I've grown quite uninterested in the version that is actually the exploitative confusion of dysfunction with innocence.

[Knight's move to Jim B.'s recent screed on not wanting the same thing as anybody else. Are those our two choices: "Connecticut" or "Anything not fun for me for five minutes is immediately abandoned"? Lousy menu; false opposition.]

4) Just beginning Badiou's recently translated Metapolitics. Opening is bracing, and rather damning toward my customary habits/methods:

"What is political philosophy? It is the programme which, holding politics -- or better still, the political -- as an objective datum, or even invariant, of universal experience, accords philosophy the task of thinking it. Overall, philosophy's task would be to generate an analysis of the political, in fine, quite obviously to submit this analysis to ethical norms. The philosopher would then have the triple advantage of being, first, the analyst and thinker of this brutal and confused objectivity which constitutes the empirical character of real instances of politics; second, the one who determines the principles of the good politics, of politics conforming to ethical demands; and, third, in order to meet these demands, the one exempt from militant involvement in any genuine political process. Whence the philosopher could keep the Real at arm's length indefinitely in the manner most dear to him: that of judgment."

This speaks to some of what bothers me about my own recent posts; I sometimes wonder if even "protest songs" might not be a slightly less dishonorable use of my diffuse and diminishing energies. Can't say w/o getting further in what I'll think of Badiou's notion of "metapolitics," designed to replace the traditional project of political philosophy flayed above. (Would also like to get to his Ethics; though I gather he's a systematic philosopher of sorts, I suspect that I'm unlikely gain purchase on his ontological and math-y work.)

5) Book I've always meant to mention here, but never have: Robert Ray's The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy (H.U.P, 1995), which uses MGM's exceedingly popular but critically neglected cycle of Mickey Rooney vehicles as the object for a variety of ludic critical procedures. Including an alphabetical one -- I had remembered this when writing AF, but couldn't refer to the book at the time -- I found my copy just before moving. But the memory of it was on my mind. The point is to uncover new possibilities for academic criticism -- Ray's associated w/ "The Florida School," though I got more out of this than anything I've read by Geoffrey Ulmer -- but, as I just suggested, it's of interest to the practical critic interested in "finding a form" as well. Seriously -- working writers might give it a spin, even if you don't share my antecedent interest in the movies discussed.

6) Just in case your list of ways we shit on the world was running short, please add dumping technowaste in (to name just one place we know about) Lagos; partly made possible by our failure to sign on to The Basel Convention against exporting hazardous waste. What's especially lovely is when the recipient countries burn CRTs to reduce the volume, thus releasing a good deal of lead into the atmosphere. Too much more at Basel Action Network.

7) It's hard, I find, to go wrong with The Everly Brothers. I think they may end up on the short list of artists -- really, just Monk and The Minutemen -- for whom I suspend my usual interest in hearing all about the reasons I'm actually supposed to hate what I love.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Previous post went through a few additions/subtractions over the last few days; now stabilized. I'm pretty sick of the "avowal"/"denial" mode I've gotten myself into w/r/t that topic. If you ever have occasion to read Guenter Lewy's Peace and Revolution: The Moral Crisis of American Pacifism, don't bother, unless you've forgotten what neo-con prose, too transparent to be rightly called ideological, reads like.


Peli commented on my rather compressed post on photography from a week or so back. I don't think I will be able to go on at the tedious length needed to clarify the argument here, but maybe I can say one or two things.

First, in the passage he quotes, specifically the phrase "twin cases [unintentionally achieved but otherwise qualitatively and causally identical photos," I might better have said "occurring" than "achieved." If that's any clearer, here are the terms of the debate I'm intruding into. Roger Scruton argues from the premise that photographs aren't representations to the conclusion that photography isn't a representational art form. (That article, for good or ill, sets the stage for a bunch of philosophical writing about photography -- along with Kendall Walton's essays on photographic "transparency.") I think that, for a suitable understanding of "representation," that premise can be made tenable. One way of arguing this is by pointing to the fact that, had the same photographic processes occurred w/o intentional intervention, the photograph would still be "of" the same thing, in a certain important respect. ("Causal" or "mechanical" if one needs a term for it; others use "genetic," and it's related, in a more art-historical ambit, to Rosalind Krauss' sorta-Piercean notion of "indexicality.") If one thinks that the "of" that signifies some paradigmatic representational relations ("painting/drawing of," "description of") is necessarily implicitly intentional, then photographs will not be representations in that sense. (Fine with me, and with Scruton, if there's some other use of "representation" on which photographs -- like thermometers and tree-rings -- count. The capacity of photographs to carry information isn't at issue.) But, even accepting the premise, Scruton's argument fails, I think I could convince you, because he equivocates badly on "representation" between premise and conclusion; we needn't go into the details here.

But -- the way that philosophers have argued that Scruton's conclusion about the artistic status of photography is actually false has generally involved taking on board one of his further assumptions: that the question of whether photography is a "representational art" (or an "expressive" one, for that matter) hangs on whether the photographer has a certain kind of control over the representational and/or expressive character of the photographs which s/he intentionally initiates. So, for example, it's argued that all sorts of "technical" decisions bear on these properties in something like the manner that painterly techniques do in the relevant medium. And this is supposed to show that photography "is an art" in a pretty well-worn sense. But, to the extent that these techniques are "properly photographic" (that is, ultimately dependent on the processes that make photography possible in the first place), what I suggest is that the "causal/mechanical" character of photography can be used to produce counterexamples (the twin cases mentioned in the orig. post) which have all the representational and expressive properties of the intentionally initiated photo, but not the intentional background. I think that just about the same back-and-forth applies to the selection and framing/composition of subject matter. So, the "art" status of photography is not saved, against the non-representationalist, by pointing to these sorts of decisions.

My thought is just that those on both sides of the debate confuse photographic processes and photographic practices. There are a variety of photographic practices, of course: the one relevant to art involves selecting and displaying the results of photographic processes as objects of aesthetic interest. (It would cover more cases to speak of broadly "artistic" interest; but the debate has tended to center on photographs that are of interest for something like traditionally aesthetic reasons.) The artist's "side" of this practice doesn't give the photographs their representational and expressive character, but draws attention to it. Obviously, there are many other art practices involving photography than the one described; in the argument at hand, to repeat myself, I'm mainly concerned with "art photography" as most conventionally conceived. All this has obvious links w/ the Institutional Theory of art; and possibly is prey to the objection that some conventional notions of authorship are disrupted. Which consequence, actually, doesn't much bother me. Also, with respect to techniques that combine photography with other forms of image manipulation (from plain old retouching to digital techniques), the original problematic doesn't really even get off the ground, so don't start screaming about some naturalist fallacy.

So: I actually do think something in the neighborhood of the claim that Peli assumes I couldn't possibly: that "the fact that the same photographic product can occur unintentionally as well as intentionally proves the insignifcance of authorship to the artifact." Or: something like this fact marks a significant distinction between photographic "representation" and some other paradigmatic forms of image-making. (To jump traditions: Note that if nothing like this is the case, some aspects of Benjamin's interest in photography go out the window as well.) And, per the above, mislocating certain kinds intentionality "in the image" leads to problems.

I hadn't thought about these issues in relation to the notion of an "implied author," as it's invoked in the debate over the intentional fallacy. I'd like to think about it more, but my first thought is that, where photography is concerned, the notion of an "implied perceiver" of what the photograph captures might be more relevant to capturing some of the usual modes of interpretation. But, as I say, that's off the top of my head. I think there are also some terminological differences between the way Peli's set things up and what I've said above. Sorry I can't treat these more carefully, but trust me, it would make the above look downright pithy.


Why art can't kill machanime.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?