essays

some bagatelles on the misanthropy of art III: Tetsumi Kudo

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While intimately bound to the techniques and styles of the avant-garde in Europe and Japan, Tetsumi Kudō (1935-1990) distanced himself from them by giving his work a satirical edge. This was not simply to mock his fellow artists, but to draw the logic of their work in directions that they would have found unsettling. In Kudō’s work, satire functions as both an analytical method and a means of organizing artistic production. His work was consistently cultivated by his milieu and polluted by the trends of the avant-garde. Pollution and cultivation could then be exaggerated into forming objects, the symbolic implications of which placed his work in a heretical position vis a vis the aesthetic and political prejudices of his peers. “While many artists dream of the sky (utopia), this artist turns toward hell, even crossing its threshold,” Kudō claimed for himself.[1] (more…)

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some bagatelles on the misanthropy of art II: a few kinds of misanthropes

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“What we need is hatred. From it our ideas are born.” – Jean Genet

“Where, I ask you,” cries Verneuil, “is the mortal stupid enough in face of all the evidence to claim that all men are born equal, in law and in fact? It was left to a misanthropist like Rousseau to put forward such a paradox, since, being extremely weak, he wanted to pull down those to whose level he was unable to raise himself. What effrontery did it take, I ask you, for this pygmy four feet two inches tall to compare himself to the model of stature and strength whom nature had endowed with the strength and figure of a Hercules? Is that not the same as comparing a fly to an elephant?” – Sade

One of the most generic understandings of misanthropy has been that it arises from a kind of disappointed idealism. The misanthrope is not so much a hater, but rather a jilted lover, à la Molière’s Alceste, that infamous cantankerous inamorato, whose unfortunate attitude had sprung from loving not wisely but too well. It’s the kind of assessment you get from a shrink or a Marxist: of course it isn’t what it blatantly is, it must be something else… A starkly different conception of the misanthrope emerges in Nietzsche, who recognizes in this figure that which can never be contemporary, that which refuses the community of significance and rejects the pseudo-reality of cultural life. Instead, the misanthrope is an untimely figure “lost in the present, waiting for the past, and haunted by the future.” In Deleuzean terms they would be the paradox, that which refuses the common sense of the world and remains resigned as a witness that never experiences anything – that which is always there but never caught in either being or becoming. Rather like a photograph or a painting. (more…)

The Aesthetics of Murder and its Rivals

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“There is no essential incongruity between crime and culture.” (Wilde)

“Deaths for Deaths’ Sake
With the haunting lucidity of insomnia, he organized populous orgies that often lasted four days and four nights. In the end, glutted, he settled accounts with bullets. While his trigger finger was unfailing, he was the most feared man (and perhaps the most anonymous and most lonely) of that whole frontier.” (Borges, 66)

“However inclined people are at first to scoff at the idea of murder as an art form, they prove even more reluctant to accept murder as a fact of life or as a characteristic of human nature. As a result, the affinity between art and murder is far greater than all but a few artists and killers have been willing to admit.” (Black, 103)

800px-Charles_Le_Brun_-_Venus_cortándole_las_alas_a_CupidoThe great Baroque painter and designer Charles Le Brun allegedly poisoned his rival Eustache le Sueur. Soon after, in a slightly more enlightened age, Schiller was arguing that murder was a higher aesthetic act than theft while Diderot ‘shuddered’ at such a notion. Controversy over aesthetics as a question of good taste was central to the enlightenment, especially among the Germans and French. This found its way into anglophone thought with some apprehension. And, as Joel Black points out in The Aesthetics of Murder: A Study in Romantic Literature and Contemporary Culture, it was largely Thomas De Quincey who interjected it. As Black explains at the start of his book: “If the present study accomplishes nothing else, it may at least call attention to the duplicitous, macabre associations that attended aesthetics at the moment it was incorporated into the English language…” (3) Of course, most of the book is not really about this historical phenomenon, but a rather different one, that of extending aesthetic analysis beyond its usual orbit. As he notes “…murder is as much a general cultural phenomenon as it is a specifically social, legal, or psychological problem.” (5) Given the dubiousness of moral claims as a rule, placing aesthetic claims on their level should, perhaps, offend both tender and brutal souls.
the-aesthetics-of-murderWhat is more notable about the aesthetics of murder is that they erode any distinction between ethics and aesthetics, between life and art, being and appearance. This subversion of classical mimesis has caused considerable consternation. Notably for the would-be redeemers of humanity and art, like chronic kill-joy mystic Walter Benjamin. Murder in particular offers the point of distinction between the banal and the Historical, between the secretive and marginalized and that which helps to form and safeguard societies: unfortunate stuff or the stuff of history. Narration allows for snuffing to produce stiffs that become stuff. (more…)

some bagatelles on the misanthropy of art I: of sentimental activists and the question of taste

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Even if we admit that, as patron and inhabitant, his perspective on and memory of the project would differ from those of others, nonetheless, on the cusp of talking his nation into war, why did Hitler feel compelled to write about the aesthetic pain caused by ugly light fixtures?

Hitler at Home (25-26)

Of course, we all know that few people are more hateful, spiteful, envious, paranoid, weak, ignorant, underhanded, double-faced, narcissistic, and dull than artists. The whole social history of art, were one to seriously write one (and no one has bothered to), would consist of little more than listing these litanies of loathing and, depending on the author’s level of perversity, categorizing them with great care and attention to detail. This is not an insult. The worst one can say for hatred is that it is too close to love, too close to being smitten with some trivial element of the world. One ought – and this is the only ethical or moral sentiment of these essays – to hate far better than that.

That art is regarded as an affirmation of life and humanity, if not their ultimate affirmation, is a commonplace. It is also patently false. And this falseness, which is also a kind of artifice, is occasionally drawn up into a moral conundrum about the dangers of aesthetics. Panic mongering about the danger of aestheticized violence or exoticized otherness have been fairly lucrative intellectual industries in academia and the art industry over the past few decades. And art, as a program for objectifying intensities, has duly exploited such pusillanimous squealing.

To take a trivial but local example: Ottawa art galleries (lately at least) seem to display a penchant for bien pensant art-as-therapy. The few commercial galleries, generally stocking landscapes etc., are balanced by artist-run centres and other state supported galleries who tend to organize their seasons around displaying their political fantasies. Amidst all of these was a small commercial exhibit by Jonathan Hobin featuring photographs of various miserable looking children in what is now fashionably considered racist garb with anime sized tears running down their puckered cheeks. The tears are fake, of course, and kitsch plays a crucial role.

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