Worringer’s Egyptians

Wilhelm Worringer was one of the most remarkable art historian/cultural theorists of the first half of the twentieth century. While he was a significant, if unintentional influence, on movements like Expressionism and different strains of abstraction, he seems to rarely be read at this point, while more dubious parasites on his work (such as Benjamin) have been glorified beyond reason. Worringer’s Abstraction and Empathy (1907) was a key text for T.E. Hulme and Wyndham Lewis and his lesser known book on Egyptian art is remarkably consonant with much of what Lewis was arguing about art in the 20s and 30s. A student of Simmel, Worringer managed to be one of the best sociologists of modernity by not writing about modernity at all.

Vivant Denon's etching of the Sphinx of Giza, 1798

Egyptian Art (1928) was written as a polemic against what Worringer regarded as a false idea of Egyptian profundity, one accorded to them by a “glorification of the abstruse.” (27) He pinpoints an irony in the fact that what Europeans glorified in the Ancient Egyptians often seems formally comparable to that which they claim to despise about America (judging by the inclusion of Canadian examples, he means the northern continent in general). (x) His project then was to de-romaticize and de-heroicize the Egyptians, whose ancient civilization have been distorted through their late ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘degenerate’ phase after they had been infected by Hellenistic and Roman society and eroticized in their exotic qualities. False eroticism is coupled with false religiosity. If the Egyptians have a reputation for spiritual profundity this is due to the “fascinating power of the senseless. Nothing has a more profound effect than paradox.” (15) This paradox is the simultaneity of high material culture with a senseless ideal one. (16) The confusion of this  resulted in immense fantasies for hidden or secret depths beyond the stereotypes and fancies, fantasies that are unattuned to the fact that “the heart-beat is audible only under pathological conditions.” (18) (more…)

Notes: On the rudiments of culture III


René Girard on the ‘anticulture we call modern’ (from Violence and the Sacred [1972]).

If the history of modern society is marked by the dissolution of differences, that clearly has something to do with the sacrificial crisis to which we have repeatedly referred. Indeed, the phrase “modern world” seems almost like a synonym for “sacrificial crisis.” It should be noted, however, that the modern world manages to retain its balance, precarious though it may be; and the methods it employs to do so, though extreme, are not so extreme as to destroy the fabric of the society’. As my previous chapters indicated, primitive societies are unable to withstand such pressures; violence would quickly get out of hand and trigger the mechanism of generative unanimity, thus restoring a social system based on multiple and sharply pronounced differences. In the modern Western world nothing of this kind takes place. The wearing away of differences proceeds at a slow but steady pace, and the results are absorbed more or less gracefully by a community that is slowly but steadily coming to encompass the entire globe.

Notes: Cheryl Pagurek and the CBC


I remember listening to George Steiner hitting a rough patch in one of his flowing sentences on Writers & Company twenty odd years past. After some gentle prodding from the hostess, the crotchety novelist/critic explained how alarmed he was by the extent to which the Canadian cultural and intellectual world had degenerated since the 1980s. It had fallen to the point that it had become a hideous parody, less of itself, than of milquetoast Americans. Much the same could be said of the CBC, which continues to descend to levels of crapulence that should appall the public. Continuing our tour of discursive discards, here is a look at a typically lousy example from our state run media. This might be excused for being a very middle-brow entertainment bit, but this does not distance it from its – and the many articles it weaves in as links – quite overt propagandistic function.

Ottawan Cheryl Pagurek is a state subsidized artist with many connections to the Ideological State Apparatus. Not surprisingly, her new show at the Patrick Mikhail Gallery was selected as a ‘must see’ by Canadian Art.

The gallery advertises the work as follows: (more…)

The Montreal Biennale; or, why are Momus and Canadian Art retarded?


A throwaway

Please note: I don’t write about any of these articles because they are particularly interesting, but because they are symptomatic of the state of discourse on art in the country.

While biennials tend to be tombstones for recent art trends, Momus’ Saelan Twerdy suggests that this one might be different. He contextualizes it with his nausea about Brexit and the Trumpocalypse, cast here as the two beasts proclaiming the end of globalization and wonders if, since contemporary art has been defined in terms of this now (speculatively) moribund process, it has cachet any more. The Montreal Biennale is then interpreted as a symptom of the uncertainty about the continuity of the contemporary. Curator Philippe Pirotte (and his three advisors Corey McCorkle, Aseman Sabet, and Kitty Scott) position this instance of the Montreal biennial against the previous future obsessed variant and other contemporary (CON) or post-contemporary (PC) concerned models around the globe. Twerdy suggests that maintenance of the contemporary model has been a rear-guard action by the establishment since the financial crash of 2008 [this is rather vulgar Marxist historicism]. With the present ‘unbearable’ and the future unclear, “Pirotte seems to argue for abdicating such responsibilities, calling for a deeper look into the past as a remedy for present-ism and for an ethos of pleasure and hedonism in place of political moralizing.” This is manifested in a handful of post-contemporary works in the show. Embracing Jean Genet’s The Balcony as a model, a choice the author thinks is very out of step with CON/PC aesthetics, what results is “a dense and sensual exhibition that, though indeed often perverse, is far from nihilistic.” [He doesn’t explain or develop the conditions or consequences of the last part of this remark.] (more…)