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…)

The Aesthetics of Murder and its Rivals


“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…)