Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Abstract art vs. one-dimensional thinking

Herbert Marcuse is best known for his book “One-Dimensional Man.” The book focused on modern industrial tech-nerd society, as well as a Western ideology, and its hold on the culture of industrialized capitalist nations.
The term “one dimensional” comes in handy and I’m beginning to see more and more of it in our society. But the “one-dimensional” philosophies of today dwarf the concepts that Marcuse argued against. Christian fundamentalism is just one example. I live in the Bible belt where abortion is the main issue. There are anti-abortion activists who can’t even discuss this issue because they base nearly all their political decision on the Bible, usually interpreted for them by a minister they have put all their trust in. Since they rely on holy scripture – sacred text - the world of god (actually Jesus) himself, there can be no argument. How can anyone argue with a perfect god?
But since surfing the internet, I have also come across people on the far left who have used their ideology (as godless as they may claim it to be) who are just as one-dimensional as the Christian fundamentalists. What ever great thinker they have chosen to follow has basically takes the place of Jesus Christ. The writing of certain Marxists texts, they have put their faith in, is just as “sacred” as the Bible. To argue with them is blasphemy.
The best way to notice one-dimensional thinkers is to look at their attitude on art and culture.
Consider the debate on abstract art between Ardea Skybreak and the MarxLeninMao Forums.

Skybreak of Revolutionary Worker #1117, September 2, 2001, wrote:

“Even the "automatic writing" (essentially "stream of consciousness" writing) of some of the dadaists and early surrealists-which were, I think, valid social experiments, testing and probing the limits of "sociality" and individuality of artistic production and perception and fulfilling a useful function in the destruction of old and stuffy formalism among other things-even these writings also revealed their own methodological limitations. And they revealed the fact that "freshness" in art is after all not fundamentally dependent on some idealized notion of spontaneity, but on an ability to consciously "skew" things in new and different ways-"change the focus," alter and bend perspectives, to provide fresh views and insights-all of which can only be aided by conscious reflection and struggle.”

To this, the MarxLeninMao Forums, “rcp=u$a and the CIA on art -- a footnote,” January 18, 2006 wrote:

"Abstract expressionism, cited approvingly as an example of legitimate social experimentation by Andrea Skybreak of the rcp=u$a, is an example of a kind of abstract art that became a symbol and expression of alleged Western freedom; it became an expression of the dominant ideology of bourgeois society. The CIA and cold war art circles and institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York saw in abstract expressionism "anti-Communist ideology, the ideology of freedom, of free enterprise. Non-figurative and politically silent it was the very antithesis of socialist realism." (1) Despite its apparent lack of overt political content, abstract expressionism, for example, became a part of an imperialist culture war. Abstract expressionism was directly used to attack socialist and socialist influenced art throughout the world. (2)"
(2) Eva Cockcroft. "Abstract Expressionism, Weapon in the Cold War" from the anthology edited by Francis Frascia. Pollock and After: The Critical Debate 2nd ed. Routledge NY, NY USA: 2000. p 150-154.

Their argument, here, and they have more on their blog, amounts to saying that something with no message at all is an aid to the CIA. So if I put a blank sign in my yard, does it support my opposition because it doesn’t condemn them? Do we draw the conclusion that an empty sign can be interpreted as any message a person decides to give it?

Skybreak has made this observation on the most orthodox form of 20th century Soviet Marxist art= “socialist realism”:

“The problem in the past with much of so-called "proletarian art" is not that attempts were made to create specifically proletarian works, themes and characters, etc., nor that some of those works were declared to be models: the problem was often that the content (and form) of these works did not in fact correspond to the highest historical aspirations of the proletarian class. Perhaps art derives much of its ideological power from the fact that it doesn't have to be "accountable to reality" in the strictest and most immediate sense, but its "departures" from reality should at least serve to distill the complexity and richness of social life and highlight aspects (contradictions) which encourage broad and sweeping vision, which challenge and provoke, call for the casting away of old ideas and so forth...
Certainly all those godawful icon-like pictures and statues of "The Workers" with bulging muscles and a breadth of vision defined by the sweep of their hammers and chisels accomplish none of this! And here it is not just a question of primitiveness (of technique, etc.) but very clearly a question of the influence of an incorrect political line, or incorrect political tendencies, concerning the nature of these aspirations, the means to bring them to light, and so on. The problem is not that "politics is in command" of the art in such cases (it always is-the point is to be more fully conscious in our understanding and application of this basic truth), but that in such cases the politics in command are wrong or flawed.”

To the Marxist purists this is a blasphemous statement.
It’s not that different from the Fundamentalist Christian arguments I’ve had to endure for years over our art and culture in Kansas.
From Otto’s War Room, January 06, 2006:

"KSNW Channel 3 originally refused to run the show "The Book of Daniel" claiming, in The Wichita Eagle, Jan. 06, 2006, that they received hundreds of complains that the TV show was “offensive to Christians.”
Most of these Christians have not seen the show, only heard about it.
The show they oppose was about a minister with a family and many of today’s common problems. That was just a little too much for the fanatics that never want to see a Christian suffer any wrong action.
According to the Eagle:
Station general manager Shawn Oswald said Thursday that the station received more than 300 e-mails and phone calls from viewers opposed to the show.
"Over the past several days KSN has been contacted by viewers and area religious leaders expressing concerns over the content of this program," the station said in a news release.
"As broadcasters using public airwaves and leaders in the community, we don't believe it's in the best interests of our community to air a program that a large number of viewers find deeply offensive."
The Rev. Terry Fox, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church and one of the religious fascist leaders who contacted the station, was pleased with the decision.
"I think (the show's) content is very offensive to most of the people in the country, and especially to people in Kansas," he said. "And I think it says that the local station truly is listening to the majority of people and I think the people really appreciate it."
A representative from the American Family Association (another front for religious fundamentalists) saw a special viewing of the show on Tuesday and described it as an attack on Christianity, said Randy Sharp, its director of special projects.
Among the group's criticisms is that the show portrays Jesus -- who appears and speaks to the minister -- as a
"good ol' boy, nonchalant, happy-go-lucky kind of guy," Sharp said."It's not a true representation of Jesus Christ," he said.
It’s funny how these people seem experts on a man who died 2,000 years ago, as if they knew him personally.

Again from Otto’s War Room, September 21, 2005:

"Operation SouthWind is a group that collected thousands of signatures from people who think the magazines, videos and gadgets that certain bookstores and sex shops sold were obscene.” Of the shops they have targeted as obscene, two are Priscilla's, and Zigefields. -Source The Wichita Eagle, Sep. 20, 2005.
These stores have been here for years, without incident. They don't sell hardcore porn. To now label them obscene is absurd.

But that is the far right. I’ve learned to expect such stupidity and rigid thinking from those whose religion has robbed them of the ability to make their own informed decisions. Such dogmatic thinking simply shuts down the brain and the cognative reasoning dries up and dies. It wasn’t until I started to serf the web that I came across leftist organizations and persons that have the same problem. And MarxLeninMao Forums is not alone in this. There are many organizations and individuals whose beliefs are set in stone and one-dimensional.

My own logo, on some of my blogs, is a picture of Mao (毛澤東) drawn by Andy Warhol. He made the paintings during President Richard Nixon’s historical trip to China. He meant to honor Mao, not ridicule him. By using the logo, I can honor both men, one for being among the greatest revolutionary theorists of the 20th century and the other for being one of the USA’s greatest artists of the 20th century. Warhol gave us paintings of mass-produced crap, representing the cheap plastic crappy culture our capitalist society created for us. Even if Warhol is not a revolutionary in the political sense, his message was not what the status quo wanted. I’ve always admired him for that.

The same can be said of Hunter S. Thompson, one of my favorite writers. He’s not a revolutionary either, but he’s trashed Nixon and a lot of other political assholes and reading his work is like watching someone piss on the American flag. It may not bring down the government or system, but it’s outrageous and I like it.

Even the sometimes reactionary Sex Pistols spoke to a generation that, in the 1970s, felt betrayed and abandoned by the system. In “God Save The Queen”:

“When there’s no future how can there be sin
We’re the flowers in the dustbin
We’re the poison in your human machine
We’re the future your future…..
No future for you no future for me”

Again Ardea Skybreak wrote:

“Vanguard and visionary art that was deemed "too radical" and outrageously controversial in an earlier time may become broadly accepted, or even be co-opted by its former detractors, when overall societal conditions change. In addition, the sphere of art, as well as other spheres of human activity, is littered with "experiments that failed" (at least ultimately) and pathways that led to dead-ends, regardless of how "important" or "successful" they may have appeared to be in their times. Then again, some works of art from other historical periods, or produced by classes which are no longer vanguard social forces, may maintain "social relevance" even if the content of that social relevance is no longer exactly the same.”

One of my favorite authors, Titus Lucretius Carus Lucretius, lived during the early Roman empire. He trashed their religion and some of the cruelty they practiced. He lived under one of the most cruel empires the world has ever known. His views would seem out of place if we judged him by modern standards. But he was way ahead of his time in 50 AD.

Can we dismiss all of society’s artistic because they don’t follow the correct political path? I don’t believe that will happen and in my opinion, the one-dimensional thinkers of both the left and right, those whose look at culture, art and politics as simple black and white straight line, will eventually fade away. They are all obsolete thinkers and our society will never need any of them.

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