Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Fallout #1

Being a new semi-regular feature in which I empty my head of thoughts, quotes and stray images that have been sparked off by other items on this blog.

The following quotes have been rattling around my head ever since we talked about Inglourious Basterds. I was going to write a whole post around them, but I didn't have too much to add so I've decided to post them raw:
Fine art, that exists for itself alone, is art in a final state of impotence. If nobody, including the artist, acknowledges art as a means of knowing the world, then art is relegated to a kind of rumpus room of the mind and the irresponsibility of the artist and the irrelevance of art to actual living becomes part and parcel of the practice of art.

(Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History)


(Mike Barthel on art as criticism and criticism as art)

In 1939, when it was certain that war was imminent, the Trustees of the National Gallery, headed by Kenneth Clark, decided that the whole collection was to be sent to Canada. On Churchill's intervention the plan was modified and the pictures were moved to slate mines in Wales. Civilian populations could not, of course, be provided with comparable protection and were killed in large numbers.

(John Carey, What Good Are the Arts?)


Worship of art made human beings expendable. Hitler welcomed the allied bombing raids on German cities because they cleared the way for his designs. After the massive raid on Cologne in August 1942, Goebbels found him studying a map of the city, and he confided that the demolished streets would have had to be razed anyway. In 1943, following the heavy raids on the Ruhr which severely damaged Dusseldorf, Dortmund and Wuppertal, and virtually destroyed the town of Barmen, he remarked that these conurbations were 'not attractive aesthetically' and had needed reconstruction. Beauty mattered more than people. In November 1943 he altered the German strategic plan, giving orders that Florence should not be defended. 'Florence is too beautiful a city to destroy,' he insisted. By contrast 'I do not feel a thing about levelling Kiev, Moscow and Petersburg to the ground... In comparison with Russia even Poland is a cultured country.' The same aesthetic standards governed his estimate of individuals. Art, and those who produced it, were the supreme consideration. 'Really outstanding geniuses,' he explained, 'permit themselves no concern for normal human beings.' Their higher mission justified any cruelty. Compared to them, ordinary people were mere 'planetary bacilli'.

(John Carey, What Good Are the Arts?)


Pornographers are the enemies of women only because our contemporary ideology of pornography does not encompass the possibility of change, as if we were the slaves of history and not its makers. Pornography is a satire on human pretensions.

(Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History)

(Click on the above image to experience The New Adventures of Hitler! Or at least, you know, a tiny little sputtery bit of it...)

Coming soon: Darkseid Week! Just remember, it's all Plok's fault!


David Golding said...

I wonder what Carter would think if she had lived to see internet porn? Can we call it a satire when millions of women suffer to make it?

How does fine art exist for itself alone? How does it not? All art is quite useless, that is it aspires to the state of the rock or tree, an object in the world. It is not made for a use like a car or gun, but it can be put to use, just as the rock or tree can. We are the use-makers, the ones that make things exist-for-us.

I know I'm arguing with the Carter quotes taken out of context, rather than her book. Actually, your post inspired me to borrow and read the book. I wish I'd read it years ago when I was writing about 'Arcadia'. It clarified things for me with regard to Sade, Salo, and feminism. I should write a post on it. (It's also good for understanding The Filth.)

Have you ever seen Max? It's a film about Jewish art dealer Max (John Cusack) befriending aspiring artist Hitler (Noah Taylor), and imagining if out of this friendship a career had formed more like Wagner or Tolkien. Well-made, thoughtful, funny stuff.

I've recently heard about Swastika (d. Philippe Mora, 1973) that features Eva Braun's home movies of Hitler. I think that would be interesting. The fact that Hitler was nice to animals, and probably a laugh at parties, seems absolutely central to The Invisibles. I haven't read The New Adventures of Hitler---probably the biggest hole in my Morrison reading. I wonder if it will ever be re-published.

I'm not a fan of Tarantino; my wife dragged me along to Kill Bill, but even she disliked Death Proof, so I'll probably never see Inglourious Basterds.

David said...

CON=TEXT -- part 1

I usually work really hard to contextualise the quotes and links I use – even when they seem kind of dashed off, there's normally been quite a lot of thought put into their placement. This post was a cheeky experiment in providing the minimum amount of explicit context, and I'm really glad that you've came back with these thoughts David! They’re way better than the post itself deserves.

The tricky thing is that I'm actually working on a couple of pieces that will address some of these topics. I've got a post on The New Adventures of Hitler in the works, plus I'm currently running The Filth through The Sadeian Woman as part of a piece I’m writing for Andrew Hickey!

Still – I think that you're right to say that Carter's book makes a lot of sense of The Filth (and of ‘Arcadia’ – please write that post!). I also think that you can read The Filth in a way that updates Carter's musings on pornography as satire. In WestonWorld, both our bodies and the fantasies we dress them up in are too devalued to be worth satirising, which is a feeling that overexposure to Internet pornography might well lead you to.

Of course The Filth also moves on from this mindset in a way that neatly parallels the way The Sadeian Woman points to the world beyond “The Function of Flesh”, but… I can’t type any further without pre-empting my next Filth essay, so I’ll stop.

(Continued in the next comment...)

David said...

CON=TEXT -- part 2

As to the functionality of art, there’s something contradictory about Carter’s claims, I think. Or at least, there’s a contradiction in the way she frames these thoughts in her book. You’re absolutely right to note that we are the use-makers, and it seems odd to me that Carter should come out so strongly in favour of functionality in a book about the destructive utilitarianism of pornography. I think this is an important part of her book’s movement, actually – that quote fits with the parts of The Sadeian Woman that value the “honesty” of overt sexualisation. It’s part of the journey, but it’s not the final destination, basically.

In using that particular quote, I was trying to hint at the inherent ambiguity of Inglourious Basterds (which is a move I couldn’t honestly recommend to someone who doesn’t like Tarantino’s movies, even though I do think that it’s pretty great). Is Tarantino’s WW2 fantasy powerful or powerless? Well, that very much depends on what can be done with it, doesn’t it? I think it reacts very well to the sort of Bloomian criticism Geoff Klock favours, but I’m not entirely convinced by that school of critical thought. Terry Eagleton has a great line about this in Literary Theory: An Introduction. I don’t have the book to hand, but the gist of the dig is that all of Bloom’s grand romantic bluster ends up making literature seem even more closed-off and powerless, a series of diminishing echoes and nothing more.

(This is all spiralling way out of control now – time to bring it in!)

Anyway, it’s not all bad! At its best Bloomian crit expresses a passionate appreciation of art for its own sake, which I’ve still got some time for. When I was younger, I thought that there was a connection between appreciating art for art’s sake and understanding that other people weren’t just there to be used and abused; these days, I can’t really pretend that’s the case, which is why those John Carey quotes crept into the above post.

Carey puts forward a fairly positive ideal of functional art in The Intellectuals and the Masses and What Good Are the Arts?, but that’s maybe one tangent too many for this comment.

I’d never heard of Swastika, and I haven’t seen Max, but they do sound both interesting and very applicable to the topics at hand. I’ll try to check them out in the near future if I can. Again, I’m going to have to apologise because I do have some more thoughts here, but I’m saving them for another post!

Thanks again for chipping in David – your comments make this blog a far smarter place!


David Golding said...

In WestonWorld (as in PasoliniLand) the human body is indeed too filthy and tactile for the purple prose of Sade or the airbrushed photography of Playboy, but I fear that few people will visit. Of course the accessibility of physical pleasure in his novels allows Sade to make other points, as Carter notes.

The problem with art criticism is it can never truly explain why something is great or even why we think it is great. It can only justify the fact that we do think it's great. So: Hitler liked art; so what? That just makes him human... Yet it still seems like art and criticism can tell us something...

I look forward to your future posts!

David said...

I've rambled on too long here already, but just to say you're right -- the "monster who likes fine art" is a a pretty cliched figure, and it doesn't really tell us all that much about said monster, or about art.

I think that this cliche maybe provides us with further distance from monsterous figures ("Oh my God, even murderers can enjoy Proust!") while pretending to bring us closer to them.

Enter The New Adventures of Hitler, stage right!

Hopefully the Carey quotes I used in this post did more than fall back on this cliche, but that's for you to decide.

And yeah, I do think that art criticism can tell us something. What that something is, I haven't really figured out, and I don't know if I ever will...

David said...

Oops, I seem to have misread you there!

You said "art and criticism", rather than "art criticism" -- ah well, I'll stand by my original statment all the same!