Tuesday, April 23, 2013

the perfect balance of recreational consumption, intimacy, and associational life


non-arousal as legitimate 

non-arousal as legitimate physiological response 

non-arousal as legitimate physiological response to a banal incoming stimulus

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

animals without faces

what's behind this face?

my previous post brings forth a different conversation that needs to happen. after the cambridge declaration a carnivore/pet owner cannot say "i love animals" without a shade of moral tension.

what does it mean to love an animal? to love thyself: ego-projection! pet-rearing in america boils down to a social practice of ornamental narcissism (thus the resemblance between pet and owner).

how much the animal face resembles the human face becomes an important ingredient in our understanding of animal cogitatio. the metaphor is used by french philosopher emmanuel levinas: a face for levinas brings forth a more basic, essential connection: 1- the possibility of bridging a friendship, 2- an encounter, which opens up all sort of ethical possibilities.

the truth is that levinas didn't understand the animal face (more of this later). for now, i'd like to stretch levinas' idea to fit non-human animals.

the more human the animal looks, the easier the human projection. 

walt disney is against the grain. the legend goes that he loved animals & introduced a legion to the masses: goofy, donald, ronno, roger, minnie, goofy, bambi. (one could argue that mammal face-to-face is easier). but then there is jiminy cricket,  kaa (python), ursula (octopus), sebastian (crab) & aladar (dino).

what am i getting at? they all talk!

disney, not levinas, tackles the problem. language is the divide of human/animal face-to-face. since the animal cannot articulate a sentence, they become, as german philosopher martin heidegger put it "poor in world." this is why levinas doesn't walk the walk with bobby --the only animal in the prisoner camp where he spent the war years. jiminy cricket talks and acts smart. he's loyal & generous. of course, crickets don't talk, but by imagining they could, we cogitate a face all the way down to hexapoda.

the whole idea of face-to-face is that it should presuppose otherness unqualified. if i choose my other face all i'm doing is projecting myself-as-other.

jiminy has a cute face, only too human-like

on the other hand, disney's anthropocentrism reinforces animal bias: big bad wolf is, well, evil. his goal is to eat the three little pigs. now animal-empathy ends up building animal-prejudice. how?

we hate bad wolf because we're competing for the same food niche.

in disney's dinosaur the evil carnotaurus is a carnivore. aladar, the protagonist is an iguanadon (a hervibore). we get a paradoxical view of animal otherness. hervibores are good, carnivore (predators) are evil. as anthropocentric as it gets, we're still blind to the fact that we are the top carnivores (we'll come back to this blind spot).

let's improve disney thought experiment: being aware of the animal-as-other makes for an interesting hermeneutic circle. let's get rid of moral simplifications: animals are neither "good" nor "bad." animals are not moral beings in the sense we understand the term. the received idea is that animals are not moral because they lack freedom (too complicated a question to be pursued here). therefore, our -anthropocentric- exploration of human otherness remains redundantly human.   

is the systematization of suffering upon animals brought up by modern factory farming moral?  twentieth-century biotechnological revolution has turned against animals & the environment. is this breeding/killing production cycle really about food?  capitalist biotechnology produces cheap commodities for global trade, a dangerous trade off of environmental pollution and pandemics
meat-eating uses about three-fifths of the world's agricultural land yet produces less than 5% of its protein and less than 2% of its calories. meat production contributes to global warming through its effects on deforestation, both directly through pasture and indirectly through its use of feed and forage, and also because of the methane, which comes from the stomachs and manure of cattle.

the more animals we kill, the bigger the demand. in spite of the billions of animals killed each year, they never die. we end up having more of them.  (packaging does the trick)

design absorbs brutal suffering and waste & turns it into a clean artificial display. packaging reminds one of standard anatomical representations of the human body (with insets of the male or female reproductive system): a lactating breast, a vagina, ovaries. they appear isolated, fragmented, a sort of pornographic display of meat-fragments to be consumed a bit at a time.

the label details provenance, processing company, weight, price, cut, calories, fat, safe handling instructions, etc. the animal's life separated and distributed into arbitrary categories. we should ask a different question: is a life designed as mere consumption really a life? is life defined solely as meat grade, cut, flavor, tenderness, cooking method?

the animal's suffering is seldom a topic of discussion.

wolf man reinforces the unbridgeable duality of the "animal" in us. but we can turn the metaphor on its head: wolf man is the pressing to fact coming from the inside (the "other side", our truer? face): the expression of our self-destruction 

the moment the animal's face shows up we confront our bad faith. we cringe @ the idea that our meat comes from a vicious cycle of industrial suffering. but our pity is purely narcissistic. that is to say, us-as-them in the slaughterhouse -right before the 300 volt electric shock of the captive bolt pistol at the back of the head.

what we resent the most is our weakness at entertaining our "vicarious" suffering.  a defense mechanism suddenly kicks in. now we wish to have it both ways: as non-human animals eating each other in a state of necessity, and as humans, enjoying the taste of meat at a restaurant.

this is what best expresses why human language doesn't necessarily preclude a face: having language doesn't make us any better.

is there a way out of this impasse?

Monday, April 1, 2013

the "resurrection" of julian schnabel

alfredo triff

art/writing today can be compared to a social/metabolic phenomenon dithering between information/democratization and latent public apathy. in the early 2000's the art establishment prescribed a quick fix: the thinning of information, which didn't solve the problem: it only increased the atrophy.

though art/writing is a highly processed & diluted product people still crave it. this is not a contradiction --we have no clue as to what causes our craves & think of it ex post facto. which brings me to michael m. miller's the resurrection of julian schnabel, for Gallerist NY.  

let's take a closer look. the article's title already plays the portentous: the dead don't have powers of their own. to resurrect one needs grace's intervention. and grace dabs at everything:

1- the biographical (in wordy sentences ricocheting the factual)
In the early ’80s, his painting Notre Dame took in $93,500 at Sotheby’s. (“No, I’m not particularly pleased with the sale price,” Ms. Boone told a reporter from The Washington Post at the time, thinking it would break $100,000; some of his canvases now sell in the low seven figures.) Ms. Boone jointly represented him with Leo Castelli, the gallery of Warhol and Rauschenberg, and when Mr. Schnabel left both dealers for Pace Gallery in 1984, Mr. Castelli, in the pages of the Times, compared him to King Kong and, so the story goes, told Mr. Schnabel, “You have all my contempt.”
2- a bit of gossip,
He’d learned that I had called his first wife (didn’t pick up), David Salle (didn’t want to talk about the past because it “bores the pants off of me,” but sent me a statement saying “if a man likes to go about town wearing pajamas, I don’t see why that should bother anyone else”), Pace Gallery’s Arnold Glimcher (no comment), Mary Boone (didn’t return repeated requests for comment) and a number of other people Mr. Schnabel was close with in the ’80s.
3- plus live footage,
He went over to his son and asked what the cardboard sculpture was for. It was a project for an art class at Bard College. “I have to spell out my name somewhere on it,” Olmo Schnabel said. Mr. Schnabel picked up the sculpture. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, pointing to the square bottom of the piece, “you’ve got an ‘O’ right here.” He gestured to a crease running roughly through its center. “And that’s your L. You can use duct tape to put an M right here.” Olmo stared blankly. “I’m just worried that there are requirements—” “Listen,” Mr. Schnabel said. “Screw them. They don’t know what they want.”
all the right ingredients! 1- belongs in the typical narrative of late-19th century harper bazaar's novella. it worked: america was hooked. in 3- miller presses for a report & meets his subject's hubris. 2- is artsy-irresistible (& we all love it).

if he ever kept a countenance of neutrality, there are worrying signs of miller's early budging (as he lets go this veiled protest):
The press turned Mr. Schnabel into a caricature, the scapegoat for everything wrong with the art world and the archetype of narcissistic artists everywhere.
miller brings forth schnabel's body from the dead as we speak.
(...) He compared himself to Van Gogh and said to Morley Safer on 60 Minutes, “Would you ask Marlon Brando if he had a big ego? Do you have a big ego? I’m sure you do.” In the late ’90s, he began showing less frequently in America and became a critically acclaimed filmmaker, an industry in which hubris is not only expected but revered. He made Before Night Falls, the film that turned Javier Bardem into a movie star, and the highly stylized The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, for which he won Best Director at Cannes.
miller goes through the artist's biography as if adding relevant threads of causal evidence (you'd assume the past is connected to the present). but the problem is in the structure: reporting & opinion don't go together: one undoes the other.

we have "reporting" in red and "opinion" in blue:
Mr. Schnabel entered the room quietly, almost sheepishly, and everyone kept going about their business. He is 61 and on the short side, with a slight paunch, a patchy beard and slicked-back hair. He was wearing yellow-tinted glasses and a black jacket with an image printed on the back of one of his “Big Girl” paintings—a blond girl in a blue dress with a sinister smile and a slash of black paint obscuring her eyes. Mr. Schnabel has been known for walking around the city in paint-splattered silk pajamas, a gesture considered by some to be the pinnacle of 1980s hedonism, but that day he was in jeans and work boots.
are salma hayek or rihanna guilty of "1980s hedonism"? (i bring it up only to show how much  disconnected claims make up the axis of miller's overall argument). yet, we understand his point. the idea is to restore schnabel's art while keeping intact his post-romantic-bête aura. miller's (schnabel's) "resurrection" suggests the rediscovery of an epoch's misunderstood genius.
Olmo stared blankly. “I’m just worried that there are requirements—”
“Listen,” Mr. Schnabel said. “Screw them. They don’t know what they want.
miller doesn't bracket his subject. it appears as if schnabel & olmo are alone. caught up already in a hall of mirrors, does the writer have a choice? isn't this what art/writing is supposed to do? a video-in-a-blurb? a sub-atomic novella?  

then suddenly,
Mr. Schnabel turned to me. “I’ve been making these portraits of the Brant children. Plate paintings. Would you like to see them?”
next, the writer is given a tour of schnabel's art corpus inside the palazzo chupi ("the greatest Julian Schnabel museum in the world").

the article ends with a narcissistic exposé shuffling fact & opinion: schnabel actually pulls a 50-page (recent) essay by dutch curator rudi fuchs, which reconsiders the latter's perception of schnabel's work through the 1980's. here are some highlights --as the artist reads to miller, who prefers to just quote schnabel quoting the essay: 
The objections against Schnabel were strong and sometimes bitter. Somehow they were right: Schnabel was the most outrageous painter of the three.(the other two are Basquiat & Salle) ...  The exuberant paintings of Schnabel were extremely unsettling. The misgivings of some of his older contemporaries were understandable. Even with all his glamorous renown, he was a dangerous outsider.
nothing looks better for rehabilitation purposes than a famous curator's mea culpa.

now miller takes back the rudder and reports. on the other hand, defending one's reputation (as schnabel does) by reading fuchs' retractation to a total stranger appears contrived --or plain naive.  miller doesn't want to appear biased, which only makes things worse.
He skimmed through the next 20 pages quickly, but he slowed down to read the last bit about himself.
in closing, schnabel talks through miller (or vice-versa?)  
“Schnabel is unrestrained and sentimental,” Mr. Schnabel said. “Whatever grandiose or complex images get into his head, in whatever emotional mode—he will try to make it: breaking every rule of style and decorum, bending art where it has to go.”
pure artblicity!