Friday, August 29, 2008

Project For A Revolution in Narrative Art

My old undergraduate teacher, Alain Robbe-Grillet, passed away this year. The special summer issue of Artforum features a half dozen essays on his influence:
SEVEN YEARS AGO, two decades after having publicly renounced the writing of novels and just shy of his eightieth birthday, Alain Robbe-Grillet returned with astounding, youthful energy to the genre he had most practiced and had significantly marked. Long after the nouveau roman’s heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, the publication of La Reprise (2001; Repetition, 2003)¹ proved that Robbe-Grillet’s place among the leading French writers of the past half century was, however contested, amply justified. The French press was dithyrambic, praising the work’s imagination, humor, and sophistication. Even the conservative Figaro waxed enthusiastic. Claiming that La Reprise amounted to a birthday telegram from the author declaring, “New Novel not dead,” the newspaper asked, What is left of the nouveau roman? Robbe-Grillet delighted in answering: “Quite obviously, me most of all.”

And he was right. Yet by the same reasoning, now that he has died, at age eighty-five, the nouveau roman becomes more clearly an aesthetic adventure of the past—still an exciting and fruitful adventure, to be sure, but no longer the frontier of fiction. The decline of the New Novel’s influence in France’s current literary production results probably from protracted resistance to its erstwhile hegemonic authority and especially to its attempts to overthrow the regime of literary realism. Yet in the decades since its zenith, no new current has been detected to take the place of the nouveau roman.

The leading French literary movement following the heady Existentialist years of Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir, the nouveau roman was in fact the only important development in the French novel for the rest of the century. It depoliticized the genre, which had been heavily in the service of politics under the Existentialists; it turned fiction ever further away from nineteenth-century realism; it reflected modernist and then postmodernist trends in other art forms such as painting, theater, and architecture.
I was recently having a conversation with a colleague about how 25-30 years ago I was first introduced to the writings of Alfred North Whitehead, and that I was once again becoming influenced by Whitehead's philosophy. His process theory has somehow become embedded in my everyday practice without me even thinking about it. But tonight I realize that Robbe-Grillet too is still very much, 25-30 years later, influencing the development of my current art work, particularly my new Foreign Film Series.

If you can find them, you'll want to see his films, especially Glissements progressifs du plaisir. Among his novels, Project for a Revolution in New York is ripe for its own film adaptation.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On the Ground in Denver

Great energy in Denver surrounding the Democratic convention. It's a full on media, art, politics festival with lots of peeps from all walks of life.

We saw Krzysztof Wodiczko's Veteran Vehicle Project, a digital art projection cum political sculpture that turns a Humvee into a counter-propaganda "missive launcher" that tells the stories of more than 40 Denver homeless veterans. The piece is very powerful in its execution and fits in well with the other works we saw exhibited as part of Dialog:City.

The bloggers are commandeering the feedback scene in a much more relevant way than the broadcast and cable networks (with the possible exception of MSNBC). The traditional TV punditocracy seems more irrelevant than ever. Faux News is creepy as usual but even CNN has completely blown their coverage and probably a few fuses too since they keep losing their broadcast connection and my screen keeps going black and making it easy for me to just switch the channel.

The bloviating TV heads must be feeling their irrelevance as the Obama-led democrats seem to be prioritizing social media communication platforms like blogging and text messaging while encouraging their supporters to watch the event live from

Newsweek of all places has a web exclusive by Jeremy McCarter that pretty much nails the trad media's silly coverage to the wall:
Time after time last evening, I flipped from the wall-to-wall coverage on C-Span—which is viewed, I imagine, largely by shut-ins and political completists—to see how CNN or MSNBC or Fox News broadcast a speech or performance. Time and again, they weren't broadcasting it at all. Instead, talking heads were talking to other talking heads about Hillary's dead-enders, or some other overblown story, at self-parodying length. The resulting coverage had about as much connection to what happened onstage last night as NBC's Olympics coverage would have had if Bob Costas had spent two full weeks asking other sportscasters how they feel about the shot put.

There's nothing criminal about networks dropping millions to fly all those cameras to the Rockies and then barely pointing them at the stage (that soothing, soothing stage: at the Pepsi Center, there is not a Red America or a Blue America, there is a pinkish-teal America). Nor is there anything surprising about the decision of a seller (the cable news shows) veering away from a commodity (the live feed) to offer a value-added product (bloviation about the live feed), particularly at an event everybody dismisses as an infomercial. But tonight's silly circus demonstrated how distorting and unattractive this self-absorption can be.
Exactly. What he said ...

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