Saturday, February 14, 2009

Screwball Economics

Take my global economy, please ... !

What a joke, yes?

But who's laughing now?

Steve Martin for one. Martin, whose memoir, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, Professor VJ reviewed in 2008, is now playing a bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the filmic shadow of the brilliant Peter Sellers. In promoting the new Pink Panther film as a hybrid of both screwball comedy and serious comedy, Martin readily admits that he hopes the commercial film will serve as escapist entertainment in times of uncharted economic terror. But Martin was not always so straightforward in his commercial sales pitches. He used to end his comedy act by saying:
"Well, we've had a good time tonight, considering we're all going to die some day."
What a downer, Man. Why make us think of death when we would much rather go out and buy a new (Kindle, Flip, H2 Zoom, MacBook Pro, etc.).

At least Peter Sellers took all that was inevitable and invested it in the production of Terry Southern's masterpiece The Magic Christian:
Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) an eccentric billionaire, together with his newly adopted heir (formerly a homeless derelict), Youngman Grand (Ringo Starr), start playing elaborate practical jokes on people. A big spender, Grand doesn't mind handing out large sums of money to various people, bribing them to fulfill his whims, or shocking them by bringing down what they hold dear. Their misadventures are designed as a display of father Grand to his adoptive charge that "everyone has their price" - it just depends on the amount one is prepared to pay. They start from rather minor spoofs, like bribing a traffic warden (Spike Milligan) to take back a parking ticket and eat it (who, delighted from the large bribe, eats its plastic cover too) and proceed with increasingly elaborate stunts involving higher social strata and wider audiences. As a father-son conversation reveals, Grand sees his plots as "educational" ("Well, you know, Youngman, sometimes it's not enough merely to teach. One has to punish as well.").

At Sotheby's art auction house, it is proudly claimed that an original Rembrandt portrait might fetch £10,000, yet to director Mr. Dougdale's (John Cleese) astonishment, Grand makes a final offer of £30,000 for it ('Thirty - thousand - pounds? Shit! I beg your pardon, I do beg your pardon!') and having bought it, proceeds, in front of a deeply shocked Dougdale, to cut with his scissors the portrait's nose from the canvas. In a classy restaurant he makes a loud show of wild gluttony, Grand being the restaurant's most prominent customer. In the annual Boat Race sports event, he bribes the Oxford team (where Graham Chapman plays a member of the rowing team) and makes them ram purposely the Cambridge boat, to win a screamingly unjust victory. In a traditional pheasant hunt he uses an anti-aircraft gun to down the bird.

Towards the end of the film, Guy Grand fills up a huge vat with urine, blood and animal excrement and adds to it thousands of bank notes. Attracting a crowd of onlookers by announcing "Free money!", Grand successfully entices the city workers to recover the cash. The sequence concludes with many members of the crowd submerging themselves, in order to retrieve money that had sunk beneath the surface, as the song "Something In The Air" by Thunderclap Newman, is heard by the movie's audience.
With the possible exception of Southern's Blue Movie, The Magic Christian is his most audacious work of satirical prose. It's a book for our uncertain times. Besides, where is our sense of humor? These may be bad times, but at least they're our bad times. Just think, one day you'll be able to tell your grandchildren -- who will be living with you so you can whittle the hours away playing "Suck the Stone" -- all of your economic war stories about how you were there when democracy gave way to the collapse of the global financial sector after the rise and fall of King George's raging "oil"garchy, you know, way back then when there was still oil to garchy.

Is it not totally surreal to witness the catastrophe in (not so) slow motion? "No telling what will save the day or if anything really can," someone writes in an email to me. That someone has a PhD in economics and believes in the mid-six figures. Keeps saying that nothing can stimulate him. That he suffers from an inability to imagine the usefulness of any kind of supplement. "Maybe what we need," I console him, "is some artificial dissemination." Same idea, different spin on the language.

The language, it ends up, is what's going to get us out of this mess, if we ever do get out of it. You might say that how one deals with the crash depends partly on how well they embody language as they become "ludic mediums" at the core of their physiological being. True, we may not be able to laugh our way to the bank, but let's give credit where credit is due, to ourselves and our remixological reserves. There's gold in them thar mines ...

What we need is The Flummoxed Citizen's Altered Language and Comic Relief Act. In an ideal world, this program would not only stimulate the economy but create a new kind of social revolution. It would be available everywhere, all the time, nestled in the far reaches of every person's deepest, darkest interior thoughts, ready for spur-of-the-moment exploitation and eventual commodification. Yes, I'm talking about selling our souls as the next phase of social revolution to get this economy back on track! Some will say "But we have already sold our souls!" but they are totally mistaken. Fossil fuels may be on the wane, but the dinosaur visions of those born standing up, are still inmixing like never before. I'm talking deep reserves.

As Henri Bergson once wrote in Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic:
There may be something artificial in making a special category for the comic in words, since most of the varieties of the comic that we have examined so far were produced through the medium of language. We must make a distinction, however, between the comic EXPRESSED and the comic CREATED by language. The former could, if necessary, be translated from one language into another, though at the cost of losing the greater portion of its significance when introduced into a fresh society different in manners, in literature, and above all in association of ideas. But it is generally impossible to translate the latter. It owes its entire being to the structure of the sentence or to the choice of the words. It does not set forth, by means of language, special cases of absentmindedness in man or in events. It lays stress on lapses of attention in language itself. In this case, it is language itself that becomes comic.
Which reminds me: a funny thing happened on the way to language ...

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Creative Urge

Elizabeth Grosz from an interview titled "The Creative Urge":
That’s right, there’s something about art that is an abundance of excess. Art is the revelry in the excess of nature, but also a revelry in the excess of the energy in our bodies. So we’re not the first artists and we’re perhaps not even the greatest artists, we humans; we take our cue from the animal world. So what is it that appeals to us? It’s the striking beauty of flowers, it’s the amazing colour of birds, it’s the songs of birds. In a way, it’s that excess which, I think, is linked to sexuality rather than to creation or production directly.
Which then gets me thinking about the fields of aesthetic fitness that we are unconsciously circulating through.

On the web, building a new word nest as yet another blog entry, I find this and add it to the mix:
Art as a product of sexual selection?

If art is an adaptation, what possible function could it have served? From the viewpoint of current animal communication research, art is a signalling system. There is a signaller (the maker of the art), and a set of receivers (who perceive the work of art). The prototypical functions for animal signals include long-range sexual attraction, short-range sexual courtship, sexual rivalry, territorial conflict, begging by offspring to solicit parental investment, warning signals to deter predators, and alarm signals to alert relatives of danger.
And then:
What sort of evidence could support this sexual selection theory of art? One clue would be an example of convergent evolution: the independent evolution of art-like abilities in another species through sexual selection. Bower-birds offer strong evidence along this line.
Bower-birds are natural collage artists caught in their perpetual blue period who create readymade nestworks to attract attention to themselves in hopes of finding their soul-mate (or maybe just an on again off-again affair with their love bird).

They are naturally inclined remixologists and don't need paint or canvas or verbal constructions to make the point. They don't need a white cube to exhibit their animal instincts.

But humans treat their remix / selective / readymade art differently, no?

First of all, there is always the art market and, if you are ready to launch yourself into it, a conceptual plan steeped in innovation and the promise of stylistic breakthroughs that reek of What Is Happening Now.

Interestingly enough, what is happening now may have happened "then" too except that role-playing a postproduction artist playfully risks disrupting the progressive nature of all markets that welcome acts of creative destruction.

One can observe how over the course of art history the media that artists work with may change but the assortment of potential trajectories artists follow tend to stay the same. These days, from the perspective of graduate students tethered to Google, the art historical record reads more like a nuanced version of "monkey see / monkey do" tracking the movements of a select group of makers who may or may not be of relevance to a post-studio art practice. One online work refers to this historically modified artist-in-the-making as Self-Portrait(s) as Other(s) where Claude David, Henri Gaugin, and Vincent Monet are just but three possible iterations of impersonating a realtime durational achievement.

Does the Internet and its online social networking apparatus open up new potential trajectories for artists to "make history"? It already has ... but not to the degree it still needs to in order to usher in a dramatic shift in the way we position both the artist and artwork in contemporary network culture.

But what exactly is the relationship between making and art and history especially given the fact that, as Rimbaud once wrote, "to each being several other lives were due ..."?

This reminds me of one of the most frequently cited quotes attributed to Robert Rauschenberg: "Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)"

Is he suggesting that both are readymade and always precede us?

And yet he kept making (and making and making).

My remix of Rauschenberg is simple and to the point (and somewhat tinged with Duchamps's 1957 lecture in Houston): "The creative act relates to both art and life. Neither can be made without the other. (I try to make myself up in the blur between the two.)"

Blurring the two (art and life), the artist / medium selectively com-bines and/or re-mixes the source material everywhere as part of an ongoing lifestyle practice.

(The ghost of Allan Kaprow is hovering above the screen ...)

There's something almost primitive about the art/life blur as remix.

I wanted to think in the most elementary way possible, in the most basic, simple way possible, what are the raw materials or conditions of art universally? Not the history of western art particularly, not the history of any particular kind of art, but the impulse to art in human beings, and I wanted to know where that came from historically but, of course, we don’t have historical records that go back that far. So really, for me as a philosopher, the question was; what conceptual necessities does one have to have in order to think and produce art?
My own answer would be: a body language.

Or, to elaborate: a body language whose inner choreography can dance with the network.

Acker refers to this body language as the language of intensity.

But for that we need discipline. Sometimes it's hard not to wonder: "Where do we find the discipline?"

Is it in the deep interior movements of the postproduction artist-medium? Where exactly is this discipline located? Is it circulating inside the body that is continuously triggering unconscious creative activity as part of some historically modified durational achievement?

This ongoing activity of disciplined making is nothing if not an aesthetically fit durational achievement. The artist essentially has no choice but to become a kind of disciplined making. The process is viral. It's contagious media that takes over the body and renders it creative.

But then once the work is made what happens?

For the bower-bird everything is straightforward. It does its dance, its cool and gloating "artist presentation" in front of its newly reconfigured plastic-blue collage work and, if all goes well, the viewer, the one who the work was made to seduce, succumbs.

But humans have the weight of history, lineage, precedent, innovation, creative destruction, taste, politics, and finally the market.

For example, what is it that modifies the trajectory of the Rauschenberg "combine" as it enters the world?

It has to be more than just another instance of the ongoing activity of a disciplined maker creating its place in history.

"It's so easy to be undisciplined," Rauschenberg was once quoted as saying. "And to be disciplined is so against my character, my general nature anyway, that I have to strain a little bit to keep on the right track."

Staying on the right track might mean altering behavior, even regulating ones sexual activity:

Darwin talks about two fundamental processes that regulate all of life; one is natural selection and the other is sexual selection. Natural selection is about survival, and sexual selection, for him, is largely about reproduction or about sexual seduction. And what I think is the origin of art, basically, is that impulse to seduction. So I take it that all forms of art are a kind of excessive affection of the body, or an intensification of the body of the kind which is also generated in sexuality. So it’s something really fundamentally sexual about art, about all of the arts, even though they’re very sublimated. What art is about is about the constriction of the materials, so the materials then become aestheticised or pleasurable. The pleasure of those materials has to do with the intensification of the body. So this impulse to art is to not make oneself seductive but to make oneself intense, and in the process to circulate some of that eros that would otherwise go into sexuality.

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