inanimate itch for the kitsch: real men don’t eat kitsch?

Modernist culture is simply not animated by eternal values of the purity of art and abstract truth. Like the dinosaur it failed to adapt and we tossed the baby out with the bath water. Not surprisingly, Walter Benjamin said that kitsch and the avant-garde were in a symbiotic relationship which means the notion of kitsch is somewhat blurred and the humanizing of the inanimate is sometimes far removed from Marx’s vision of the crude appetite of the fetish worshiper. There are often very complex games we play with inanimate objects  in which we gain possession of ourselves and establish a dialog and an internal language that provides a narrative structure for recreations of reality; a manipulation of the unreal that somehow simulates lost experience. An acceptance of consumer culture and a reconciling of what ostensibly appears to be an impossible encounter between inanimate objects.

Like art itself, of which it is both an imitation and negation, kitsch cannot be defined from a single vantage point.
And again like art – or for that matter anti-­‐art – kitsch refuses to lend itself even to a negative definition, because it simply has no single,compelling, distinct counterconcept. (Matei Calinescu 232)

---Drawing from an extensive collection of figurines, knickknacks and toys, Liliana Porter works in photography, painting, video, and sculpture, creating humorous scenes with her inanimate protagonists. For her first web-based project, Porter presents a cast of toy chicks singing "La donna è mobile" (Woman is fickle) from Giuseppe Verdi's 1851 opera Rigoletto. The chicks begin in chorus, but viewers can cut to "solos" by clicking any of the individual chicks, and then return to the chorus where they left off. Each chick's audio track of the song is a unique interpretation, ranging from Tango to a panhellenic guitar version to a 1907 rendition by Enrico Caruso. The soundtrack is by Sylvia Meyer, with whom Porter has collaborated on her video projects.--- Read More:

Interesting art that treads carefully around the orthodox canon of traditionalism against pop art in general and kitsch in particular:

While Porter has worked with fairy tales and children’s toys for many years now, her subject matter seems inexhaustible. Artists such as Joe Gibbons and David Levinthal have used dolls in video and photographs respectively, to address homophobia, sexuality and bondage imagery. But in comparison with Levinthal’s explicit photographs, which manifest themselves as shadowy bondage scenarios, Porter’s photos could be misconstrued as innocent, full of sweet china dolls and baby animals. Working in full light, each toy floating against a neutral backdrop, Porter depends on the exaggerated facial features and subtle gestures of toys in dialogue with one another. Blank stares quickly become meaningful when the gaze is returned. Read More:

Scruton:Hence we find ourselves in a dangerous predicament. The emotions that we need cannot be faked; but the vision on which they depend—the vision of human freedom and of mankind as the subject and object of judgment—is constantly fading. And in these circumstances, there arises the temptation to replace the higher life with a charade, a moral conspiracy that obscures the higher life with the steam of the herd. Read More: image:


As Sigmund Freud had pointed out, intellectual history had mostly hitherto been divided between an Enlightenment scorn for the dream as mere mental detritus, and inversely, its unqualified celebration in the eyes of the Romantics. While far from being liquidated, such approaches would at least now have to contend with a certain cross-contamination of categories between ‘dream’ and ‘waking reality’. In Benjamin’s essay of 1925 entitled ‘Dream-Kitsch’, his first published treatment of Surrealism (then at the height of its first flourishing), he stresses that this inter-penetration of the two realms is not a ‘natural’ constant, but a historically specific phenomenon. 10 Kitsch objects, the banal by-products of culture subsumed under the logic of industrial production, are assimilated into dreams, thereby obscuring the oneiric ‘blue horizon’ of the Romantics, with a ‘grey coating of dust’. Correspondingly, as Marx first diagnosed with his analysis of the commodity fetish, at the height of…Read More:

….Interestingly enough, perhaps due to the growth of the middle class and globalization; during the latter half of the 20th century, and especially with the popularity of Post Modernism in the 1980′s, the lines separating Kitsch and high Art again became blurred. Many standard political associations became reversed and representational work which was labeled by the critics as kitsch, such as that of Andrew Wyeth, Odd Nerdrum, and others, was increasingly supported and collected by wealthy conservatives in America and internationally. Simultaneous with the development of camp taste (think of Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami) in the 1980′s, there arose a growing support of representational works among American conservatives which lead to the rise of the Art Renewal Center, among other groups, hoping to re-establish the representational tradition. Representational work is now being largely supported and collected by what is often referred to as “Old money” as well as many in the middle class and is increasingly being embraced by people of many political leanings. “High Art” is, as always, collected and supported by the wealthy elite and the public institutions that they often contribute to. Though, I’d like to point out an interesting chimera: whereas, many contemporary artists such as Koons, Murakami, and Hirst produce (via factory studios) and sell their work in a very capitalist manner, the content of the work is based on a relativism (equality of all things) which is philosophically related to Marx, (see Kant and Hegel) through Derrida, Foucault, and other post-modern philosophers….

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…Thus, today we have a confusing array of definitions for both “Art” and “Kitsch”, each carrying their own set of associations. But “Art” as defined by the most infl

ial artists and institutions of our day, is only conceptual. Consider Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Christo…. their work is considered only to be the idea, their persona the focus, and the object is simply a marketable by-product. Read More:

…The world presses in on art, even if art can then try to wall it out again. It is not that inanimate objects are made live in
( Hans Christian ) Andersen, but rather perfected renditions of humans are cast as objects. It is a subtle shift, but one that allows for the stories to be allegories of our better selves, or, recast as small and so, only in that way, different to us, we are able more objectively to oversee this
miniaturised society and to judge this world and what is right and what is wrong in it. That is what W.H. Auden thought of Andersen, at least….An illustration of this: In his early 1930s study of Kierkegaard, Adorno notes how, in Diary of a Seducer, the objects in a room turn ersatz. Adorno describes how in the age of industrial mass production the self is taken over by commodities…, but the alienness of belongings turns into an expression of what is lost but most craved – the lamp as flower – a piece of organic life, with tints of the orient, signalling the home of desire, the room a ship, the window frames a blue ocean – a glimpse of eternity. Objects occupy, that is, preserve, the space of our most desperate longings.

Such a take on clutter and its clues was animated by a power-defying pursuit of the ‘exotic of the everyday’ and a fixation on such protagonists of the urban wastelands as rag-pickers, fictional detectives, and the rather more interiorized figure of the collector who carries out
what Benjamin terms ‘a form of practical remembering’. Of course, all these figures – at least in their theoretical forms – transmute the objects they come across – the rag-picker re-values things outcast from commodity circulation, the detective reads them for forensic clues to human existence and activity, the collector tries to strip things of their commodity character, conferring on them a lover’s value and releasing them from the ‘drudgery of being useful’. And materialist theorists, how do they execute Kracauer’s ‘trick’, the transformation of the things they redeem: a redemption which is dialectical, in that it preserves, annuls and raises to a higher level? When Benjamin noted in the ‘Collector’ file of his Arcades Project, a study of 19th century consumer capitalism: ‘Failed material: that is the lifting of the commodity into the state of allegory’, he was indicating that theoretical investigation of material culture offered the only starting point for the necessary release from its reifying clutches. Read More:

I pity inanimate objects
Because they can’t move
From specks of dust to paperweights
Or a pound note sealed in resin
Plastic Santas in perpetual underwater snowstorms
Sculptures that appear to be moving
But aren’t
I feel sorry for them all
What are they thinking
When they arrive at a place
Do they sigh with disappointment
And when they leave
Do they have regrets?
Is a sofa as happy in one corner
As it is in another
And how does the room feel about it?
I pity inanimate objects
I pity inanimate objects
I pity inanimate objects
I pity them all
Physics isn’t fair
Is a tree as a rocking horse
An ambition fulfilled
And is the sawdust jealous?
I worry about these things
Peppercorns don’t move
Until they contaminate the ice-cream
Three weeks later
Is the gold in Fort Knox happy gold?
I care about these things
Some things are better left alone
Grains of sand prefer their own company
But magnets are two faced
No choice for sugar
But what choice could there be
But to drown in coffee or to drown in tea
The frustrations of being inanimate
Maybe its better that way
The fewer the moving parts
The less there is to go wrong
I wonder about these things
I pity inanimate objects
I pity inanimate objects
I pity inanimate objects
I pity them all ( Godley and Creme,I Pity Inanimate Objects )

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