Holding the traumatic moment; gripping it to prevent it from bounding into the realm of the spectacle. The culture of the spectacle, dazzled, doped and duped by its connection to technology where issues are dealt with as another aspect of public performance, that been termed by some, like Andrew Potter as the “authenticity hoax”. The self-reinforcing identity, that creates a drive to be different at any price, depleting the value of originality and reverting by extension to the banality of convention. Extracts from an interview in 2009:
Diane Thodos: Getting into a big subject here – on your suggestion I have read Jacques Ellul’s book “The Technological Society” [first published in 1964] and was struck by his prophetic insight about the present. Can you briefly outline the most salient aspects of how technique, that is, “creating systems of ever greater efficiency” manifests itself in the current art world culture?
Donald Kuspit: I think it is, in a way, very simple. There is all this focus on video. My understanding of the Nauman show is that there are going to be sound pieces, with all this high tech, low-tech computer art. For me this is just an instrument. Look – it is like the invention of the paint tube – the paint tube made Impressionism possible. You could carry the tube out in plein air, where you didn’t have to make sketches and then go into the studio. All kinds of people were using paint tubes, but not everyone was a Monet: artists who we honor and admire. I think there is now a fascination with technology for the sake of technology. Technique for the sake of technique. This paradox was already pointed out in the late 19th century by the so called proto-existentialists – Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and so forth – that the very success of instrumental reason in industrial society reduces reason to simply a matter of technique.
DT: Yes. It’s more and more efficient; it gets down to a formula.
DK: Not only do you get more and more efficient, is shuts out what you call the “dark area” – it shuts out emotion, because emotion is inefficient.
DT: Well right. It’s very inefficient, because its uneven, its unpredictable, it cannot be streamlined.
DK: Yes, and it can’t be short-circuited. If it does it will kick back, it will come back. You can’t throw it out. You can’t say, for example, typewriters are obsolete and computers are in, so this kind of fear is obsolete and here’s this new kind of fear. You can’t do that.
Ingmar Bergman was of the opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. His assertion was that it severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. That is, in former days, the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of god, with the artist living and dying with his status being equivalent to that of other artisans. Terms like eternal values, immortality and masterpiece were concepts not applicable. The ability to create was a gift. This world view was characterized by a flourishing of invulnerable assurance and natural humility.
…DK: It is too unpredictable for a lot of people and also involves what psychoanalysts call a “need for observing ego.” If you are looking inside – what broadly what is termed introspection – in a “Technological Society’ you do not want to be introspective. It doesn’t want introspection. You turn inward and you forget the techniques. Think about the
eality TV shows. All these people confessing what they have done – they had a bad relationship with someone etc. Think for a minute what is going on. What happened to privacy? What happened to the need to do what analysts call the working it through. Instead of working it through they are acting it out – performing it. They have real and serious problems.
DT: Reality TV can be very exploitive.
DK: That’s a good word, but it’s not the whole story. They are performing and they think if they perform that will solve the problem.
DT: In other words they feel the need to do this in front of Judge Judy or whatever.
DK: Yes, exactly. Say there is a problem of somebody swindling someone else or they did not pay back a loan. They think if they are performing it in front of a camera somehow that’s going to solve the problem. They are very exhibitionist.
DT: Which is totally deceptive….
Evidently, today, the individual has become the highest form, and the greatest bane of artistic creation. The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism almost holy. As Bergman once said, we bleat about our loneliness without listening and without realizing that we are smothering each other to death.
…DK: Exactly, but that is part of the technology. Spectacle is connected to technology. You can create these fantastic Hollywood spectacles that are dazzling.
DT: But they seem to be about nothing…
DK: Well that’s the point….
DT: And also Ingmar Bergman has extremely profound films. You don’t walk out of a Bergman film without being affected…
DK: Well you see there the camera is a means. He uses it very subtly – for example with the use of dark shadows – and he focuses on certain issues, and those issues aren’t going away. He works them through in a process. It is interesting you mention him because recently I saw his film The Virgin Spring.
DT: That’s an amazing film.
DK: Yes. It just goes on and on and on, and you are working it through. It’s not just an act.
DT: He holds the traumatic moment with this tremendous tenderness and anguish at the same time…
DK: The key word is Trauma there
DT: He is very traumatized…
DK: He is willing to express the trauma of existence, even when he is lighthearted. … The camera becomes part of the experience. It is dominating the experience, or becoming the spectator of the experience.
DT: It is a witness to an internal experience that is amazingly constructed….
Bergman said we walk in circles, so limited by our own anxieties that we can no longer distinguish between true and false, between the gangster’s whim and the purest ideal. Bergman said the conjurer can be deprived of his magic wand, ” I would like to be able to measure the amount of talent, initiative and creative ability that has been destroyed by the film industry in its ruthlessly efficient sausage machine. What was play for me once, has now become struggle.”
…DK: Thinking of that what comes to mind is Robert Redford in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. It’s all pose, you get the profile, and there is no depth or sense of internal life. What the camera’s doing – actually something I like about the film- is it’s highlighting all the secondary features. There is no human being there.
DT: You mean all the sets and the lighting….
DK: It’s very interesting to see this – the sets, the clothing, the environments they create – this Americana scene.
DT: It’s quite a formulaic kind of film.
DK: It’s formulaic, but the formulaic is true to the American values!
DT: That is what America is very much based on.
DK: When people talk about Americanization they are talking about standardization with a vengeance.
DT: Very much so.
DK: And even customization which grows out of standardization.