shutting out the dark area

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.

---What really needs to be studied is not so much the artist but who’s buying the art and why they are buying it – even more than the galleries. Like who is buying Koons, who is buying McCarthey. Why is McCarthey getting the Sculpture award from Skowhegan this year? DT: That is a profound perversity. DK: I am telling you he is getting the award this year – or why is Bruce Nauman in the Whitney Biennale? Read More: image:

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.

Leah McLaren: The scene was spooky and stomach-churning, echoing as it did the funereal video for the singer’s 2007 title-track hit, Back to Black, in which she appears as a ghostly sylph in black and white walking behind a hearse and tossing a handful of dirt on her lover’s grave. It was, like everything else in Winehouse’s short life, a kind of grim pageant, played out at her own expense. The photos were uploaded around the globe in seconds. Even in death – perhaps especially so – Winehouse succeeded at maximum public exposure....Freud, on the other hand, lived a retiring life. Like Winehouse, he died in his North London home; unlike her he was a ripe old 88. His work, so intensely expositional in texture that it dares you to look away, could be the visual counterpart to Winehouse’s soulful heartbreak. Each in their own way, were confessors, feeding a culture of voyeurs. Read More: image:

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.

---Marche:Winehouse uses her voice, a deliriously thrilling instrument that raspingly conjures the most organic passion at will, in counterintuitive ways. She can be amazingly blasé and de-emphasize lines like, “I cheated myself / like I knew I would,” while unfurling the whole of her soulfulness in Me and Mr. Jones for the line: “Who’s playing Saturday?” Her heart shrinks and expands in the most unlikely places. Before her death, this variability was merely a superb piece of vocal technique; now it’s something darker, evidence of the spiritual confusion and the lived chaos of the confirmed addict. Most terribly, the meaning of the title track has changed since Winehouse’s death, changed painfully and completely. The video for the song shows Winehouse attending a funeral, which turns out to be for “the heart of Amy Winehouse.” Before she actually died, this tired iconography was a piece of kitchen-sink romanticism, a cheap but lovely rip-off of Keats being “half in love with easeful death.” In the middle of the song, chimes ring out—a strange and powerful moment, unlike anything in popular music, dull resonances over which Winehouse croons the word “black.” In hindsight, the chimes were her death knell. Right in the middle of Back to Black she rings the bells in her own memory. Back to Black was a funeral elegy to herself that 11 million people have so far purchased. How else to interpret these lines: “I love you much / It’s not enough / you love blow and I love puff / And life is like a pipe / And I’m a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside.” Read More: image:

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….

---Andrew Potter:Her central claim is that Winehouse's struggle with addiction gave her the sort of credibility to sing the blues that normally wouldn't be open to a young, white, jewish, girl from London: Addiction is a fundamentally different kind of hardship, but Winehouse’s life wasn’t charmed. She had credibility, suddenly, and that trumped everything else -- race, circumstance, origin. She made dozens of unforgivable professional and personal mistakes, but no one could accuse her of being full of shit. Read all of Petrusich's piece, I think it gets it exactly right. The only thing I would add is that I wonder to what extent, if any, Winehouse felt obliged to continue to draw from that well of authenticity. That is, I wonder if Winehouse, like others before her, bought into her self-image as a messed-up singer of the blues, which made it that much harder for her to get clean. I'm not suggesting she was simply playing a role, or that she killed herself in the name of cred, but there is a powerful looping effect in all of our identities. All identities are social constructs which get their power from being recognized by others. As a result, there is a looping effect in our identity construction, where we internalise the norms that govern our chosen (or assigned) identities. When the norms of a given identity contain a built-in mechanism for both radicalisation and self-destruction (as they do for an identity like "messed-up singer of the blues"), it is not hard to see how it could become literally inescapable. Read More: image:

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…

Bergman. Virgin Spring. Read More:

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.

Bergman. Smiles of a Summer Night. Read More:

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.

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