Books

Notes from around a few books...

Some time ago, I started reading various books, making notes and highlighting things. For some reason, (life, work, apathy…) I haven’t done anything with these notes until right now, when I’ve been trying to tidy the chaos of my desk. The thing is, they might not actually mean too much to me now although with a bit more time and revisiting the context they were made in I’m sure they will. They notes will all have been made with my current work in mind, so in some instances they do make sense… Anyway – here’s the original notes and where I can, some indication of why it mean something to me.

Eleanor Heartney, 
Art & Today.
Link between high & low culture. Kitsch. (look @ Clement Greenberg?) 
With the high/low culture I will have been thinking about my appropriation of film, itself a form of “low culture” and how that might be promoted to high culture by representing the frames I have captured as art in a gallery setting. Not sure where the kitsch was coming from… probably the “barbaric hordes!”

Deformation of consciousness brought about by life in the “information age”. (p16) 
Heartney was talking about Warhol, about decisions being made that affect freedom and individualism by others, in effect meaning that we’re not free or individuals (repetition, homogenisation and materialism). I was taking this in a slightly different context, as it applies to one of the reasons I am making the work at the moment – the fact that people’s understandings of military history is being shaped by Hollywood, the perception-transforming power of mass media and the slant that they wish to put on things, rather than any particular factual basis. We also have to bear in mind those “facts” that do exist will in turn be coloured by whether the person recounting them was there or not, was victor or vanquished, their politics and, of course, their skill at retelling past events…

Television, cinema and advertising have transformed our consciousness (p21)
 again, Heartney was talking about Warhol but again, I took it as being an applicable statement to my own work, for the reasons I mentioned above. It also brings in some of the ideas of the spectacle, simulacrum and such that will no doubt be mentioned in the next of Gerald Deslandes’ lectures which is on the subject of Postmodernism. This then leads on to the next thing I scribbled down and “second-hand spectacle is more real than our own experiences”. At this point I was beginning to convince myself I was a Postmodernist at heart, it all means something to me…

An artwork is an object that physically embodies some superimposed meaning  (p40)
more Warhol, although this time in the words of Arthur Danto, and relates to something Gerald was saying in the last lecture (Language and Consumerism), he referred to Jasper Johns Flag and how it was a pattern, but also how it carried so many cultural connotations because we know what that particular pattern was. It also ties in with the intention of the artist, ideas of the readymade, etc. and Haim Steinbeck who maintained “the key issue in art-making was not making, but choice” (p41)
 
Postmodernism: A very short introduction
“The postmodernist period is one of the extraordinary dominance of the work of academics over that of artists” (ch.1) 
An intriguing idea when it is first read, that the artist is secondary in the creation of the artwork, but it shouldn’t really be a surprise when both Foucault and Barthes spoke of the death of the author, and how the reader takes pole positioning in providing meaning to the artwork as they read it from within their own sphere of experience.

“There is a sense in which French postmodernism is a true successor the the surrealist movement, which also tried to disrupt supposedly ‘normal’ ways of seeing things.” (ch.1) 
is this why I feel some kind of connection with postmodernism? Surrealism was the first movement in art I really became aware of at school, and whilst it was difficult to get to grips with (did I ever really get to grips with it?) it does appeal to me at some level.

“‘books always speak of other books, and every story that has already been told’. This view ends up in a kind of textual idealism, because all texts are seen as perpetually referring to other ones, 
rather than to any external reality. No text ever finally establishes anything about the world outside itself.” (ch.2) the quote is itself from Umberto Eco’s The name of the rose, and it also came up in Gerald’s presentation, although he introduced it via Foucault’s theories of how we understand images through their relationship to other images. We cannot unseen what we have seen, so we will always draw some form of relationship within our own minds with what resides in there already. Obvious really. Many more of the sections from the book continue in this vein, and it seems pointless to put them all here.

“As Munslow points out, the 1944 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not equally appropriately narrated, and therefore well interpreted, if it is seen as romance, as farce, and as tragedy. The best we can have is a debate about the nature and meaning of past events, and postmodernists (and plenty of others) say that this debate should be kept as open and as rigorous as possible. The penalty of a lack of vigilance is that some ‘official version’ may come to represent for us a true and final account of the past. It may also thus come to form part of an unjustifiable, because clearly distorting, ‘dominant ideology’ within its receiving society, as seems to have happened to both sides in the period of the Cold War” (ch.2) 
Here my interest was piqued by the ‘official version’, which is something I’m sort of working with in my current project. Another example of the power of the media has come to light recently following the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo when terrorism consultant, Steven Emerson, declared on Fox News that “There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.” (see here). Yes, he’s apologised, but do all those Americans who heard his declaration but not the apology now actually believe that Birmingham is a non-Muslim no-go zone? 

“How many people believe that Oliver Stone’s film JFK, which presents us with a New Orleans attorney heroically confronting those in the military establishment who conspired to assassinate Kennedy in order to keep the United States fighting in Vietnam, is not the fiction it is, but the truth?” (ch.5) 
sums up my thoughts on what I’ve been doing, although whether I’ve succeeded in asking the right questions yet is another matter…



I’ll not claim that there wasn’t much in the book that didn’t make obvious sense, but as it’s trying to de-mystify something built on the idea of myth by that obscure genre of people collectively known as French philosophers, it’s always going to leave something awry in my brain. However, there was one quote from this book that really brought a smile to my face. It was not so much about the theory of postmodernism, but a comment about Jacques Derrida. I’d tried to get to grips with some of Derrida’s theories a few years ago, eventually giving up as I generally found it too obscure and convoluted (although I did get a little from it). Anyway, the passage from chapter 1 of the book was:

“Michel Foucault once characterised Derrida’s prose style to me as ‘obscurantisme terroriste’. The text is written so obscurely that you can’t figure out exactly what the thesis is (hence ‘obscurantisme’) and then when one criticises this, the author says, ‘Vous m’avez mal compris; vous êtes idiot’ (hence ‘terroriste’).”

Makes me feel like I wasn’t a complete failure when I consigned him to the ‘not for me’ pile…
 
Bibliography
Butler, C (2002) 
Postmodernism: A very short introduction. Oxford. Oxford University Press. (e-book version)
Heartney, E (2008) 
Art & Today. Paperback edition. London. Phaidon Press Inc
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