Below is a lecture given by professor S.N. Balagangadhara (aka Balu) on the role of stories in Indian culture. He mentions that, in those stories that are indigenous to India, their diverse and prolific nature makes them important in learning forms of socialization. They are ways of representing the world as well as models of how to go about the world. He proposes that this provides a map for emulation, that they provide sub-intentional learning or mimetic learning.
He also briefly touches on the internalization, both within and without India, of the European experience of India being forwarded as the story of India. He gave this lecture in 2009, in Estonia’s University of Tartu.
Part 5 – Q&A:
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie gives an excellent talk on the subject of cultural misunderstanding stemming from the threat of a single narrative representing a people.
“Contemporary art has been a war victim through Surrealism, Expressionism, Viennese Actionism, and terrorism today.” (1)
I recently read a chapter from The Accident of Art, Paul Virilio’s book critiquing contemporary art as facing a catastrophe born by technology and society. The chapter, A Pitiless Art?, claims that art is a casualty of war but doesn’t know it. Virilio argues that the two World Wars and the post 9/11 wars have been key factors driving aesthetics, style, the very philosophy of art, often without realization from the the artist.
Here’s a quote from Virilio, arguing that abstract art is an example of a style born from the trauma of war:
Take another war victim: Bazaine, the abstract painter I knew and who also used to make stained-glass—I didn’t make any with him. They said to him, “Hey, you’ve become abstract.” And he would answer, “Yes, you could call it that.” But he preferred the term “non-figurative.” He insisted that “abstract doesn’t fit me.” So they asked him when did this happen. “After the war,” he replied, “my painting diverged all by itself.” I wrote it down.
…In the first instance, technology made the divergence unavoidable: heliography, or light figured by itself through the stenotype, and later figured on photosensitive substances. In the second, a social trauma caused figuration to diverge. Disfiguration —when Bazaine says “non figurative,” that’s what he means. The war is disfiguring art, the way it destroyed and smashed the 7 Rheims cathedral and later on destroyed Oradour-sur-Glane. War does not simply destroy bodies with shells and bombs, it destroys outdoor spaces as well.
…Abstract art is not abstract, it is an art of retreat.
You can read the chapter online, as a PDF. I suggest also reading Walter Benjamin‘s, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, another essay on art stumbling in the face of our technological society. Alain Badiou‘s essay, Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art, can serve as a great response, outlining some of the ways in which art can be emancipatory.
My position is that artistic creation today should suggest a new universality, not to express only the self or the community, but that it’s a necessity for the artistic creation to propose to us, to humanity in general, a new sort of universality, and my name for that is truth.
…So, we have to create a new possibility. But to create a new possibility is not the same thing as to realize a new possibility.
…I think the creation of new possibility is today the great function of art.
(1) Virilio, Paul & Lotringer, Sylvere, ‘The Accident of Art.’ MIT Press, September 2005, pp. 16-17.
Reading Benjamin’s piece, ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ stirred some thoughts (more like questions) that I’m here articulating because I’m working through them and I welcome the insight of others.
Benjamin writes that all works of ‘authentic’ art are inseparable from the fabric of tradition and that these often served a ritualistic service. Isn’t reproduced/reproducible art also ritualistic? For example the works of Slovenia’s art collective, NSK, seems a self-aware representation of this. As Agamben puts it in one of his lectures on glory and power, “media distributes glory and spreads acclamation.” Acclamation is a form of prayer to power and spread in every aspect of modern life (perhaps because it is reproducible, rhizomatic). This is a society in which glory becomes indiscernible from economy and government.
In this text, could the crisis faced by art be caused by a deep and fundamental shift in perception as a result of the new mediums (photography, film, etc.)? That the crisis is not really an erosion of the fabric of tradition but the death of one constellation and the birth of another constellation of traditions. And the rejection of the social dimension of art (seeing “l’art pour l’art”) as the migration of art to ‘culture’: as a means of producing the biopolitical body mentioned in Agamben’s Homo Sacer. Art, like law and power are becoming situational. If we continue to consider Agamben’s work, then the mechanically reproduced art may serve to link order to space – touching on the virtual object of society/power/tradition, Lacan’s Big Other as the socio-symbolic order that I use to judge myself by (see Zizek’s In Defence of Lost Causes). Benjamin could be suggesting this transition when he says that “the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics.”
The intrusion of (bio)politics into art, and the migration of art to culture or communication, is witnessed in the erosion of the barrier between the artist and the public; such as blurring of writer/public in newspapers’ letters to the editor (example from Benjamin), or in the very existence of YouTube. What about contemporary Iranian directors such as Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami who often blur the line between fact/fiction and actor/individual (example: Makhmalbaf’s film, Moment of Innocense aka The Bread and the Flower Pot)? As Benjamin puts it, this erosion can make the work common property, relating to the notion that media is spread into every aspect of modern life. But, where is the revolutionary potential in this art? Is there a clue in the Iranian cinema already mentioned, by the confusion created in the beholder who eventually realizes that reality and fiction are bleeding into each other and here provokes a response from the beholder who on some level realizes the subjectivity of our social anchors? Something similar seems to occus in Saramago’s the History of the Siege of Lisbon, in which the reader is confronted by two histories of Lisbon, one officially true but still erroneous, and the other fictional and also false. But, as Benjamin writes, art is commonly used “to spur the interest of the masses through illusion-promoting spectacles and dubious speculations.” Is there a clue in the works of the Iranian directors in how we might use these new mediums, which have so often penetrated the web of our daily lives to extend the reach of power into our social reproduction, to rather “construct a new common language that facilitates communication as the languages of anti-imperialism and proletarian internationalism did for the stuggles of a previous era. Perhaps this needs to be a new type of communication that functions not on the basis of resemblances but on the basis of differences: a communication of singularities.” (Hardt, Negri, Empire P57). Interestingly, Debord writes, in his Society of spectacle, that currently “the unification achieved is nothing but an official language of general separation.”
The latest texts that I’ve been reading have served as responses to some of the questions that were provoked in me by reading Benjamin.
For example, how can contemporary art oppose power? By expressing truth, as Badiou defines it in ‘Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art‘: “artistic creation today should suggest a new universality, not to express only the self or the community, but that it’s a necessity for the artistic creation to propose to us, to humanity in general, a new sort of universality.” I find that Badiou’s essay makes for a great read following Benjamin’s essay. A quote from Zizek, in ‘Smashing the Neighbor’s Face‘, is also rich with insight on this topic:
“…my tendency to assert myself, is thus not my assertion at the expense of the world, but my full acceptance of being part of the world, my assertion of the wider reality within which I can only thrive. The opposition of egotism and altruism is thus overcome: I fully am not as an isolated Self, but in the thriving reality part of which I am.”
Back to how Badiou’s essay relates to Benjamin’s; the former addresses the question of what could be the emancipatory role of contemporary art. I think Badiou’s essay itself approaches what he argues should be contemporary art, in his own terms: “a demonstration, an ambush in the night, and a star.” This is especially interesting to me since I often write on international affairs, and the nature and application of global power mainly in Asia, and would like to reframe the very nature of my writing – not to be used as a blunt instrument to provide answers, or even ask the right questions (whatever those are…), but rather – to borrow DeLanda’s thoughts on material expressivity and affordability – to inspire a critical and creative environment that affords the reader a tendency to ask their own critical questions and ambush themselves with a paradigm shift.
These films are about economy, ideology, industrial society, or war.
Blind Shaft, directed by Li Yang. This is a Chinese film about con artists working in coal mines, and shows some of the hardships associated with contemporary working life. This film is part of what is sometimes called Sixth Generation Chinese cinema, a style and period that has moved away from the gloss, shine and romanticism of some earlier films. Blind Shaft has a lot in common with Italian neorealism, and though it follows the story of two people, you get a clear sense of the wider social condition faced by the working poor. I feel that there are many similarities with some later Iranian films, that investigate hardship in the daily life of many poor people, the banality of administrative politics and its dislocation from many pressing social concerns.
Here’s a trailer of the film:
The Afghan Alphabet, directed and narrated by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. This is an Iranian documentary of Afghan refugees in Iran. The main focus is on children receiving education for the first time in their refugee camps.
The first third of this video clip is from the documentary:
Here’s a clip from the film, I had a hard time finding a decent video:
Make mine Freedom, produced by Harding College. This animated film is a fascinating work of overt propaganda about ideology: on capitalism and communism. I think it’s from 1948.
Here’s the video:
I’ve been listening to music and watching videos that are political and culturally critical, to see how ideas are disseminated through art and also to better understand other narrative styles. Here’s a listing of some of what I’ve seen in the past few weeks.
Il Deserto Rosso, by Michelangelo Antonioni. A critique of industrial society, beautifully shot and articulated through a gripping personal story. Aesthetically beautiful shots of industrial production and decay coupled with individual psychological distress.
Slingshot Hip Hop, directed by Jackie Reem Salloum. Provides the history of Palestinian hip hop, and its political dimensions. Features DAM, Palestinian Rapperz, Mahmoud Shalabi, and female artists Arapeyat and Sabreena Da Witch (Abeer).
A clip from the film:
Visual art, music, and performance from the Slovenian artists’ collective Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK). Group members include the musical band Laibach, theatre group Noordung (aka Red Pilot), and the New Collective Studio, IRWIN (painting and visual art), Retrovision (film), and the Department of Pure and Applied Philosophy (theory). The collective has set up its own virtual state, NSK State and has an interesting though sometimes dry documentary made about them called Predictions of Fire. One of my favourite works by the collective is their use of a working mine in a small industrial town as the venue for an art exhibit.
Here’s part 1 of an 8 part YouTube video of Predictions of Fire (view the entire playlist here):
You can view the entire series here.
Here’s a video of one of the sections:
Jadugaran, Iranian hip hop. Its members are Changeez, Taymoor, Deev, Fardaa, Raavi. Here’s there’s video, Tasavvor:
Here’s a trailer of the film:
L’Homme Orchestre, by a stage magician turned filmmaker, George Melies. A film from 1900, very clever, and groundbreaking introduction to special effects.
Here’s the video:
Here’s a clip: