26 February, 2010

Per Spencer's response #10 to Marxism

My response in explanation was too long, so here it is reproduced:

Oh Spence, there you go assuming I'm some pie-in-the-sky Marxist.

I guess I have to venture some response along the lines of Marxism that I have begun--with the caveat that I don't actually buy all these arguments.

Response 1: Like I said, I don't think that living standards haven't increased. Neither would I argue that people are reporting more happiness. The stock response, I suppose, is that they have no basis of comparison for true happiness. They have been born and bred into a system with teaches them first to distinguish leisure and work times, and then takes over leisure time with the myriad tasks of participating in society--as ordered by capitalism. Work becomes drudgery, and the people are unable to form meaningful human relationships, but rather are engaged with one another only through the things they have. Fetishism, Marx would say.

Still, there is value to happiness as the measure of human existence. What people under capitalism experience is a dim shadow of happiness--only that which can be derived from the use value of some object or another, and its comparison to other objects--that is nothing compared to the person existing in full relationship with their society and producing for themselves.

As for the increases you are citing, I need not worry myself about them. Marxism is not a regression into some pastoral wonderland where no one outlives the usefulness of their teeth and babies are considered with as much regard as goldfish. All of those advances were made--I'll even give you this one--under capitalistic systems, already firmly in place by the 19th century. What I am concerned with is completing the process (and here I may overstep myself because it has been said of the Marxist that 'it is not for him to solve, only to critique') and giving man the freedom and happiness which is truly his lot in life, denied him by enslavement to the various commodities and their relations around him.

Response 2: Of course its vague. Also, I'm not sure that it's meant to illustrate anything besides the fact that from within the system we are looking at--capitalism--it is impossible to look at some parts of life as "non-capitalistic," such as "having a good time with friends," i.e. leisure. With what do we amuse ourselves during this so-called leisure time? Buying things. Consuming things. Failing to relate on a truly human level to other individuals through the hazy yet impenetrable curtain of the commodity. Basically, it goes back to the measure of happiness and freedom that people experience--or rather are unable to experience--under capitalism.

Response 3: Exploitation: 1. The act of using something for any purpose; to use. 2. The act of using something in an unjust or cruel manner.

Both of these definitions apply to my argument. Objects in themselves have a use to humans. Steel: building, weapons, tools. Even gold: ornamentation, electronics (notice I didn't say money). A capitalist society abstracts the use of objects from the people who produce them--extracting from them (I will soon say exploiting them for) their labor. You don't produce things to use them yourself. The goal of capitalism to is earn capital gains off an investment. We make things for an abstract market, sometimes too much, sometimes too litte. When a person is not being allowed to apply their labor to producing the needs of their own lives and those of their families, you could argue that they are being exploited ( as in '1' and also '2') for their labor--for some else's ends(i.e. monetary gain).

A person's work--their labor of time and creativity--is most rightly applied to the needs of their life and of that of their family. I start with this as a basic assumption--basically survival of the fittest in nature, you might say. What happens under capitalism is that people are forced to work for money with which to supply their needs (ah, the uber-commodity), and accumulation is substituted as the ultimate end for human existence, in place of a free, happy, and social existence.

25 February, 2010

Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah! | Lady Gaga at MOCA - T Magazine Blog - NYTimes.com

Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah! | Lady Gaga at MOCA - T Magazine Blog - NYTimes.com

This might be the Greatest Show on Earth. I'm not normally a huge ballet fan, but put Lady Gaga, Damien Hirst, and the Russian Ballet company in one place, and you've piqued my interest. If nothing else, the video solidifies my theory that Lady Gaga is actually a really talented performer--though I can't remember who I had to defend her against. I know it wasn't this group-gone-Gaga, but still.

Check out the video

20 February, 2010

Doomed to repeat?

I have received a new nick-name from my classmates, which was great at first, but quickly gave me pause. Ezra Pound (the full nick-name is The New Ezra Pound). This is interesting because of a few not inconsequential similarities between myself and the renegade poet, and moreso because of the original Ezra's general philosophy.

Pound was instrumental in solidifying, or even beginning the careers of several of his contemporary "Modernist" poets and artists; T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and James Joyce not least among them. He worked tirelessly at the editing and publishing of numberous literary periodicals between 1912-1920(or so), and promoting the works and championing the persons of his lettered friends.

Now, you may be thinking, "but Cassady, so far you have absolutely nothing in common with him."

Here's where things get eerie. We both hail from the American Midwest; moved to London in the early part of our respective major centuries; both are committed Anglophiles working in literary professions (or working towards them). Also, though less telling, much of our poetry from this age has passed unappreciated by our contemporaries (mine quite simply because it's rubbish).

Here's where things take an interesting turn towards...presagement? Ezra, feeling unappreciated by the London circles, moved to Italy in early 1920 and became an early admirer of Benito Mussolini. And the similarity ends...or so I hope. I haven't noticed any fascist leanings in my philosophy of life, but I'll keep you posted.

At least I can innocently hope to become an old man who looks this great:

08 February, 2010

Aflame with Frankfurt School Marxism

Siegfried Kracauer. Something feels right about his analysis of capitalist mass culture within his book, "Mass Ornament." The question is whether he's actually a Marxist.

He begins a historical study of capitalist society, like Marx, in terms of history. Kracauer, however, thinks that the best indicators of a cultural epoch are not the self-conscious judgments a given culture makes (or would make) about itself, but rather "its inconspicuous surface-level expressions." By this, I understand him to mean pop culture--or what would have passed for pop culture in the early 1900's. Pulp, may be a better word for it. His project, then, is distinct from Marx in that he looks at the superstructure of a culture that is an unconscious expression of itself, and sees it as the logical conclusion of the basis of that society. Marx, on the other hand, looks at the base (the means of production) and builds up.

Of course, nothing that Marx predicted or desired has happened, so what was he missing?

I think Kracauer may have a solid critique of Marxism going. He talks specifically about ornament, and Mass Ornament, in the example of the Tiller Girls. Synchronized body movements, not even really dancing, in which large masses of girls form their bodies--all identically dressed and made up--into simple geometric patterns. There is nothing individualized about this spectacle, for if one person would assert an individual presence it would destroy the effect of the show. Human elements are abstracted out of the spectacle; meaning is abstracted out of the spectacle. There is no greater truth to be sought within the ornament, it is an end in itself. It is reasoned, to the extent that the bodies are rationally ordered along mathematical lines and the natural body involved doesn't help you more clearly understand the spectacle. However, this rationality is illusory, or incomplete at best.

Reason is a human endeavor, and is employed to serve human ends (needs). This is in Kracauer's estimation, as I gather. There is no consideration for the human element in the Mass Ornament. Ultimately then, the ornament is a type of myth, an expression of "natural" force, versus reason.

At this point, Kracauer asserts that in these aspects the Mass Ornament is reflexive of the capitalist culture of which it is the product. Capitalist culture, essentially, removes the human elements from it's largest population. Profit is as autotelic as the ornament, it is it's own purpose. The masses of working people are externally determined in their actions and manner of life--they are not essentially free. Still, the production process which is so glorified is rational to the extent that is quiets the human urge for order and control.

So what is needed to complete the socialist revolution that seems to have been stymied somewhere along the line?

Kracauer is essentially an idealist, in that he asserts that reason alone will redeem the promise of the Marxist project. The fault of capitalism is not that it is rational, but that it is not rational enough. Aha! My old friend Immanuel Kant enters the scene. We are most free when we are most determined by reason, Kracauer seems to say--an essentially Kantian assertion. Reason would not foget to care for or abstract the human elements from culture. Kracauer desires some revived form of Enlightenment for the project to come to fruition.

And yet, nearly 100 years later, here we still are. My question now is why this Enlightenment of the masses has also failed. From this point I descend into depression considering the state of consumerism and thriving capitalism.

04 February, 2010

Ah, those nihilistic avant-gardes!

Delving into a grand study of "Modernism" (and very quickly doubting the appropriateness of such a term), I am finding very interesting and confusing professions of youth, energy, passion, and recklessness.

Enthralling, you can imagine.

I write this as preface to my trip to the Tate Museum of Modern Art. Looking forward to perusing such meaning-divorced works as Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain"

and perhaps a quick gander at some "poem objects" of Andre Breton--an early Dadaist and founder of surrealism, well known for his practice in automatic writing (basically stream of consciousness, and equally as crazy):

before finally wending my weary way towards my personal favorite, and our group's Name-Giver--to employ the Scandinavian saga hyphenation completely out of context--Salvador Dali:

You can all be jealous now.

After the visit, I became really enthralled--as I think did Guadalupe--with Alberto Giancometti. Truly expressive sculptures.