1. "The phenomenon of ‘political correctness,’ recently the object of so much complaint in the right-wing media, can be seen in this context as the paradoxical triumph in the university of an otherwise defeated liberalism. It is not surprising that a progressive discourse, more or less routed in American culture, should find itself driven to police the borders of its diminished territory. As everyone on the left knows, the concept of political correctness was formulated within left discourse itself to critique the tendency to moralistic posturing provoked by the dire situation of an increasingly reactionary social order. The usefulness of that concept is certainly at an end, but one may continue to speak of ‘identity politics’ or what I would call ‘radical liberalism,’ a specific style of political discourse and practice distinct from the historical forms of socialism and Marxism. The argument of this chapter with liberalism, both traditional and radical, is not with any of its progressive objectives, but with those assumptions of its theory and practice which, because they are uncritically shared with American political culture in general, have disabled an effective response to the resurgence of reactionary politics. Taking the long view historically, there is considerable evidence for arguing that ‘identity politics’ is now American politics, and that what we call identity politics exists on the same continuum of ‘interest-group’ politics with positions that are manifestly conservative or reactionary. Identity politics makes no conceptual break as a politics with its precursors, even in its radical forms. I do not doubt that to those who are traumatized by the demise of liberalism, the alternative of a class-critique will seem even more quixotic; but it seems to me that it is in just this circumstance that a mode of systemic analysis recommends itself, and that certain foreclosed truths may become visible once again."
    — John Guillory, Cultural Capital (1995, y’all)
     

  2. "

    Claims about being triggered work off literalist notions of emotional pain and cast traumatic events as barely buried hurt that can easily resurface in relation to any kind of representation or association that resembles or even merely represents the theme of the original painful experience. And so, while in the past, we turned to Freud’s mystic writing pad to think of memory as a palimpsest, burying material under layers of inscription, now we see a memory as a live wire sitting in the psyche waiting for a spark. Where once we saw traumatic recall as a set of enigmatic symptoms moving through the body, now people reduce the resurfacing of a painful memory to the catch all term of “trigger,” imagining that emotional pain is somehow similar to a pulled muscle –as something that hurts whenever it is deployed, and as an injury that requires protection.


    Fifteen to twenty years ago, books like Wendy Brown’s States of Injury (1995) and Anna Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation and Hidden Grief (2001) asked readers to think about how grievances become grief, how politics comes to demand injury and how a neoliberal rhetoric of individual pain obscures the violent sources of social inequity. But, newer generations of queers seem only to have heard part of this story and instead of recognizing that neoliberalism precisely goes to work by psychologizing political difference, individualizing structural exclusions and mystifying political change, some recent activists seem to have equated social activism with descriptive statements about individual harm and psychic pain. Let me be clear – saying that you feel harmed by another queer person’s use of a reclaimed word like tranny and organizing against the use of that word is NOT social activism. It is censorship.

    "
     

  3. "

    Startups in the fine arts are expected to raise $144.6 million in 2014, a 14 percent increase from last year and the second straight gain for the industry, according to data compiled by Seattle-based research company PitchBook Data Inc. Patreon Inc., whose website links patrons with emerging artists to support, gathered $15 million from backers led by Index Ventures last month and Artsy Inc., which sells art online and through mobile applications, raised $18.5 million in April.

    The market “is incredibly antiquated and full of friction whether you’re buying or selling,” Index Ventures co-founder Neil Rimer said in a phone interview from Geneva, where Index Ventures has an office. “We’ve been interested in the art market as a business opportunity for quite a while given its size and the fact that it’s still largely done in a very old-fashioned way.”

    "
    — 

    (Source: businessweek.com)

     

  4. What does TV mean for us today?

    Though it’s often acknowledged that we’re living through a particularly rich period for television as an art form, the fact that TV criticism is also having a huge moment is perhaps less frequently discussed.

    It’s not just that our TV critics are “good,” though they are; what sets the current generation of critics apart from previous ones is the way in which they’re radically transforming the popular conception of what a TV show is supposed to be

    The major revolution here has been the way critics have brought social issues to the forefront of critical discussion. Though craftsmanship, acting, drama, storytelling are all still important to the critical discourse, “representation”—most often with regard to race and gender, specifically—has been put forth as one of the criteria we should scrutinize most diligently when considering a TV show. Are women and characters of color represented? If so, how? Are they allowed complexity, voice, and agency? Put generally, are our narrative cultural products reaffirming stereotypes, or subverting them? In the context of America’s politically troubled pop cultural history, to even ask these questions is a tremendous advance.

    Yet the social approach to criticism has begun to transcend even these significant gains. As of very recently, it appears that social obligation, rather than one consideration among many, is actually becoming, in some respects, TV’s central concern—at least in the eyes of some of its most prominent critics.

    Consider this week’s remarkable piece from Maureen Ryan (one of our foremost TV critics, to be sure), nominally about the new FX show Tyrant, but more fundamentally about the way writers and directors have historically tended to depict sexual assault and its victims—namely: very, very badly.

    Ryan argues that there are two central problems with TV rape. Let’s call the first “the artistic problem.” Ryan writes that rape has become a cheap, pre-fabricated device for painting “a gloss of darkness” onto a character, or to conveniently “add complexity” to a storyline without doing real work. More often than not, it is deployed thoughtlessly and sloppily: Ryan calls rape-as-complicator “the laziest kind of shorthand.”

    Then there’s the second problem, which I’ll call “the social problem:” that the (usually female) victims of rape on TV rarely get any additional screen time or character development beyond their moment of violation. In the context of the rape scenes in Tyrant (but also ostensibly applying to many shows and films), Ryan writes that “we don’t know the woman’s name, or if we do know her name, we don’t know much about her. The women in these scenes are devices—they are there to create an atmosphere of danger or to move the plot along.” 

    Though rape-as-cliche is obviously rampant today, and irritating for artistic and storytelling reasons, it was Ryan’s discussion of the second, social problem that really gripped me—both because of her specific argument, but also because of the broader implications for TV it assumes, but leaves unsaid.

    The best way into this issue might be through the extraordinary injunction Ryan issues to television towards the end of the piece:

    If a show is going to depict a sexual assault—which is any show’s right—it should follow through on the ramifications of that experience for the survivor, male or female. If a drama is not interested in the person who was attacked, that show needs to find other ways to amp up the complexity or the “danger” factor.

    This, to me, points towards an entirely new* conception of what a TV show, or a work of art more generally, is supposed to be. Though throughout the piece Ryan describes how rape is used poorly, from a storytelling perspective, here she explicitly prioritizes social responsibility above whatever artistic concerns might be in play in this or that particular scenario. At least when it comes to rape, she seems to suggest that giving the victim a voice is the most important thing, regardless of the specifics of the show or film. 

    On the one hand, this seems like an eminently reasonable position. To deny rape victims agency or fullness of character is to repeat in the filmic frame what happens all too often in the actual, lived world. Victims of sexual abuse are so frequently forced to live in silence, either concealing their pain or being shamed and ostracized for bringing it to light. The idea that our art has a duty not to replicate the world’s injustices makes perfect sense.

    Yet it is also an idea which is neither intrinsically obvious, nor should be taken for granted. Ryan’s injunction to fully develop the characters of rape victims issues forth not primarily from artistic considerations, but from specifically social considerations. “Don’t use rape as a cheap plot device” is an artistic directive. “Always develop the characters of victims of sexual assault,” on the other hand, is a social directive, possibly jibing with the narrative structure of whatever hypothetical show it’s applied to, but possibly not (evidently the writers of Tyrant, such as they are, didn’t feel such character building would add anything). The point is, it doesn’t matter if it jibes: for social reasons, it must be done this way. Victims of rape must not be silenced in drama the way they are silenced in real life. This is an issue not of aesthetics, but of ethics.

    I want to emphasize how fundamentally this position reorients the way we conceive of art itself. You may agree with Ryan, or you may not, but what is most interesting to me about this whole discussion is the way it implicitly conceptualizes TV and film as primarily social mediums, and, at least in this respect, only secondarily as artistic mediums. TV shows, on this account, are art forms that show us things but also teach us things; that depict worlds but also endorse worlds. They are not neutral, or autonomous, but are ethically bound by the social reality to which they refer.

    This may all sound obvious, but it truly isn’t. Many of history’s most influential critics would harshly denounce this conception—to take an extreme example, consider Oscar Wilde, who provocatively declared, “there is no such thing as a moral or immoral book.” I don’t want to do that here, nor do I even necessarily agree with Wilde and his ilk. I only want to note that the social-obligation conception of the artwork is becoming the dominant critical paradigm—led in particular by TV critics, but also appearing with increasing frequency in music and film writing—and that is something to consider seriously, to question, and to examine the implications of. 

    *Actually, this idea has ancient roots. But that’s a subject for another post.

     

  5. "The principle difference between Democrats and Republicans is a choice between a neoliberal party that is progressive on multicultural and diversity issues, and a neoliberal party that’s reactionary and horrible on those same issues. But where the vast majority of Americans live our lives and feel our anxieties about present and future…is not about the multicultural issues over which there’s so much fight, but in the very realm of neoliberal economic issues to which both parties are in fact committed."
     

  6. "

    There is something very deep about the human condition which is — and this is something which was as alive in Plato’s day as it is now — there’s a limit to how much we can know. People rely on a lot of things by hearsay, gossip, word-of-mouth, common knowledge, things going into and out of fashion. Which, on the one hand saves a lot of time, if what you want to do is get on with daily work. We rely on fashion, we rely on hearsay and gossip. That will always mean — and this is a point that repeatedly comes up in Plato — that we’re often saying things to each other that we don’t understand very well, and that we don’t even understand that we don’t understand very well. We’re passing along cliché.

    Among the things I’m very interested in are the humanities, philosophy, psychoanalysis. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ll go along just in my daily life and meeting people, I don’t mean at the university, but just in life in general. And people will say, “Aren’t the humanities on the way out?” Or, “Hasn’t psychoanalysis been disproved?” And you talk to the people and they themselves have never read a word of Freud, but they know that it’s dead. Or they’ve never really studied the humanities, never really studied Shakespeare carefully, but they know that it’s over. There’s just a lot in the human condition that, no matter what age we live in, is going to mean that we often live by clichés and fashions.

    "
     

  7. "Police searching for two-year-old Chayson Basinio knew it was a race against time to find the missing child, who had reportedly disappeared from a supermarket car park. The local judge opened an inquiry for kidnapping and sequestration and police divers dredged a lake, fearing the child may have drowned. As the days passed without any leads or clues, detectives at Allier near Moulins in the Auvergne prepared to warn relatives who had alerted them that they could find no trace of the boy. Which, in the circumstances, was hardly surprising. In fact, neither Chayson Basinio nor his parents existed – except in the virtual world of social media. Police had found photographs allegedly of the boy and his father, Rayane Basinio, 20, on Facebook, but absolutely no evidence that they were real."
     

  8. "My first thought that day was that while I was asleep I’d made more money than she had all year. And I’d done it with a mobile-phone game about shooting fish with a machine gun."
     

  9. "The phantasma of Bach’s ontology arises through an act of force mechanically performed by Philistines, whose sole desire is to neutralize art since they lack the capacity to comprehend it."
    — Adorno, “Bach Defended Against His Devotees”
     

  10. "It’s not that laypeople don’t understand what the academics are saying. It is, instead, that the academics themselves don’t understand what they’re saying."
    — Paul Krugman, “The Trouble with Being Abstruse