Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Post-postmodernism Characteristics

Ever since I began writing on the Web in 2002, first as Isaac Stolzfuts, now as myself, I have often performed art metacriticism. Most recently, the lengthy series about the possible characteristics of the Post-postmodern (Po-pomo) has occupied my happily tapping fingers on this well-worn keyboard. Unfortunately, I find much to disagree with as I read about the Post-postmodern. Thus the IRONIC humor found in several of the most recent entries.

If, as my last entry suggested, one of the mainstays of the Po-pomo is a distrust of Art Criticism, and therefore, by extension metacriticism, I wonder, how do we as individuals discuss Art? * As an artist and a viewer of art, I like to look at Art in general and my own art. I also have the need to discuss that art with others and myself in writing because those conversations help me to know more about the perceptions of others as well as my own perceptions concerning Art and my own artwork. I also know from previous conversations with other artists and non-artists as well that each and everyone of us have different and / or shadings of understanding concerning our perceptions of Art, and individual artworks. Those variations of understanding are necessary to conversations about artists, artwork and Art. I reiterate, if there is to be no more Art Criticism or if Art Criticism is of no import, how do artists and viewers have conversations about Art?

So, why bother with Art at all?

Yes, I’m taking these characteristics of the Pomo and Po-pomo literally. They cannot be platonic abstractions placed in another universe. They are meant to be guideposts concerning our approach to Art. I suppose I am stuck in the Pomo philosophically, where it is assumed that the artist, the viewer, and the culture will have varied perceptions of the same art object over time. That approach does not do away with meaning as some have suggested. Rather, it looks to the possibility that a pluralistic approach to art and art criticism is correct.

On the other hand, I take no umbrage with the idea that faith is a characteristic of the viewer as he / she approaches the artwork. The suspension of disbelief has always been a requirement to view art successfully. The viewer's faith in the artist’s position is necessary to viewing artwork. I may not agree with or even understand that position, but I acquiesce to it in order to approach the artwork. If I refuse the artist’s viewpoint / position, I walk away from the artwork. On the other hand a misunderstood perception of the artist’s intent does not negate my approach to the artwork. Rather, it allows me to establish a connection to the artwork, and it serves as a point around which I can establish connections to other viewers of the artwork in conversation. However, I maintain the faith in the integrity of the originator’s position even as I misunderstand it.

So, I’m not sure that Pomo discussions of the 3 positions necessary to an understanding of artworks; 1) artist / writer, 2) culture, 3) viewer / reader, were an attempt to negate an absolutist approach to the artwork so much as they were an attempt to understand how the three interact and effect one another over time and across cultures. Variability / discrepancy is a part of mathematics. * We consider VARIABLES as a necessary part of algebraic formulae. Variability is a part of the real world whether or not I accept that deviation in the patterns of my diurnal life. Thus, faith and deviation do and must coexist in any actual/real approach to an artwork, and/or to Art itself. Additionally, the artist, the culture and / or the viewer at any given point in time may be certain about a particular position concerning meaning. These multiple positions do not do away with meaning. Instead, they allow variability to coexist with specificity - they allow open communication between viewers, culture, and artist - and they allow that the artist's original intent is important in the scheme of things. I place emphasis on the final part of the last statement, and that may be a variant of actual Pomo notions.

The last series of thoughts leads me to another question - does a reconciliation of faith and variability mark a possible Po-pomo position? Or is it simply my own DIFFERENT – I want my cake and eat it too - meta-critical artist Pomo position?

Reading *

Holly, Michael Ann. Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image. New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Eshelman, Raoul. Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism. Aurora, Colorado: Davies Group, 2008.
--------------“Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism,” Anthropoetics 6, no. 2 (Fall 2000 / Winter 2001), Viewed 1:27 EST, Tuesday, March 9, 2010.

Knapp, Steven & Michaels, Walter Benn, “Against Theory,” in Critical Inquiry (8:4).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Post-postmodernism Defined: Really now John! (Continued)

The contrary notion (to the Postmodern) that the writer/artist, text/ art work, and the reader/viewer are inseparable seems to be one of the linchpins of a Post-postmodern position. *

Universe X-66P5

The operator thought, “Now I shall do the impossible.” Thus, as the energy poured through the black hole at the center of the Milky-Way Galaxy - so named by the insignificant inhabitants of the third planet of an inconsequential little star two-thirds they way out toward the outer extremities of that rather [ho-hum] ordinary galaxy – into the brand-new infant universe on the other side of the black hole generated wormhole - the operator thought. “I shall make this entirely new universe out of only one dimension. It shall have no up or down. There shall be no space, and time shall not exist. Instead, this universe shall be a single dot in the fabric of the infinite. And, as it gives rise to life, that life shall neither know the passage of thought, nor shall it experience any sense of things because there will be no thing to experience. Therefore I shall design no senses to experience anything, and since I am the fundamental controller of all - this Universe, X-66P5 - shall be singular. No thing, and everything shall be indivisible. There shall be no perception. There shall be no understanding. Therefore there shall be no reasoning, and there shall be no criticism based in sensory perception and / or reason.”

Thus, the impossible dot - this thing that will not emerge from the wormhole because it shall be an impossible singularity of nothing - shall not be. Yes, I shall do the impossible, and the impossible will not exist. Therefore, I shall have not done it.

*Knapp, Steven & Michaels, Walter Benn, “Against Theory,” in Critical Inquiry (8:4).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Beach Patterns

Last week I spent part of an afternoon on the beach with camera aimed at my feet, and I wrote the following about the experience.

Sunlight, sea-froth and sand make remarkable things happen. The meandering line at foam’s edge weaves through the viewfinder, and I move the camera up a bit to avoid a view of my left big-toe-crumbled-nail to focus on that slightly raised serpentine line of sand left by receding water.

There, over there, a single shell interrupts the foam just so, a hump. Move the camera, catch the hump as water pulls the bubble blanket away to reveal - no, too late - shell tumbling end over scalloped edge and disappearing beneath the sea.

Turn and walk, turn, turn again, and walking, never look up. Over and over shutter clicks - 280 times with warm sun bearing down on my brow, chilly north wind at my back, reversed warm/cold, cold/warm. Like a discombobulated dervish I move across the beach. Then, sun-flash-off-water burns, and blind for a moment – I squint to blink back tears as another new wave pushes foam past viewfinder-framed-motion – one more time - too fast!

But, salty bubbles slide back, and left eye blinks to actual sight while the right sees rectangular light - mechanical version, and I push the so familiar silver trigger to the whir-click-buzz of the shutter.

Whir-click-buzz. One more time - Whir-click-buzz.

And, finally drunk on salty sand filled dreams, I stop and think…


Monday, March 15, 2010

Post-postmodernism: Danger / Caution! Peligro / PrecauciĆ³n

If, as I have demonstrated, and others believe also – that faith is a characteristic of the Post-postmodern (Po-pomo) – I fear that we may be in for a bumpy ride, for the Pied Piper’s melodic vehicle is driven by a tyrannical maniac. And, where there is a tyrant, there are the foolish faithful ready to follow, like rats to the sea. *

In the last journal entry, I wrote of the American, French, and Russian Revolutions to demonstrate that paradigm shifts in the Arts have adjunct massive cultural and social upheaval, sometimes beneficial, more often life threatening to millions before the potential benefit (sometimes) comes to the fore. I also wonder which comes first, the shift, or the upheaval? Perhaps it is a bit of both interacting and egging each other on (pun intended). Sometimes, the resultant conflagration is seized and used by a maniacal leader such as Stalin in the second, Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, or Hitler, in the Second World War to steer a people and /or nation into the jaws of hell. Often the Arts are used to aid and abet the political / religious leader’s obsession as was Adolph Hitler’s ambitious use of Architecture through willing architects Albert Speer, Hermann Giesler, and Fritz Todt to glorify the state using slave labor gathered from the Jewish and other ghettos. At the same time Hitler managed a Brobdingnagian heist of great art by sacking the museums of conquered nations and by confiscating the art of wealthy Jewish families. Raoul Eshelman in Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism discusses "Oruzhie vozmezdiia" (Weapon of vengeance) briefly, and describes how the Nazi horror is somehow relegated to the banal through the protagonist's reduction of evil by an act of faith.*2


Scene from "Oruzhie vozmezdiia" (Weapon of vengeance)

Instead, the fact that survivors of the Nazi concentration camps somehow overcame the horrors encountered through a blind faith in goodness does not in any way mitigate the experience, and knowledge of the Nazi evil.

Blind and / or dogmatic faith - in a philosophy, a particular religion, a religious and / or political leader, in an institution - leads to war, revolution, and economic calamity. Blind faith is fatal to civilization and people, even if it is accomplished as a temporary state imposed through the vehicle of a character in a work of fiction. I am not predicting a calamity based on a mass Popomo faith based mentality, though I am worried about the possibility.* Instead of making that prediction, I, like Candide will tend my garden, and hope that mankind’s self-inflicted catastrophes do not find me, which, I suppose is a kind of performative faith based act.

H-m-m-m-m-m, are actual people capable of performatives?


* The word faith is used here in the general sense of the word, not in the Christian sense.

* 2 Eshelman's Performatism allows that the identification with the protagonist is only temporary, and only for the duration of the reading / viewing.


Eshelman, Raoul. Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism. Aurora, Colorado: Davies Group, 2008.
--------------“Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism,” Anthropoetics 6, no. 2 (Fall 2000 / Winter 2001), Viewed 1:27 EST, Tuesday, March 9, 2010.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Post-Postmodernism Defined: Really Now, John!

Once again I continue the discussion of the possible change from Postmodernism (Po-mo) to Post-postmodernism (Po-pomo). Over the course of the next several weeks I hope to explore a number of the possible components of a Po-pomo orientation. Today I look at Eric Gans’ ideas surrounding the invention of language, and Raoul Eshleman's "Performatism."

But, first, I wonder if the current dissatisfaction with President Obama, and both political parties, The Tea Party, and Populism aren’t all political evidence of the change in culture toward a new (er) vision of the world, even as these things are also evidence of poor judgment and myopic vision. As I’ve stated in earlier journal entries, there must be several things present in order for change in the Arts to be created by individual artists, and these include historical changes in cultural perception, performance of human spirituality, politics, the political map, and society. Thus, I demonstrated quite accidentally what may be the most important over reaching characteristic of what it means to be Post-Postmodern. I showed a personal belief in the ability of individuals to go beyond the postmodern ironic notion that we each are swallowed up by automatic cultural performance even as we participate in that performance.

As I read on and explore the possibilities of such a combination of performative culture versus individual power in creating new performance I have encountered a cluster of people and ideas. In this journal entry I look at Eric Gans’ Generative Anthropology. Gans envisions a singular moment in a hominid group that generated the invention of language through a simultaneously shared spiritual experience counter to each individual’s need for dominance. Thus, the group began to sign to one another a feeling of awe, perhaps reverence for the object of contention, “food” in order to prevent each individual from acting out in order to obtain the food. Gans substitutes the invention of language for Rene Girard’s scapegoat, and Gans sees the Postmodern as associated with the victimization of the individual, though I believe victimization of and decentering of the individual to be two different things. Ultimately, I’m highly skeptical of such a singular moment in the development of language. Rather, I would propose a cluster of such moments among various groups as one of the hominid species reached the point in development where language became possible. Interestingly, Gans’ ideas about the invention of language also demonstrate the notion that spirituality and faith play an important part in the originary semiotic act. Gans also demonstrates a similar idea to my own (above), that the cultural moment and the individual moments are happening simultaneously- in his case, a cultural imperative based in language and the individual need for dominance. * However, both our notions are in the usual Western oppositional form. I know that there must be more possibilities surrounding my own idea than one opposition. And, I have demonstrated that Gans’ notion is grounded in human spirituality and faith, and must also be encapsulated in a multiplicity of similar events. I am certain that if I were an anthropologist I would be able to arrive at a much more complex model for the simultaneous generation of language/signing.

Interestingly, all this points to the cluster of ideas concerning viewer, artist, and art object that I had written about back on September 16th and 21st, 2009. I had been discussing Michael Ann Holly’s book, Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image in which, ironically Holly immerses the art object in a cultural milieu that gives the individual viewer the upper hand in ascribing meaning to the object, but removes the power of intent from the individual artist/creator. Thus, I have the notion that Holly; writing in 1996 was expressing complex notions that display a Post-Postmodern notion of the transcendence of the individual, though in Holly’s case that transcendence is at the expense of the individual artist’s original intent. However, In “Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism,” Raoul Eshelman stakes the claim that theory, located outside art production, must cease, and that the art object, artist, and viewer are united. Thus all three become “originary,” together, a unity. And, that prompts the following complex questions on my part. Is that originary triumvirate an actual reduction, or rather, is it a complicated interaction of all three? Or is each to be completely separate and independent, allowing no interaction at all? Must the artist’s intent be considered its own universe, and the viewer’s understanding it’s own universe, each having nothing to do with the other? In that case, is there communication? Isn’t the objet d’art left out in the cold? Does the art object even exist? Thus, the questions lead to the strong possibility that Eshelman’s reduction is logically impossible, and I must rely upon faith alone to sustain it.

That reduction and its logical impossibility give rise to an understanding of the return to fundamentalist religion in both the West and East during the second half of the Twentieth Century, as well as the development of international Islamic terrorism, and home grown Christian and Islamic terrorism, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the increase in the various domestic militias and right wing fanatics of the first decade of the Twenty-first Century. *2 There is no logic to any of it. It is all faith-based action generated by conflicting ideologies, politics and religions. And that leads to the question; do the Arts deal with that phenomenon in Twenty-first Century production?

To be continued

* Gans identifies the individual need for dominance with animal instinct. Instead, the secondary needs of the individual may not coincide with the primary life sustaining needs.

*2 It may be politically incorrect, but I do suggest that skinhead and KKK related hate crimes are both related to extreme evangelical Christian fundamentalist beliefs in white supremacy. I also maintain that these are a very few evangelical Christians, just as a very few Islamic extremists believe in jihad against the West. I also believe it is absolutely necessary to have a public discussion about the subject of international and domestic terrorism with this particular position in mind in order to gain control of the problems we face as a culture and civilization.


Eshelman, Raoul. Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism. Aurora, Colorado: Davies Group, 2008.
--------------“Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism,” Anthropoetics 6, no. 2 (Fall 2000 / Winter 2001), Viewed 1:27 EST, Tuesday, March 9, 2010.

Gans, Eric. The Origin of Language: A Formal Theory of Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Holly, Michael Ann. Past Looking: Historical Imagination and the Rhetoric of the Image. New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Best Boogie-woogie Board Boy Wake

I was backing-up old files last night and came across this forgotten 2002 photograph taken at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with my old Sony F707 camera with that incredible Carl Zeiss lens. I wish I could move that lens to my newer 10 megapixel Sony Cybershot. I just had to put the photo in here because of the marvelous splash, and it provides a nice break from all the heavy theory I’ve been spouting lately.