Without a representation of the operation of the credit system and the knowledge that comes from it, we are limited to sensing debt as simply part of our own experiences, as something natural and determined. In a period in which credit is absorbed into the flow of everyday life, where debt is both everywhere invisible and indeterminate, how can we see capital and map our relation to it?
This brings us back to Jameson and realism. Jameson continues to insist upon the idea of meaninglessness in Zola’s abundant descriptive lists; in referring to the copious description of the cheeses in the shop in Le Ventre de Paris, he speaks of “their veritable liberation from meaning in all their excess.” The pungent cheese passage indeed shows a “delirious multiplicity,” but the cheeses are far from being meaningless or “autonomous.” For what does it mean when it is said that an element of a literary work is meaningless? Can it be true that multiplicity or excess leads to meaninglessness? Or that the moment something exists in the bodily realm, it does not signify?
If it’s true that many of our contemporaries and immediate predecessors – and particularly poets — haven’t been interested in Brecht, it isn’t quite right to say that it must be because Brecht’s work is “too didactic or too plain in its political motivations” (or, we could say, too committed). Rather, if Brecht has held little interest, with respect to aesthetics and politics alike, it’s because aesthetics and politics alike have been “strictly personal,” transformed into a matter of “talking about oneself” – of expressing one’s attitudes and “special feelings” — instead of what they were for Brecht: impersonal, a matter of accuracy and normative judgment.
I don’t notice the sky on my way to work. I couldn’t say what colors my neighbors’ flowers are. In fact, I’m not even sure that they have flowers…But if, as Scarry argues, the flowers in books are in constant danger of dying for want of the solidity of real flowers, then what is killing the real flowers? And what is the medicine? The analysts of literary effects from Edmund Burke through Viktor Shklovsky, from Scarry to the latest cognitive critics, have been distracted by formal features, structures, and techniques. The sickness of literary flowers may be a problem for literary technique. The sickness of living flowers is a problem for philosophy. And this philosophy, as I will argue, has been the constant practice of a literature that doesn’t want to imitate life, but to transform it.
Eventually the Park Avenue series will be recognized as one of the major triumphs of Caro’s long and distinguished career, and in particular as a knockdown demonstration of the continued viability of high modernist abstraction in the face of the widespread assumption that no such thing is any longer even conceivable.
Araeen’s “ecoaesthetics” insists that artists can and should make a difference in a world beset by environmental emergencies. He shows one way to move in this direction, by collectively implementing artistic ideas. Thinking of his polemic and of the many and various ecoart projects realized in recent years, we could be forgiven for wondering how much of a difference in this direction is “enough.”
In the case of Ballet mécanique, however, it is no longer a question of competing with or dominating spectacular vision from within painting. Opting for a different strategy, Léger works against cinematic absorption and the pseudo-intensity of cinema from within cinema itself.
There is a deep schism within Pollock criticism. Taking Pollock’s marks to index the artist’s activity elevates the causes of his paintings over their meanings, with the consequence that his works of art are reduced to intentionless surfaces that just register his “traces.” That position implicitly requires us to reject the status of a painting as a medium of expression, and treat it instead as an occasion for a viewer’s experience. But Pollock’s project–one that finds its most rigorous articulation in formalist accounts of his art–is based on demarcating the actual from the representational, the literal surface from pictorial meaning.
As I try to make this out I may find myself hesitating among several possibilities: that Manet simply took advantage of the earlier painting’s meaninglessness; that he was in some way actively interested in the palpable discontinuity within the painting between artist’s intention and unrealized meaning; that his own painting stands as a reading of Velázquez’s, where reading means something distinct from but not without relation to interpretation.
Whatever previous ages might have fancied, we are wise enough to know that the work of art is a commodity like any other. Chances are that we don’t have any very clear idea what we mean by that. Marx, however, does.