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Sunday, April 23, 2017


Rereading this 1974 blockbuster novel of its time is an astonishing experience. Pirsig has gone his solitary way through all of Continental Philosophy of his time and beyond without referring to Foucault, Baudrillard, Zizek, Lacan, walking along in their footsteps without knowing of their existence. He arrives at the same conclusions and consequences by a parallel path not an identical one. And he digs even deeper than Foucault, something I had never expected from anyone.

Pirsig is grounding his thought concretely by alternating between motorcycle maintenance, a journey on his motorcycle with his young adolescent son across the midwest and north of the US to California. While Foucault is digging in dusty old archives, tattered and yellowed papers, Pirsig is whizzing through mountainous landscapes, desert valleys, campgrounds and highways as he pieces fragments of his alterity and continued musings of his past and present thinking.

He begins with the perception of landscape through an automobile's windows and the difference as it surrounds one on a motorcycle. The car frames the scene - turning it into the screen - as it changes, displaying what the frame frames. The motorcycle puts you in the landscape making you a part of it, not an observer of it. The scene through the auto window is a simulacrum, the surround on the motorcycle is the REAL. And this is the thought of Jean Baudrillard. 

Is Baudrillard a Simulacrum here?

The great danger of our time felt by Pirsig and articulated by Baudrillard. The loss of the REAL and the worship of the Simulacrum. The Hunger Games. Panem and the Districts. The REAL and the SCREEN.

Reading through McLuhan the motorcycle is the MEDIUM and the MESSAGE is invisible. Or the GROUND is invisible. The auto is the MEDIUM and the MESSAGE is different. The GROUND is now the inside of the car which is invisible as one looks out the window at the passing screen. Pirsig has lifted the curtain of invisibility so we now see the once invisible MESSAGE of the cycle and the auto. He has waved the magic wand, Dorothy has clicked her red heels three times and she is in Oz then back to the canvas of Kansas again. Has Baudrillard or McLuhan ever been so clearly understood before?

This is what is troubling him all through his journey. Small patches of lawn a plastic faking of open green spaces, plastic toys of artificial style to deceive. None of this is escaping his eyes as he sees through the cultural faking that passes for authenticity by those who cannot see or recognize QUALITY.

Read it again and go with him again on the wild trip you once breathlessly accompanied him on. There is much more I have to say about this wondrous journey of his.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Reading Dashiell Hammett Through Foucault/Foucault Through Hammet

With a wonderful introduction by Lillian Hellman
Hellman's introduction may add some facts Hammett's fans may not have known. He did not want these stories published in his lifetime and I sort of see why. But I am so grateful they have been collected and edited for us to read. I didn't read all of them. But each one I did read has an original charm and integrity of its own.

The Scorched Face is drastically dated for us. Women from well to do families in San Francisco have gone missing, been murdered, blackmailed and have committed suicide for threatened exposure of photographs taken during an hallucinatory orgy. Now almost laughable as they might have been deliberately posed and posted online for instant celebrity for something they would have died for not so very long ago. All we can do is shake our heads in wonder at this world we live in.

Corkscrew introduces us to Hammett's detective voice.What is startling is that the villains are really villains and the good ones display an integrity that seems to have disappeared completely from our present life on any plane of action.That quality of character portrayed in fiction had some semblance in life in the Real World. Certainly Hammett himself conducted his life in this fashion and paid the price for it. For me who invariably reads everything with a Foucauldian default setting my reading zeroed in on three genealogies:

  1. Illegal Immigrants - Not yet a major problem but simply their smuggling in as a way to make the big bucks. This is an interesting beginning as it is just beginning to make its Foucauldian CUT with capitalism in the GRID of power/knowledge already meshed with capitalism and normality. Not yet has illegal immigration become the huge source of cheap labor that it will be very soon - in this story we are still a ways from WWII. So for an alert Foucauldian perception we perceive an early CUT into the genealogy of smuggled humans for profit that will be so fraught with political outrage in our time. One can see how fast immigration has moved into problematization for us.
  2. The second CUT that jumped out at me was the sale of military weaponry. I already knew about its sale to American Indians, colonists, French and English during the settling of this country. But in thinking, contemplating it I began wondering at what point in history did the selling of military weaponry to both sides become natural and then institutionalized. Surely knights in armor has their beautiful suits of armor made by artisans, craftsmen, with great pride. Not mass produced for that was still to come.So I am not sure where that CUT of Foucault's entered our world but still it was around the time of this story, just before militarized weaponry would become a huge assembly line factory produced commodity of killing and money.
  3. The third CUT is "the banning" of these weapons. The new deputy sheriff in town rules that all guns get parked while in the bar. The sheriff has to enforce this ban. Open carry or concealed guns are the custom but the sheriff decides to change the custom. As always when customs get challenged people get angry. And this initial CUT in the genealogy of open/concealed carry appears innocently simple. It will become open warfare before 80 years. Yes time moves fast these days.
The EFFECTS that seem so charming and rather innocent in this story 
have resonances far beyond villains who brandish 
guns and bullets in a murderous way contrasted with
using these weapons carefully and intelligently.
So once upon a time they were so used
and now it doesn't seem so possible anymore confronted with
huge numbers of people who don't.

But their use has become so natural so institutionalized
that taking them away amounts to a loss of freedom.
Guns have become an ideology of freedom
an icon of freedom.

Are we just swamping around in ideology here as we fight about guns?

TULIP is a beginning of a novel/an unfinished novel. But is it really unfinished? We are treated to a mature Dashiell Hammett we haven't seen before in his stories. It is fiction that is true, without lies, in the way that non-fiction rarely is. Without lies I mean. A man trying to be as clear as possible. It feels very much like Faulkner. And Hemingway. And if only Hammett had not been so assaulted by the machine of capital, which he hated, we would have had him longer, and America would have had another truly great writer. For in TULIP you read the beginning of his greatness that was curtailed by illness and McCarthy's persecution.  And that's a good thing to know.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

STEFAN SIMCHOWITZ Enters the Art Market and Changes the DISCOURSE.


Quoting Jean Baudrillard on 9-11 the bombers had a PACT with each other, not a contract.In the Order of  Symbolic  Exchange and Death there is not a legal contract. That belongs to the Order of Production in which CAPITALISM is its prime subject.

Simchowitz has begun a new model for entering into a relationship with artists, helping to manage their careers and sell their work so they can be supported on a regular basis to be able to keep "playing" with their imagination.

How does he do this? He simply buys a lot of a new unknown artist's work. How much do you want for it, and then he pays it. From there he will go on to hook the artist up with a gallery/galleries, print a book, promote them in his original way. He may sell to a collector a piece he wishes to be in the collection of a particular collector.

He builds the relationship over time. Some are more intimate and deep than others. But what is significant and infuriating to the big player dealers in the commercial art world is what is invisible to them. Simchowitz is successful, his artists slowly grow to recognition and Simchowitz makes his fees from the art he bought at the beginning. Although he will buy in the middle and the end also. 
And that is his relationship with the artist. He OWNS the work of the artist and this allows him to be aligned with the desire of the artist. The artist wishes to have his works known and so does Simchowitz.


As the Order of Production is taking over all our lives, turning all the territory into a MAP (Borges:The Map and the Territory) here is a hero standing alone in a world of elegance, affluence,bureaucracy,fascism in a smaller sense than world domination.


The artists he chooses get to stay in the studio and do what they love.They don't have to tour,go to fairs, and all that hoopla.They just get to do their work and stay PURE. 


The Great LEO STEINBERG would have been thrilled.John McCoubrey would have been thrilled. And many others still alive who studied with them will also be THRILLED.




In Illuminations is that gold standard essay Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
 What Andy Warhol took apart in a way that CUT into the DISCOURSE of art history and put a slice deep enough to challenge all artists.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

James Carrin: Pushkin Girl and Poem

James Carrin Pushkin Girl
I read in Artforum that the critics highly praise Carrin but that he is not a great seller. As Picasso once said, "I don't make Wallpaper." Carrin's paintings are not exactly comfortable Wallpaper, are they. How would you even discuss this painting with someone who comes into your home. Better leave it to the museums eh. 

Gone to the wind is any idea of childhood innocence when you look at this. Very uncomfortable feeling. I can even imagine this one setting you up and then turning you in to the authorities. What an evening's discussion this could turn into. An unpleasant visit guaranteed.

Poem 9-3-16

Carrin's Pushkin's Girl
Observes you;
Her young sneer
Inscribing her face;
"I must be protected
From lechery
And my own
Or not."

Sunday, September 04, 2016



What determines an artist who makes works of art revered through the ages of time?

Success in their own time? 

One landmark is a CUT in Art History such as Picasso made more than once. Is it this? 

Leonardo took on great themes of mythology, of portrait painting, of landscape.

Michangelo's great theme was Christianity in the Sistine Chapel.

IMO the great theme now is the DEATH of Planet Earth as we know it, this hospitable place for our species and all those contemporaneous with us that took hundreds of millions of years to prepare.

What other artist has spent her life detailing this catastrophe we have made?

And why has she not been recognized as such? A prophet in her own country aphorism?

Well she has been traveling, teaching drawing/painting for 30 years, raising a family and working non stop in her studio, not schmoozing and PR ing with the rich and famous. Not a lifestyle to attract big time buyers around the world.

I first met Diane Burko quietly in the cafeteria at the University of Pennsylvania. I was doing research in psychology on Piaget's Conservation Concepts and she was beginning her MFA in preparation for teaching. There was nothing about her to suggest she had visions of greatness in her field. She was getting her credentials for teaching. And that's all I remember of her.

I would come across her work hanging in homes (John McCoubrey for one) and these early paintings were birds's eye views of landscapes. A green country farm, Philadelphia from the sky or up high somewhere. The kind of thing you see on google these days of places you know.

I would hear about her but never in terms of her being the next great thing. Her early large paintings of glaciers were elegant, austere, untouchable,  indifferent to us, our eyes looking at these objects. The brush strokes did not play erotically on the canvas, did not convey sensuousness. These fierce bitterly cold and indifferent glaciers were monstrously indifferent as Herzog would say, and Burko responded in kind. Her brushstrokes followed Nietsche's advice "Be more so than the subject, be WORSE!"

Then in the early 1990's Burko would get a grant to live and paint in Monet's Giverny. Here she painted the same scenes Monet painted and her brush was inspired by his, her strokes flowed and dripped and she became a different painter.  It was then I came to know her better through a mutual friend. And then I left Philadelphia. 

When I thought of her I began to think of her as a witness of Climate Change in the world. All her paintings became paintings of a lost world to me in my mind. Her life's work a chronicle of grief which she seemed not to acknowledge in any of her interviews online or in person. 

An example of Lacan and Zizek comes to mind for her. The unknown knowns that rule our lives, our destinies. I can think of nothing else that explains all the years she did this, flying in helicopters, airplanes, touring all these inaccessible unloving places. 

By 2006 the awareness of Climate Change, then labeled Global Warming, went more mainstream. Burko's paintings were then sought out to promote what scientists had been saying in their dry obtuse way with numbers and graphs. The paintings were irresistible for making their point and Burko responded with her great generosity of spirit. 

She no longer has to take her own photos because science has recorded these changes for her in their scientific photos. Places that she visited with exhilaration and desire, camera in hand, leaning out the opened door of a plane to get the shot she wanted, were now available to her as change by change took place. As Baudrillard would say what was conceived in the Symbolic Order as passion, living, sacred, death, love, seduction, challenge was entering the Order of Production. Science, measurement, survival, fascination, control began to take over and Burko began to paint the changes in those places of long ago that would never be the same again.

Here is where we get into the CUT in art history, the age old problem of representation. 
The more recent paintings of the glaciers, the mountains of ice encrusted snow over stone have melted, so what are we seeing. We are seeing representations of NOW? No longer the same as THEN. 

Burko has expressed her early abstract leanings as opposed to the landscape by jumping out of the dichotomy, the binary box art history had long confined them in, and soaring up high to Heaven, taking the object with a God's Eye perspective. Philip Guston also merged the figure/abstract concept he had struggled with. Art is eliminating contradictions, ideology, false dichotomies.

Now we can see a figure as abstract. We can google the Earth and its lands, sea, and air which now appear as abstract paintings. The artists gave us these images first in some way knowing what to reveal to us.

Where is the original? Is it the glacier now? Or is the one now the simulacrum. Maybe the simulacrum is the one Burko photographed and painted years and years ago? Is the original one 100 years ago? 1000000 ago? It is impossible to know. 

Each one in time is a simulacrum.
There cannot be anything to be called representational for it will become different in time. There will never be an original, only copies of copies.

The illusion of an original is an illusion.
There is no such thing.It has just been made up.Time will change anything
but maybe so slow you cannot notice.

Am I the same as the young woman who met Burko in 1966? Am I the simulacrum now? Or was I the simulacrum then?
I have no identity.Only multiple selves.
There is no linear time. No beginning. No end.

I am always someone different. I just change too slowly for myself to notice.

Now the glacier has changed in my lifetime so I can see the changes.
Glaciers used to change slowly so in one life their changes were not seen.
Now they change faster and faster so we can see. 
Will they speed up like a movie?

Now Burko photographs and paints volcanoes. The melting molten rivers of fire run down and around the volcano, twisting and flowing, burning all in its path then turning to hard, charcoal stony rock petrified lava gone cold. Stopped.

And here is the resonance with Houellebecq's Lanzarote.

Lanzarote - tourist attraction now

Once a cheap tourist destination until Houellebecq made it famous, these islands had endured volcanic explosions for over 100 years. The EFFECT on the people is detailed by Houellebecq in the Afterward of the novel. They are cautious, unfriendly, suspicious people.

So Burko has just destroyed representational art.
That is a fact. Did she intend to do it?
She has said her GOD'S EYE perspective on landscape is so she can keep abstraction.

Why do just idiots review her work, ask her stupid questions?

Does Burko cry at night for these lost glaciers and icy mountains?
I do. I cry at night. Someone ask her in an interview.

Does she love them? Petit still loved the World Trade Center Towers he walked across.
Gordon Levitt as Philippe Petit

The glaciers, mountains and the World Trade Center Towers
are Strange Attractors

These buildings are seductive.  And seduction is coupled with challenge. Always. Just like mountains, like Everest. They are objects beckoning the subject. They were Strange Attractors from Baudrillardian theory. Just as particles in a particle accelerator with opposite charges seek each other, play with each other, and when they collide....pouf!

These objects, these Strange Attractors, have been luring and seducing Burko all her life. They have wanted her to know, to speak for their voicelessness.

There is no original. Both are simulacra

LINK for multi images of Burko

Reviews - I include them so you can see that they can't see.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

REVIEW: Micah White's The End of Protest-Reading Through Foucault, Baudrillard, Steinbeck and McLuhan

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White has critiqued the present template of Protest as ineffective. He says that the narrative protesters use to tell themselves is in error and he lays down the necessary and sufficient conditions for an effective protest.

1.Surprise - never protest the same way twice
2..Do not fall into the trap of thinking numbers will lead to change. It doesn't now and it won't. As Bush said about overwhelming protest numbers, "I don't pay attention to focus groups."
3. .Do not believe the narrative you have been telling yourselves.
4. A spiritual element is necessary

Reading through Foucault here in a genealogical reading of protest through history.: Genealogy is not continuous,historical,progressive,or LINEAR.

ALL the great protests of history have NEVER been linear. 

The one we are all most familiar with is 9-11. A surprise out of the brilliant BLUE sky of a September morning in New York City. It perfectly fits the definition of an EVENT cutting into the linear world we are living in. Our Episteme. It was an act coupled with suicide. It was the SYMBOLIC GIFT which requires the COUNTER-GIFT which the US has not been able to come up with yet and faces suicide if it can't according to the template of rules in the Symbolic Order. No one needs to ask if it was an effective protest.IT CHANGED THE WORLD

The other protest we are also completely familiar with was Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers in the Temple. This was his last act of defiance and the one that the priests of the Temple could not overlook, so they demanded retribution. The priests of that time were in dire danger of losing their power - their jobs and careers as Temple Officials.Jesus was following Isaiah and he is choosing his end accordingly. LINK

Does this resonate with you for our time?

Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle

The reviews at Amazon say this fictional account of the strike of apple pickers in the California Torgas Valley is NOT a manual for protest/strike.

But I think it is.
It has all of White's necessary and sufficient conditions.
 Mac is instructing Jim, a new admittance to The Party - read Red Communist - and tells him when asked how they are going to do it, that he is going to use what is available. They are going to improvise with what they have, what happens and the situation as it develops.Surprise is all over this novel, it is all over everything they do. We are not really reading a narrative but constant dialogue and their actions.

Mac is constantly focused on the EFFECTS of what they are doing and planning to do next. It all keeps changing even on them. Mac is planning it as he is experienced, but he doesn't have a plan written in stone, so in that it is not a 1,2,3 manual but a manual just the same.
It is a non manual manual.An anti-manual we can say.

It is a thrilling account and some say Steinbeck's best book and certainly a very beloved book
Obama has said it is one of his. (cough cough)

Soon a movie directed and starred in by James Franco
Published in 1936 by Colliers

Towards the end of this novel, Jim the novice apprentice begins to assert dominance over Mac, his supervisor and trainer. He sees that the superb organization of the powers in the valley are going to defeat them. So he begins to plan, to order the workers into a military structure. At this point you see spontaneity, singularity, EVENT, being swallowed into THE PRODUCTION OF A PROTEST, A STRIKE.It is at this moment when Jim takes control with cool calculating moves that the protest changes from the SYMBOLIC ORDER of living, passion, love, the sacred, and reversibility into the ORDER OF PRODUCTION of survival, repetition, exchange, and irreversibility. It is coupled with Jim's suicide, taking it back into the Order of the SACRED.

 My point here is that it is a beginning of the subversion of the singular into the replication, the oncoming simulacrum of PROTEST.

The great social activist, community and union organizer SAUL ALINSKY
was called in to handle the union organizing at Eastman - Kodak in Rochester New York. The workers were getting nowhere and had been stonewalled for too long.

Saul Alinsky
In a Playboy Interview Alinsky said he was the type of person who would be walking down the sidewalk until he saw a sign saying KEEP OFF THE GRASS. Having had no intention of walking on the grass he immediately felt like doing just that.

Eastman-Kodak was inordinately proud of the Rochester Symphony Orchestra which they founded and funded. 


plan was simple, surprising, non-narrative and effective.
And joyous

The workers planned to attend the concert that Friday - Saturday? - night. Before the concert they had a huge banquet of BAKED BEANS and ate them all up, just like Goldilocks.

And they of course,
the night away at the concert. Eastman- Kodak surrendered and the union got their demands.
Again surprise,an EVENT, non linear, and is laughing joy not spiritual?

SPARTACUS is another great protest against the Roman Empire's institution of slavery.

 And then there is Abbie Hoffman and the Chicago 8 becoming the Chicago 7 as Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers opted out and wished to be tried separately as he was so outrageous. Us oldsters remember this PROTEST, this extravaganza against the Judicial System of the USA. Abbie entered the courtroom dressed in a shirt made out of the  American flag. Bobby Seale gave the judge such impassioned long rants that he was taken out, tied to a chair and his mouth taped shut. They all made a travesty of that courtroom. So here is that link in more detail. Don't miss it.But it is one of those EVENTS that if you weren't there it sort of doesn't count.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Reading Donald Trump Through Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Message

Look at this image.Trump's wife is in shocking pink upstaging the red of the American flag. Ivanka, his beautiful and intelligent and FEMINIST daughter is in black matching Trump. Neither is adoring him.
McLuhan left the "cliche it became" and reframed his thinking into; 
Medium as GROUND and Content as FIGURE

Digressing and Summarizing: The Medium is the Message STATES that the Medium, the Media, the Technology IS THE MESSAGE. Its CONTENT is irrelevant. Print as the Medium most influential for 500 years was the TECHNOLOGY carrying the MESSAGE. Books, newspapers, etc provided the CONTENT. While content was debated, analyzed, critiqued, studied, written about, spoken about, thought about,like angels on the head of a pin in old timey times, the Message was embedding itself in our minds and bodies. This is "The Inscription of the Body" detailed by Nietzsche and elaborated by Foucault, it is invisible. We were unaware for centuries that the MESSAGE carried by the Medium  of PRINT was invisible. THE MEDIUM IS INVISIBLE. The content is visible.The GROUND is INVISIBLE, the FIGURE is VISIBLE. Children have no problem in perceiving Ground, but as adults trained in the linear reading of PRINT the Ground becomes INVISIBLE, the FIGURE - content -dominates the visual and thinking field for us adults.

We can no longer SEE the GROUND. It is INVISIBLE  to us.

?OK so far?

The ICONIC figure: 

Ali and The Beatles

What does McLuhan have to say about the ICONIC figure?

THE ICONIC FIGURE merges Figure/Ground in ONE figure. (Merges the Medium and the Message.)The context and the content are ONE.

This is easy to see in MUHAMMAD ALI, THE BEATLES, EINSTEIN because they are DEAD, finished, their works now part of our culture, and so can be seen WHOLLY instead of piecemeal as they emerge for us, when alive. IMO the same is true of great buildings, monuments but NOT as they were being built, only when finished, named, visited and worshiped. Music, art - Picasso, Pollack, Leonardo, et al - the same.

He has merged Figure/Ground - Medium and Content

The Media for the Masses  CONTINUES to focus on CONTENT. 

So what is the MESSAGE we are getting about Trump? What is the CONTENT we are getting about Trump?

That's easy too. The CONTENT we are getting is that he is racist,  brutal, inexperienced, a bully, etc. What is the MESSAGE of the MEDIUM we are getting? 
That is the real QUESTION.




And so it goes as VONNEGUT would say.


If you wish to destroy something you MUST carry it to EXCESS - NIETZSCHE, AYN RAND ( The fictional Nietzschean disciple) or as Nietzsche said, "You must be WORSE!"

Donald Trump is WORSE. He is an ICONIC figure. He is the hyper-campaigner, the excessive campaigner, the outrageous campaigner, the campaigner who is WORSE! He cannot be debated in the Dominating Discourse of classical Hegelian opposition, that gray boring prose of the Political Discourse. 
HOW? THE DONALD silences all opposition.


Interspersed with this outrageousness is PARRHESIA - FEARLESS SPEECH - the TRUTH that risks everything for the PARRHESIASTES! Trump has risked it all. WHY?


Trump has a deep CONTEMPT for the present charade, corruption, stupidity of the American political process and he is out to destroy it. He has destroyed the GOP which so many of us have been trying to do by our focus on CONTENT which does not and can never work, as it debates on THEIR playing field in an endless game of ping pong, he said, she said.

No one can win on that FIELD of DISCOURSE.

So Trump is playing on a different field. A field that is NOT INVISIBLY VIOLENT concealed by the ACCEPTED Political Discourse

TRUMP IS A PUT-ON and if you are in on his game you can see it and cheer, revel in the downfall of a corrupt and unfixable system. 

What will be next? 
As Plato has said, "All DEMOCRACY leads to TOTALITARIANISM since democratic candidates must always appeal to the lowest common denominator to get elected." 
Trump is following PLATO.