"The Grindstone of Israeli-Palestinian Violence"
And, at Haaret'z, reports of anti-war protests of anti-war protests in Tel Aviv and of resistance among IDF veterans.
“What we need is a critique of visual culture that is alert to the power of images for good and evil and that is capable of discriminating the variety and historical specificity of their uses.” - W.J.T. Mitchell. Picture Theory (1994).
I find it puzzling how much I, and some other people, love architecture. Most of the buildings that I love have pillars, either classical or Gothic. There is a nice dismissive word that applies to all other buildings: “astylar.” I also love the avenues in the French countryside, perhaps because the trees are like rows of pillars. (There were eight million trees in French avenues in 1900, and now there are only about three hundred thousand.) There are some astylar buildings that I love, such as some skyscrapers. The best buildings in Venice and St. Petersburg, though very beautiful, are not sublime. What is sublime, I remember hearing Kenneth Clark say, are only the interiors of some late Gothic cathedrals, and some American skyscrapers.Although he admired some skyscrapers, he believed that architecture had generally declined since 1840, and the world had grown uglier. On the other hand, anesthetics were discovered around the same time, so the world’s suffering had been greatly reduced. Was the trade-off worth it? He was not sure.
I may be somewhat unusual in the fact that I never get tired or sated with what I love most, so that I don’t need or want variety.He disliked overhead lights, in which category he included the midday sun, but he loved the horizontal rays at the two ends of the day. He waited for hours, reading a book, for the right sort of light and the right sort of weather.
"MA: Your work often has a political undercurrent - if not an explicit acknowledgment of the political situation.In The NYRB this week is this brief notice about a new short film - Skinningrove (2013) - made by Michael Almereyda about his friend photographer Chris Killip and his work. You can find the movie in its entirety (approximately 15 minutes) here. I have posted on Killip here several times before. The exchange above, from a 2012 interview Almereyda did with Killip will offer some insight into why I so much like his work.
CK: Well, it would, wouldn't it? I mean, I was living in the industrial community of Newcastle, starting in the mid-1970s. I remember the editor of the Saturday magazine of the Sunday Telegraph asking me to photograph the men from the miners' strike. I didn't want to do the story for them because it is such a right-wing newspaper. He asked me which side was I on? I was quite shocked by the question. It had never occurred to me that I could be on anything other than the side I was on!
MA: But including political elements in your work is not about picking sides; it's about openly saying that your work, your worldview, is conditioned by historical forces.
CK: It was natural. I had no wish to deny it. I was also influenced by John Berger's TV program Ways of Seeing. I was so excited by that. I was just trying to understand then that no matter what you did, you inevitably had a political position. How declared it was was up to you, but it was going to be inherent in the work, and it was something you should think about as a maker. I never worried about my position in the art world. I thought time and history would ultimately judge me, that my job was to get on with it, to make the work and to make it wholeheartedly from what had informed me."*
"Of course, none of the recent revelations about Heidegger should be suppressed or dismissed. But neither should they turn into mantras and formulas, meant to discredit one of the most original philosophical frameworks of the past century. At issue are not only concepts (such as "being in the world" or methodologies (such as “hermeneutical ontology”) but the ever fresh way of thinking that holds in store countless possibilities that are not sanctioned by the prevalent techno-scientific rationality, which governs much of philosophy within the walls of the academia."Having already sought to minimize any concern for Heidegger's anti-Semitism, the best the author can do is intone about his "ever fresh way of thinking?" If you say so, I suppose. But to me this sounds an awful lot like a demand that we sequester the man's Nazism from his philosophy. Indeed, that is pretty much the thrust of the entire essay. But the entire basis for ongoing criticisms of Heidegger precisely is that in his case it is not possible to do that in any plausible way. And if we have to read as extensively as the author's example seems to require (well beyond, by the way, "those minimally versed in his thought") in order to grasp the oh-so-subtle way that Heidegger the philosopher actually was not anti-Semitic, well doesn't that just suggest how his politics inflects his philosophy?
A Border Patrol agent reads the birth certificate of Alejandro, 8 -- the only thing he brought with him as he and others crossed the Rio Grande near McAllen recently. Alejandro is one of more than 52,000 minors traveling without parents who've been caught crossing the border illegally since October (Dallas Morning News).
__________"and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right"*
Labels: Political Theory
"Soccer, metaphor for war, at times turns into real war. Then “sudden death” is no longer just a name for a dramatic way of deciding a tied match. These days, soccer fanaticism has come to occupy the place formerly reserved for religious fervor, patriotic ardor, and political passion. As often occurs with religion, patriotism, and politics, soccer can bring tensions to a boil, and many horrors are committed in its name." ~ Eduardo Galeanothis report at The Guardian on street art in the host country protesting the games. And, perhaps the best writing on "soccer" is by Eduardo Galeano who has dissected the political-economy of football in pretty exquisite ways. You can find a sample here but really ought to track down his book Soccer in Sun and Shadow (Nation Books). That is where I lifted the opening passage above.
"A Palestinian farmer looks toward the horizon of a beautiful landscape in the Jordan Valley. His farm and house were demolished twice by the Israeli authorities, as was the rest of his village. He decided to stay, to fight against the continuing attempts to uproot him. He fights using his very existence as a tool. This is the story of Burhan Basharat from Khirbet Makhoul in the Jordan Valley. This is also the story of many others."I lifted this image and caption from this collection here at +972, an online web magazine focusing on the reality of Israeli-Palestinian interactions in the occupied territories. And then, this morning, I discovered this report at The Guardian on Breaking Silence - an initiative undertaken by former IDF members to describe those interactions in words. A powerful convergence.
"Friedlander’s most indelible images are his portraits of musicians. Friedlander arrived in New Orleans at a high point in the jazz revivalist movement, when fans of jazz as it was originally played in New Orleans in the first two decades of the twentieth century (before the perceived corruptions of swing and bebop) descended on the city with tape recorders and notepads and cameras, hoping to catch some of the old magic and document it for posterity. [. . .]
Friedlander’s portraits do not feel celebratory, however. He found authenticity all right, . . . in the toll taken on his subjects by decades of privation and indifference. In his portraits the musicians—most of whom didn’t have the chops to follow Joe Oliver and Louis Armstrong north to Chicago forty years earlier—stare wistfully into the distance, or at the wall, as if indulging in some bittersweet private nostalgia. Many sit beside old family photographs, including pictures of themselves as young men. Some are photographed with their instrument, which they hold impotently, or rest in their laps. Their apartments are spare and poorly lit. There is dignity in these portraits, to be certain, and pride, but there is also despair."
"This sense of melancholy also shadows Friedlander’s photographs of performances. When George Lewis’s band plays a Bourbon Street tourist trap called the Paddock Lounge, the ceiling is so low that he almost has to duck, and nobody else in the frame—a patron, two bartenders—seems aware that they are in the presence of jazz royalty, an impression that is amplified by the insulting presence of the lawn jockey posing directly in front of Lewis. There are no audience members, for that matter, visible in most of the performance pictures, giving the impression that the musicians are playing for themselves."
"Performance art is a joke. Taken terribly seriously by the art world, it is a litmus test of pretension and intellectual dishonesty. If you are wowed by it, you are either susceptible to pseudo-intellectual guff, or lying.So says Jonathan Jones here at The Guardian. And I must say it is difficult to disagree. As "Exhibit A" I refer back to the recent antics of Marina Abramović about which I have opined here repeatedly. The art world has largely swooned over her pretentious nonsense. I find she and her work insufferable.
Is that overstating the case? Probably. There have been some powerful works of performance art – but most of them took place a long time ago ... Today, most art that claims to part of this modern tradition of performance is an embarrassing revelation of the art world's distance from real aesthetic values or real human life. ..."
"When you make the decision to hold yourself out as a business that serves the general public, you have to be willing to actually serve the general public, which includes a diverse group of people whose values and beliefs may be different than the values and beliefs of the business owner. Selling commercial wedding photography services, like selling a wedding cake or a flower arrangement, does not mean that a business owner endorses a customer's marriage. Everybody has the right to express their views on whatever subject they wish, and that includes business owners. But every business has to play by the same rules in the public marketplace."I suppose that in a time of truly ridiculous judicial decisions, this is a faint sign of sanity!
What to Do With Invidious Distinctions?
By Jim Johnson
Critical discussion of contemporary photography is shaped by a largely unchallenged distinction between “documentary” and “art”. We expect photographers practicing the former to concentrate on the realism, veracity, and accuracy of the images they produce, while those engaged in the latter are freed from such preoccupations, and so given license to experiment stylistically and substantively. We define the poles of this distinction relative to one another. Thus, while introducing a recent issue of PRIVATE (No. 33. Summer 06), critic and curator Roberta Valtorta announces that “the strongest and truest photojournalism today is that which outlives itself without straining to be ‘beautiful’. It stays truthful to its ‘primitiveness,’ its leanness, and far from aesthetics.” Her comment perversely echos photographer Luc Delahaye who, having spent considerable energy over the course of several years justifying his distinctly not ‘primitive’ or ‘lean’ depictions of war-torn Afghanistan, felt compelled to “officially” declare himself an artist.
That this documentary/art distinction has stultifying consequences seems obvious when I list some contemporary photographers whose work, for disparate reasons, I find compelling –Andre Cypriano, Josef Koudelka, Randa Shaath, Sebastião Salgado, Martha Rosler, James Nachtwey, Lalla Essaydi, Alfredo Jaar, Edward Burtynsky, Antonin Kratochvil, Susan Meiselas, Raphaël Dallaporta, The Atlas Group, and Miguel Rio Branco. The documentary/art dichotomy obscures the work of these and many other photographers insofar as each tramples back and forth across the bounds of truth and beauty, content and form, and so on we purportedly use the distinction to police.
In her early essay “On Style” (Against Interpretation & Other Essays (1966), New York, Picador 2001, p. 15-16), Susan Sontag identifies our predicament: “It is not so easy, after all, to get unstuck from a distinction that practically holds together the fabric of critical discourse, and serves to perpetuate certain intellectual aims and vested interests which themselves remain unchallenged and would be difficult to surrender without a fully articulated working replacement at hand.” Sontag was concerned with the distinction between style and content that is different from, if related to, the one that concerns me. Her diagnosis of our broad predicament seems right. Yet her insistence that we must replace the problematic distinction with some more or less fully worked out alternative is misguided.
Near the start of Art as Experience John Dewey observes: “Wherever continuity is possible, the burden of proof rests upon those who assert opposition and dualism” (New York, Perigree 1980, p. 27). The problem is not that we make and use conceptual distinctions. That is unavoidable in any ongoing critical or creative undertaking. The problem, as Hilary Putnam, among the most insightful heirs to Dewey’s pragmatism notes, is that with repeated use conceptual distinctions too often become “inflated” into dichotomies that come to muddle our critical and creative practices. In contemporary discussions the documentary/ art distinction has assumed precisely this invidious status.
Faced with this dualism, we should heed Dewey’s advice and shift the burden of justification onto those who deploy it. This strategy is attractive since, as Sontag intimates, distinctions become inflated into dichotomies in ways and for purposes that hardly are innocent. Our art/documentary distinction, for instance, assumed exaggerated proportions through the usually self-serving efforts of identifiable photographers, curators, collectors, and critics. One thinks here of how Stieglitz differentiated “art” from “document” in order to facilitate acceptance of his preferred brand of photography by institutions of the art world. One thinks too of how, subsequently, Walker Evans and his critical allies devised hegemonic criteria for ‘legitimate’ documentary in hopes of countering the success of Margaret Bourke-White whom they cast as his competitor. Additional relevant episodes, animated by other more or less unsavory aims and interests will come to mind.
While genealogical accounts warrant the burden-shifting strategy Dewey proposes, they offer nothing remotely like the full-fledged “replacement” that Sontag thinks necessary. So what? Once historians reveal a dichotomy as an artifact of the thoroughly political and economic concerns of those who promulgate it, why aren’t we justified in simply turning our backs on it and those who purvey it? We should aim not to replace the dichotomy but to deflate it so as to open space for critical reflection.
Steve Edwards’ Photography: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2006) is exemplary in this respect. He concedes that the documentary/art distinction is “central” to assessments of contemporary photography. His argument unfolds around the dichotomy in ways that undermine it, repeatedly demonstrating how it confounds efforts to grasp photography and the various uses to which it has been put. Edwards thus pursues a deflationary strategy I find congenial. In so doing, he invites us to worry much less about whether some image respects the boundaries set by an invidious conceptual distinction and considerably more about two constellations of questions. First, who produced the image, how, and for what purposes? Second, what exigencies shape how others subsequently experience and use it? This is an invitation we should accept.
Friends and colleagues,
Over the last three weeks, serious questions have been raised about the accuracy and integrity of photos and photo stories by freelancer/activists in Syria affiliated with Reuters. The first story was published by The New York Times Lens blog, the second by the NPPA. We published two more stories last week at BagNewsNotes:
Were the Reuters “Boy in a Syrian Bomb Factory” Photos Staged? -- with analysis provided by photojournalists, photo editors and reporters familiar with the workings of these rudimentary factories in Aleppo.
The Dysfunctional Guitar: More on the Reuters Syria Photo Controversy -- details the repeated appearance of the same damaged instrument in multiple images along with a look into a Reuters explanation.
In a post published last night by the British Journal of Photography, Reuters’ resistant stance -- and a hostility toward those raising questions -- was specifically called out. Because the news sphere has a short attention span and Reuters is such a powerful player in the world of news photography, there's a real risk that time will pass (while compromised pictures might even keep coming) and this situation will just be forgotten. Given the risk to the industry for the loss of integrity – including the integrity of all the talented and ethical people working for Reuters — that would be quite a blow.
"The anti-Semitic passages total only about two and a half of the notebooks’ roughly 1,200 pages. Still, some scholars say, they put the lie to any claim that Heidegger’s Nazism can be kept separate from his philosophy, or confined only to the brief period in the early 1930s when he was the rector of the newly Nazified University of Freiburg."Yes, and I only occasionally make racist comments too! No big deal.
"If one meets a powerful person . . . one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system."British Socialist Tony Benn has died. There is a report here at The New York Times, an obituary here at The Guardian, and a digest of pungent remarks - from which I lifted the one above - by him here at The New Statesman.
Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE — There’s an essay-type question that shows up on history exams, college applications, “Saturday Night Live” skits and quite possibly requests for platinum credit cards. The question goes something like this: “If you could sit down and have dinner/pizza/a beer with two famous people, who would be your choices?”
Now think about this exercise in historical imagination with changes along these lines: “If you had the opportunity to escort two renowned athletes on a tour of Terre Haute’s world-class Eugene V. Debs Museum, which two athletes would you choose?”
Maybe you would opt for two guys with personal integrity and grit (like Debs). Maybe your draft choices would lean toward team players (like Debs), guys who could lead (like Debs) but guys who knew sacrifice for the whole is a quality every leader possesses (like Debs).
Maybe you would choose guys like Bill Walton and Larry Bird.
Good choices. Walton and Bird are famous athletes, though they are very different in their public personalities. Walton is irrepressible, and Bird is more guarded and retiring (Debs could be both). Both are solid individuals who know the difference between surface and substance. (As Debs proved to all during his long political career).
It was my personal pleasure to guide Walton and Larry and Dinah Bird through the Debs Museum. (We were accompanied by the able director of this local jewel of a museum, Karen Brown.) This visit took place on the Sunday morning immediately following the Saturday dedication of the Larry Bird statue at Hulman Center. Thanks go out to Tribune-Star reporter David Hughes. He had written a story on Bird’s years with the Celtics, mentioning Walton’s knowledge and interest in Debs. Walton was contacted and offered a tour of the Debs Museum. The Big Red Head jumped at the offer.
When I arrived to pick up Walton for the tour, I was slightly floored to hear him ask if it was all right if Larry Bird and his wife Dinah (a graduate of Schulte High School and Indiana State University) could come along. Needless to say, this was one of the easiest “coaching” decisions I’ve made in my life.
What was this museum visit like for these celebrity sports heroes who, at least in our minds, live and work in such different worlds?
I can’t speak for Walton and Bird, of course. I can only report that they both showed deep interest and fascination in Debs’ home and his personal and political life. The museum holds many period artifacts, photos and newspaper clippings of great events in Debs’ life, and tributes and copies of letters to Debs from across the nation and around the world. These ISU and UCLA grads examined it all, with curiosity and concentration.
Bird seemed particularly interested in the fact that Eugene V. Debs was a native Hoosier, born and bred in Terre Haute, and that as a young man had worked for Hulman & Co. Walton spent some time looking over the list of distinguished recipients of the Debs Award, an honor bestowed on a person whose life work has been in concert with the ideals of Eugene V. Debs. He noted the names of people given this award each year over the past 51 years (what a great tradition this is!) by the Debs Foundation. Walton specifically pointed out the names of Pete Seeger, Correta Scott King and Howard Zinn.
The first Debs Award recipient was in 1965 and went to John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers. I think Larry asked Bill, “Wasn’t Havlicek’s father a coal miner?” The two stars pondered this as they recalled the famous Celtic small forward from an earlier era. I think this thoughtful question says a lot.
Walton and the Birds spent a full hour and a half visiting all three floors of this great museum. This was not a step in, step out visit for them.
Here’s another question asked (I believe by Larry Bird) while on the tour. Debs, as every Hautean should know, ran for president five times. Even at the turn of the 20th century candidates were expected to meet, speak with and press the flesh of voters and supporters. This meant extensive travel.
“How [I’m paraphrasing from memory] did Debs get around back then? How many miles did he travel on political and union organizing campaigns?”
Think about this question and think about the endless travel, the long waits in many cavernous air and train terminals, the myriad cookie-cutter hotel rooms Walton, Bird, and, yes, Debs, endured.
Monuments, museums, statues, history speaks to us. Bill Walton and Larry Bird found much in the Debs Home Museum that spoke to them. When was the last time you visited this wonderful museum and listened to what it has to say?
Gary Daily retired from Indiana State University as Associate Professor of History, Women’s Studies and African American Studies in 2000. He has been a member of the Eugene V. Debs Foundation since coming to Terre Haute in 1970. Though not much of a sports fan today, he attended every ISU home game during the Larry Bird era. Bill Walton is easily his favorite vegetarian, anti-Vietnam War college All-American.