28 April 2014

On Piketty ~ A Compendium of Reviews

Consider this post an exercise for myself. I just want to keep track of some of the initial, astonishing response to Thomas Piketty's book. I noted a long review by Robert Paul Wolff here some time ago. But the responses have been coming fast and I want a central place to store links. I will add more links as necessary.

In any case, you can find reviews by Tyler Cowen at Foreign Affairs (May/June 2014), James Galbraith at Dissent (Spring 2014), Paul Krugman at NYRB (8 May 2014), Timothy Shenk at The Nation (5 May 2014), and Robert Solow at The New Republic (22 April 2014), as well as a troika of short commentaries by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Heather Boushey, and Branko Milanovic at The American Prospect (10 March 2014). And, of course, there was an extended pre-publication discussion by Thomas Edsall at The New York Times (28 January 2014).

Update (6 May): Here is another review by Doug Henwood at Book Forum, yet another one by Robert Skidelsky here at Prospect, still another here at The American Prospect by Robert Kuttner, a fourth here at The Boston Review by Mike Komczal, and a commentary here by Brad Delong on the right-wing response to Piketty.

Update (14 May):  Another handful of commentaries: Deborah Boucoyannis; Thomas Edsall (again); Thomas Frank; John Judis; Dani Rodrik; Kenneth Rogoff; Robert Schiller;  and Lawrence Summers.

Update (16 May): More commentary - from the right, grumbling from Martin Feldstein here at the WSJ; from the left, some grumbling by Alex Callinicos here at Socialist Worker.

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... and While We Are Discussing Rochester, Let's Talk Some About Environmental Injustice

I suppose we locals ought to be happy that we don't make the list of US cities with the worst air quality (see the other chart in this article from Mother Jones from which I lifted the graphic above). But we are top five nationally in laying what dirty air we have on racial minorities. Nice!

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27 April 2014

Catherine Leutenegger Kodak City

Last year a gaggle of Magnum photographers parachuted into Rochester.  This gave we locals a taste of what it is like being an 'urban decay story.' And it created a considerable stir when one of the photographers, Paolo Pellegrin, won a big photo award for a series of images that, politely, reflected an integrity-challenged process on the part of nearly everyone concerned. I won't rehearse the matter again as I posted about it here [1] [2] and then - thanks to Bob Hariman - participated in a terrific workshop at Northwestern on the various issues the episode raised [3].

A virtual friend (Thanks Stan!) recently brought to my attention this new work* by Swiss photographer Catherine Leutenegger that promises to be a more illuminating, though hardly more uplifting, view of Rochester and its travails. Once I am able to track down a copy I will provide a more informed response.
*Catherine Leutenegger. Kodak City. Kehrer Verlag, 2014.

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22 April 2014

Performance Art Punctured

"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.

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. ..."
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.

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14 April 2014

Fuck the Poor

I came across this remarkable advert on my FB feed. I think the disconnect is that we treat poverty as a matter of charity rather than as a political problem requiring a political remedy. No offense to the (no doubt) well-intentioned folks at The Pilion Trust Charity, but they are framing the problem in a self-defeating way.

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13 April 2014

No, Photographers Do Not Have a First Amendment Right to Discriminate

From the ACLU, this report on the recent SCOTUS decision to not hear a case in which a photographer claimed a first amendment right to discriminate against customers seeking to hire her to chronicle same sex wedding ceremonies:
"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!

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Guggenheim, Workers, Protest

Here is a report on a protest yesterday at Guggenheim NYC about the labor standards in the construction of the new Abu Dhabi branch of the museum. Background on the matter are here and here in a recent argument at The New York Times. I must say, if the strongest defense the museum director can muster is that the living and working condition for construction laborers on the project "are the best in the region," the Guggenheim occupies extremely dubious ground.

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12 April 2014

The Company You Keep

I have to say that this story at ESPN is pretty stunning. Here we have Samantha Power, advocate of human rights, US Ambassador to the United Nations socializing with Henry Kissinger (they were taking in a Yankees game together!) recently. I suppose whether one finds a war criminal repugnant or not depends on whether he is our war criminal?

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11 April 2014

Jeffrey Milano-Johnson (14 June 1992 ~ 11 April 2007)

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10 April 2014

Losing Faith in the Possibility of Democracy

Here at the NYRB is a disconsolate howl by poet Charles Simic on the state of and prospects for American Democracy. Simic is one of my favorite poets. At times I agree with him. But not, by a long shot, do I always do so.

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08 April 2014

Reprint: "What To Do With Invidious Distinctions?"

 October 2007

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.

[This essay appeared in the inaugural issue of Art Signal (Barcelona), unfortunately deunct. Here is a link http://art-signal.org/en/que-hacemos-con-las-distinciones-odiosas/.]

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Documentary? Photojournalism? Art? ... Oh My! What's a Critic to Do?

"Documentary" is an aesthetic. So, trying to differentiate in a clear and general way between documentary, photojournalism, and "art" photography is an impossible task. Hence it is a fruitless undertaking. I wrote an essay several years ago called "What to Do With Invidious Distinctions?" making this point. Here is a recent essay by Pernilla Holmes that does the same thing. There is little to disagree with in it. But the author also makes scant headway. Our aim, I think, ought to be to stop stating and restating the basic point that the boundaries between "genres" is porous and shifting and instead take that well-established observation as a premise in developing new ways of talking about photography. My view is that we ought to stop worrying about photographs as objects (hence asking what they are or how they work) and focus instead on the pragmatics of photography - how we use it and why. But there is no surprise there either!

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04 April 2014

Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center

Founded in 2006, the Bophana Center is dedicated to collecting and preserving resources that capture the experience of Cambodia during the period when the Khmer Rouge sought to destroy all such materials. I learned of the Center from this report, focusing on the work of its founder filmmaker Rithy Panh, that aired on npr last weekend.

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Another View of Labor's Decline ...

Doug Henwood posted this revealing graphic recently; it traces the pacific state of American unions over the past half century or so.

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03 April 2014

Wolff Reads Piketty

A five part (yes,  a [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] part) review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century by philosopher Robert Paul Wolff.

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Reuters, Syria, Photojournalism and ... Standards?

This message from the inimitable Michael Shaw arrived in my In Box this morning. It is, unsurprisingly, pretty much right on point:
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.


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02 April 2014

The Oppression of Filthy Rich Guys - Part 2

Here is yet another missive at The Wall Street Journal from a rich guy who is really unhappy that many people don't like him or welcome his attempts to use his wealth to impose his political views on others. At least the last whiner - Tom Perkins - seems to have actually created something at some time in the past. As I understand things, Charles Koch inherited most of his money [1]. And he seems to think that being born rich gives him some special status that others ought to admire or some special insight into how polities ought to operate to which others ought to defer. Sorry. And, by the way, I've never read Schopenhauer!

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