Monday, March 26, 2007

More Thoughts on the Revolution

Is art still able to change society? Can art bring on a revolution? Is art useful against capitalism?"

I have been pondering this question some more, for it is indeed an important one, and I had to conclude that in the end there is not that much revolutionary about art as such at all. Or, let me put it another way, revolution in the arts is appreciated at a much slower rate. When art in the past was truly revolutionary it was not labeled revolutionary at all. When Duchamp presented his famous urinoir as a work of art, it was at first thought of as completely ridiculous, a statement of anti-art. Little did the intended audience know that many years into the future this way of presenting art would become a fixture of contemporary art, even of culture in a broader sense (reality becoming entertainment). It is even doubtful that Duchamp himself thought that far ahead.

In art, as in most cultural and social matters, the revolutionary aspects of the event are most likely to be felt long afterwards, while a revolution in the sense that it is mostly thought (like the American independence, the French Revolution, Khomeiny taking over in Iran, that is, a political revolution) is almost instantaneous, a moment in time, an event.

So, in that sense art can never be truly revolutionary. It can only be revolutionary by subverting the common codes. Then after all, Lynch's movies could be called revolutionary. But it remains to be seen whether his way of making movies will have a lasting influence on cinema in general. Maybe Lost Highway or Eraserhead will be considered revolutionary in 50 years, but the point is that we can hardly judge that fact hodie et nunc. And even then it remains a question of knowledge and interpretation. But, and this is the imminent danger, a slower rate of influence can also result in the fact that by the time you start to influence you will be forgotten.

I remember that a former flatmate of mine had watched Citizen Kane, which is in all respects a truly revolutionary film compared to the movies of that era, and that she did not in the least appreciated those aspects that make it a forward-thinking and influential movie (and she was a film buff!). So many generations of habit have gone over those innovations that they are no longer recognized as such and the possiblity for subversion has gradually been erased. It is even more likely that is has been appropriated by the system and turned into a harmless everyday gimmick. As such David Lynch's now famous and idiosyncratic dreamy interludes (as in Twin Peaks and Mullholand Drive) may in the future become an integral part of pop video technique. A long shot maybe? Eisenstein made a revolutionary tool out of D.W. Griffith's editing techniques. Hitchcock grabbed them and made them a staple of shock horror. Now people may remember Hitchcock's Psycho, but who, apart from the most obsessed film students remembers Birth of a Nation or Battleship Potemkin?

Even worse is what happened to Brecht's famous Verfremdungseffekt. As Kinofist's Owen showed in his brilliant piece the powers that be quickly smothered it, because they saw its revolutionary potential. Godard, who was one of the few successful directors who tried to ressurrect it has been indeed very influential, but even then you will see that his inventions have been turned into commercial Hollywood fodder. And I honestly do not think that one episode of Buffy will remedy that situation.

Then there is another factor playing. As I have remarked a few posts below it is in this age and time extremely difficult to still be influential at all because these days almost every movement is condemned to be limited socially, culturally and even geographically. This coincides with society's extreme individualism where it is no longer needed to belong to a large group to construct yourself an identity. These days an identity does not even have to be group-related.

If in former days, let us say the fifties, you were a rocker, you belonged to a rather large group that probably shared a lot of social and cultural characteristics. These days being a rocker can imply you liking punk rock, indie rock, post-rock, hardrock, black metal, noiserock and what do I know. And it is very doubtful that people who like indie rock feel an affinty with people who like black metal. But - and this is the important fact - at the same time it could very well be that those two people, the one liking indie rock and the one liking black metal, do indeed feel an affinity on a cultural and social level. Nothing is sure anymore. That same fact, by the way, accounts for the endlessly shifting and changing ways perceived groups are targeted by advertising.

I mean, just look up a random Last FM page and check out the so-called 'neighbours', that is, the people who supposedly have 'the same taste as you'. Even within the group of neighbours the differences are extreme and even greater than the similarities. Even if I compare my own musical taste with the people consider to be musically like-minded, there can be a huge gap in listening habits.

So it is not at all unthinkable that even if a work of art were truly revolutionary, that the revolution will pass by the majority of the public. The niches are so small, the groups so fragmented, the stimuli so overpoweringly numerous that these days you are bound to make a choice. And maybe in making your choice you will miss that one true revolution happening.

And if you continue this reasoning to its conclusion it is, on the other hand, equally possible that in 50 years someone will discover a particular artist and decide that, in retrospect, (s)he was incredibly revolutionary. Need I add that this future revolutionary artist may just as well be an artist that is now considered by the cognoscenti to be marginally artistic, even rightout shite?

But is it not equally possible that by that time we will have succombed under the myriad of new stimuli and have long forgotten about what happened 50 years ago? Some may have proclaimed the end of history but that seems to carry the implication with it that people start forgetting about recent history much quicker. Today, what happened 10 years ago might, because of the incredible amount of information that is fired at us at a daily basis, just as well have happened 30 years ago. And influence, let alone subversion, is all very well, but you better hope that by that time you will not find yourself buried under the endlessly exponential growth of information that will have passed by since.

10 comments:

dejan said...

Or, let me put it another way, revolution in the arts is appreciated at a much slower rate.

well but deferred revolution is still nonetheless revolution? and a discrete revolution is also a revolution?

But, and this is the imminent danger, a slower rate of influence can also result in the fact that by the time you start to influence you will be forgotten.

on the other hand don't you know the common wisdom that true art never grows stale (what we imply in the notion ''classics'') i.e. continues to influence people for years, decades and centuries? i mean why do we still marvel at mona lisa despite the fact that the ironic PoMo smirk has become as de rigeur as Belgian chocolate?

And maybe in making your choice you will miss that one true revolution happening.

in this you assert that in a way, pluralism/freedom of choice has become commodified, and in that a part of the official ideology. and that's very true. but maybe there's a new kind of Brechtian alienation effect which resists all determinations ie choices and it is this immunity to fixation that will make it revolutionary(like this 'line of flight' discussed in deleuze).

you have to see dusan makavejev's mysteries of orgasm!

Fire in the Mind said...

all this does not in the least mean that i am myself losing hope or want to cease the fight, far from it actually. :-)

but i am just trying to examine in which ways it is still possible, call it by negation. capitalism is such a sneaky bastard that it even succeeds in commodifying that which tries to subvert it.

and indeed: true art last the ages, i agree totally. but do not forget that this is also through an element of chance. disasters, wear, let's call it history itself in the past has made its own choices.

now this is much less the case because we want to save everything that we deem 'classic' or important, the museum-approach (which is also a powerful tool of the system to smother subversion)

but what is the danger nowadays is that the amount of information has multiplied in such an overpowering way (and thus that there are so many different truths) that it will be much more difficult to make the right choice, because in the end we cannot save everything, can we. and thus the margin for mistakes and 'wrong classics' becomes a strong possibility.

"it is this immunity to fixation that will make it revolutionary"

in which way would this be accomplished?

dejan said...

in which way would this be accomplished?

i'm still thinking about it myself, can only offer you scattered thoughts.

k-punk and the antigram/owen club are pondering the disruptive value of the brechtian alienation effect through new paradigms such as the moebius strip in films like ''mulholland drive'' or ''a history of violence''. because this flattening-out of the film;'s surface and the radical, permanent destabilization of the possibility for identification, creates a permanent instability, and as such prevents identification, a subversive effect can be turning the viewer's gaze away from the screen and into his own reality, which as he will soon realize, is constructed by forces beyond his control (same ones that run the screen).

although this still doesn't solve the problem of: how do we get the viewer to REBEL against this situation of his being at the mercy of these forces, i think it's a good step in the right direction.

in other words how do we get him to assume an active position, to realize that despite being driven by forces outside, he still has freedom in his head; wake up the desire to construct his own reality, and transform this into a socially-cohesive-and-active project as well (i.e. one that doesn't end in BLOGGING alone).

further, what new technology might we need for such a project? what new cinematic codes? or new media codes?

we need to discuss new forms of connectedness through technology, one of which is blogging, but blogging is a bit limited by its MySpace narcissistic mentality (look at my ass! it;s beautiful! look at my article! it;s smart!)

i liked the way michael hanneke's film cache ends with an ambiguous immage which shows unlikely partners, a moroccan and an european boy, considering the possibility of working together in contrast to their selfish parents, possessed by puritan racism. i liked the way the possibility of their future cooperation moves beyond narcissism to an acknowledgment of the radically different desire of the other.

so maybe revolution is in the reaching out to the other's perspective: love!

maybe all we need is love, fire.

dejan said...

and indeed: true art last the
that it will be much more difficult to make the right choice, because in the end we cannot save everything, can we.

you misunderstood me; i posited that the very act of choice (pluralism) in capitalism is a fluke, because the same stale old uniform and universalising metaphor hides behind the seeming diversity of options - the problem is not David Lynch movies, nor am I questioning the subversiveness of their messages (unlike Le Colonel, who stubbornly thinks only a private island is subversive), but the fact that Hollywood movies speak Lynch's language while delivering completely uniform messages. Like that current German movie, THE LIVES OF OTHERS: it has the right subversive form, and it tries to address the issue of surveillance, but it glorifies capitalism.

ages, i agree totally. but do not forget that this is also through an element of chance. disasters, wear, let's call it history itself in the past has made its own choices.

i don't understand what you;re saying here

dejan said...

in other words, how do we RECLAIM the freedom to choose, is the issue

Fire in the Mind said...

maybe all we need is love

dejan, you are getting sentimental ;-)

but you have the point of all points. i notice in my interactions with people outside of my direct familial circle that often they shrink away from the word "love". friendship is enough for them. but friendship is much too distant a phenomenon. anyone can be a friend, see. friendship is much too easy to fake.

there is an interesting dialogue in houellebecq's platforme where michel's girlfriend says that she is tired of all the guys who say to her that "friendship is so important" and that at last she has found a guy who does not mention the word friendship.

("les hommes que je connais c'est vraiment un catastrophe, il n'y en a aucun qui croie aux rapports amoureux; alors il vous font tout un cinéma sur l'amitié, la complicité, bref, tous ces trucs qui n'engagent à rien.")

Fire in the Mind said...

but do not forget that this is also through an element of chance. disasters, wear, let's call it history itself in the past has made its own choices.

i don't understand what you;re saying here

what i mean is that generations before us allowed things to go to waste, whereas we do not allow anything to go to waste. we save everything. and why: so that we do not have to choose, while all the way fooling ourselves into the idea that we have this "enormous mass of everything" to choose from.

Fire in the Mind said...

so i guess we meant about the same thing.

dejan said...

what i mean is that generations before us allowed things to go to waste, whereas we do not allow anything to go to waste. we save everything. and why: so that we do not have to choose, while all the way fooling ourselves into the idea that we have this "enormous mass of everything" to choose from.

it STILL sounds impressionistic, please clarify the thought! theres nothin wrong with having a huge library, and isn't information supposed to be evanescent in the digital world

alleen omdat ik liefde nodig heb wil nog niet zeggen dat ik geen behoefte heb aan SEKS

Fire in the Mind said...

isn't information supposed to be evanescent in the digital world?

is it? i can remember many trips to the library before the internet age and not finding what i was looking for. now i just fill in one word in my google bar and i have the solution to my query in mere seconds, even when the fact is of the smallest importance imaginable.