Post #981 • April 2, 2007, 6:47 PM • 92 Comments
An alert reader sent in yesterday's review of Intellectual Impostures by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.
Suppose you are an intellectual impostor with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life, collect a coterie of reverent disciples and have students around the world anoint your pages with respectful yellow highlighter. What kind of literary style would you cultivate? Not a lucid one, surely, for clarity would expose your lack of content.
Ah, good stuff. It was only recently that I realized that my interest in the modernist approach, my interest in libertarianism, and my fondness for science and math (weakly expressed through programming) all joined up in a common intellectual space, the Enlightenment, and that I was (and am) woefully ignorant about it. I owe some of this realization to David Thompson, who comments on art and comic books, and is also much more politically aware than I am. David and I traded some e-mails after this post, in which I wearily promised to fight the good fight against
aesthetic and philosphical outrages perpetrated in the name of contemporary art.
With Art/Basel Miami Beach and the College Art Association annual conference now well behind me, my senstitivities have recovered, and I'm feeling a bit more pluck. An article recently appeared in a Miami paper about Marina Abramovic which mentioned:
For The Lips of St. Thomas (1975), Abramovic sat at a table, eating a kilo of honey and a liter of wine, then proceeded to cut a five-point star into her stomach (with a razor blade) and whip herself until her body felt totally numb.
I know guys in the Air Force who would do that for a dollar. Well said, my love. I took it to the author's classroom blog, and this conversation ensued:
AT: Don't be fooled by the props and feat; performance art is more about the process, not the result. But because it's about the here and now, in the end, each moment remains as a part of a whole.
FE: AT, just as a thought experiment, I want you imagine saying what you just said to an armed Air Force staff sergeant.
AT: Cool (I laughed). Fortunately, art is not the military.
True enough. In the military, fuzzy thinking can cause unintended death. Actually, most fields wouldn't countenance the kind of things that resemble normalcy in the art world. That's part of its charm. But I nevertheless have an impulse to get those hypothetical military guys in on the conversation. I don't know how, except to say that, yeah, out of its context, the performance above becomes a dumb stunt. It's okay to think that. You guys are badasses capable of feats of endurance that would make Abramovic look like a neurasthenic.
And I want to say to the scientists: Listen, when deranged postmodernists butcher science and math, it's a fringe event. The same thinking is running the show in my world. Come help us out. We need your clarity and honesty. You don't give a bag of beans about the art world - come look at art with us. Some of us really dig what you do. Maybe you'll feel the same.
And I want to say to the artists, maybe all art requires context, but in your labors, think about that military guy who will do any old crazy shit on a dare, and who knows sixteen ways to kill you with his bare hands, and pretend you're explaining your art to him. Just as a thought experiment. Do you sound like an idiot?
And this is a protracted, rambling reply to Jack regarding a comment he's made lately in different forms: that the target audience for my criticisms or those of like-minded people aren't going to heed them. But it's not really for the objects of the criticism. It's not really for anyone. It's worth putting out there because it's right. Whoever is supposed to hook onto it will hook onto it. They lurk about. They ponder. They lurk some more. All the reason, the clarity, and the humanism connect up in the end. We will find each other.