spirit of the age
"Art is the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity"
To my mind, one of the best painters of the 20th century was Dorothea Tanning. Tanning was born in Illinois in 1910 and claimed to have learned how to paint simply by visiting art museums. Later, she became affiliated with the Surrealists. Her most famous painting is her self-portrait, "Birthday" (the image below does not, of course, do the work justice):
Tanning ended up marrying the great Max Ernst in a double ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet Bowser. Tanning and Ernst would be together until Ernst's death in 1976.
Surprisingly, Tanning is still alive--and still painting at age 94. She is also a poet, and last year published her first novel. Recently she even did an interview with Salon:
At the age of 91, how do feel about carrying the surrealist banner?
I guess I'll be called a surrealist forever, like a tattoo: "D. Loves S." I still believe in the surrealist effort to plumb our deepest subconscious to find out about ourselves. But please don't say I'm carrying the surrealist banner. The movement ended in the '50s and my own work had moved on so far by the '60s that being a called a surrealist today makes me feel like a fossil!
Surrealism must have had a strong appeal for you at the time.
When I saw the surrealist show at MOMA in 1936, I was impressed by its daring in addressing the tangles of the subconscious -- trawling the psyche to find its secrets, to glorify its deviance. I felt the urge to jump into the same lake -- where, by the way, I had already waded before I met any of them. Anyway, jump I did. They were a terribly attractive bunch of people. They loved New York, loved repartee, loved games. A less happy detail: They all mostly spoke in French. But I learned it later.
You came to New York to be an artist in the midst of the Depression -- just got on a bus one day from Chicago -- with no plan and without knowing where you would stay. I don't imagine there were many young woman doing that. Did you see yourself as a pioneer?
Not a pioneer but headstrong. Now when I look back, I'm amazed at my stupid bravery, going off like that with just $25. My head was full of extravagances, I'd read Coleridge and a lot of other 19th century dreamers and I had to be an artist and live in Paris. So New York was on the way. I finally got to Paris, just four weeks before Hitler started his March. Americans were told to go home; I went to my uncle's in Stockholm on a train with Hitler Youth. I got the last boat out of Gothenburg in September of 1939. In 1949, I went back to France and stayed there for 28 unbelievable years.
You write in your recent memoir that, even in those days the art world was "a kind of club based on good contacts, correct behavior, and certain tactical chic." How chic were you in those days, Ms. Tanning?
Chic! I didn't have any money to throw away on frivolities. I wore discount $5 dresses from a wonderful place on Union Square called Klein's. Also thrift shop stuff. A few of us took to wearing old clothes, but they had to be really old, from another time, way back. We'd show up in these rags as if it were perfectly natural. You had to be deadly deadpan about it. One of these appears in my painting "Birthday." It was from some old Shakespearean costume.
Well, excuse me for this, but "Birthday" is among other dreamlike things, a topless self-portrait. Is it fair to say that at that time, 1942, people thought you were immodest?
Well, I was aware it was pretty daring, but that's not why I did it. It was a kind of a statement, wanting the utter truth, and bareness was necessary. My breasts didn't amount to much. Quite unremarkable. And besides, when you are feeling very solemn and painting very intensively, you think only of what you are trying to communicate.
So what have you tried to communicate as an artist? What were your goals, and have you achieved them?
I'd be satisfied with having suggested that there is more than meets the eye.
I imagine you have struggled with the label of being a "woman artist" as well as the "wife of" Max Ernst, who was a founder of surrealism and a seminal figure in 20th century art. Would things be different for you today?
Yes and no. You need fortitude and patience. This goes with a big dose of indifference to the art world; you absolutely need that indifference. If you get married you're branded. We could have gone on, Max and I, all our lives without the tag. I never heard him use the word "wife" in regard to me. He was very sorry about that wife thing. I'm very much against the arrangement of procreation, at least for humans. If I could have designed it, it would be a tossup who gets pregnant, the man or woman. Boy, that would end rape for one thing. And "woman artist"? Disgusting.
You've lived through the Depression and several wars. What is the role of art in such times?
Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity. I don't see a different purpose for it now.
What do you think of some of the artwork being produced today?
I can't answer that without enraging the art world. It's enough to say that most of it comes straight out of dada, 1917. I get the impression that the idea is to shock. So many people laboring to outdo Duchamp's urinal. It isn't even shocking anymore, just kind of sad.
As you mentioned, there was a lot of shock value in the work of the dadaists and the surrealists that you fell in with. Was that somehow different?
In its beginning, surrealism was an electric time with all the arts liberating themselves from their Snow White spell. There is a value in shaking people up, meaning those who have forgotten to think for themselves. Shock can be valuable as a protest. Like the dada fomenters, sitting there in the Cafe Voltaire in 1917 -- their disgust with the world they lived in, its lethal war, its politics, its so-called rationales. Shock had value at that time. But ideas and innovation will always prevail without any deliberate effort to shock.
What about folks like Dali, walking his lobster on a leash?
Dali used his silly shenanigans to get publicity, to which he was extravagantly addicted. He made some sublime paintings, he was a master painter and his exhibitionist tricks didn't enhance him as a person or as an artist. It was a pity really.
What's your take on recent controversies at the Brooklyn Museum: the "Sensation" exhibition, the elephant dung and the more recent Last Supper in which the artist portrayed herself, nude, as Jesus Christ?
The Brooklyn show was blatantly shock-hopeful. And our mayor took the bait like a fish. I probably would not have liked it any more than the mayor if I'd bothered to go.
Were you in favor of the Guiliani's moral standards panel on art?
Hitler banned and burned "degenerate art." Stalin did the same. I suppose they had their moral standards too. I can only say that if a work doesn't make being sane and alive not only possible but wonderful, well, move on to the next picture.
We are also obviously living in a society that prizes youth. Has this larger cultural bias had any effect on you in recent years?
You are so right. Even old people want to be teenagers. But if my memory serves me well it wasn't all that glorious. To my surprise, I have come to like being old. You can do what you want.
You have been friends with so many important cultural figures. May I ask you to play a little pseudo-surrealist free-association game? How about your husband Max Ernst?
His humor. Ironic, amused, bemused. We laughed a lot. Even today, I have to keep from finding things absurd, which mostly they are. At the same time I'm crying my eyes out.
How about André Breton, founder of surrealism and dadaism?
Severely: "Dorothea, do you wear that low neckline just to provoke men?"
One time when I was at his house, Jhuan-les-pins, for an afternoon visit, we stood at the kitchen door yard for farewells and he broke off the last flower from an old rose bush and handed it to me. How would you feel?
What are you working on now?
I still write poems. Not that I overestimate them, but it gives me such pleasure why deny myself? The other day I read a beautiful pair of lines by Stanley Kunitz: "I have walked through many lives/some of them my own."
If you could change anything in your life, or lives, what would it be?
More color in my dreams.
Krazy Keith at it again
For anyone who hasn't been paying attention to this particular soap opera, Keith Burgess-Jackson is a "philosopher" who blogs as AnalPhilosopher, and a few months ago started The Conservative Philosopher, a group blog for philosophers who are also political conservatives (hence the name). He is also completely insane. To catch up, go here, then here, and then here.
The flameout of The Conservative Philosopher is almost impressive, in kind of the same way Michael Jackson's is. But it seems as though a desperate KBJ is still trying to salvage things. From TCP:
I started this blog two months ago ... In two months, there have been 33,200 visitors. At that rate, there would be almost 200,000 visits in the first year. A while back, I predicted a million. We'll see. We would have to get a lot of links for that to happen. But we're not in this for money or glory. We're in it to fill a blogospheric niche.
Hmm...but isn't there another group blog written by conservative philosophers? What's so special about yours, Keith?
This is the only blog, to my knowledge, where all the contributors are both credentialed philosophers and political conservatives.
Ahh ... all of TCP's contributors are credentialed, stamped with the Official Philosophers Guild seal of approval. What Keith means is that they all have Ph.D.'s in philosophy--as opposed to the blatantly uncredentialed Right Reason, where only 16 of the 17 contributors have Ph.D.'s. You heard me right--one of them is only ABD!! Ha! Why do they even bother?!?
You may have noticed that not everyone who's listed as a member posts on a regular basis, but all assure me that they intend to. Some are extremely busy at this time of year.
Translation: KBJ is the only person who bothers to post anymore. Of the 20 posts on the front page of TCP (as of this post), 18 of them are his.
You may have noticed that only a handful of the many members of Left2Right post. Some have never posted.
In other words: They do it too!
By the way, how many readers would be interested in posting comments if I reenable them? The reason I disabled comments a month or so ago is that I was unable to control them. One reader, Matthew Mullins, who has a longstanding grudge against me for kicking him off my Ethics of War blog (to which he contributed nothing of any value), kept posting a hateful comment. Every time I deleted it, he reposted it. Finally, in exasperation, I disabled all comments. But Dr Bill Vallicella(aka Maverick Philosopher) recently moved to PowerBlogs. He informs me that I can make people sign up before allowing them to comment. This will allow me to keep creeps like Mullins out. What say you?
What say me? I say you're not being nearly careful enough, Keith. You should probably have commenters go ahead and submit their names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. Maybe a small deposit at well? Say, $50? Or perhaps a quick DNA swab, just for good measure.
UPDATE: Keith has apparently decided in favor of re-enabling commenting:
Bear with me as I work out the kinks, and please take the time to get approved once the comment function is ready. Requiring readers to jump through a few hoops (once!) will make the blog a civil, stimulating, and (I hope)intellectually productive place--which is what I wanted from the outset. Once you're approved, you should be able to post quickly and easily, as often as you like.
Sweet! But, oh how I dread the nervous hours (days? weeks?) waiting to see if I am approved!
(You do think he'll approve me, right?)
In the meantime, I'll have to settle for that 'other' conservative philosophy blog, Right Reason, where, by the way, you'll find intellectually provocative and rigorous discussion--for those of you who care about silly things like that.
Apropos of nothing
Isn't this weird?
Max Ernst's dream
This is a painting called "Ein Kupferblech ..." (1919-1920) by Max Ernst, a great German painter associated with both Dada and Surrealism.
Max Ernst was one of the most complex, as well as one of the most inventive, artists connected with the Dada and Surrealist movements. Associating with those groups because of their attitude of revolt--against the prevailing forms of social organization, politics and philosophy, as well as against the mainstream of contemporary art--Ernst not only made a number of important contributions to the development of Dada and Surrealism, but also elaborated aspects of Dada and Surrealist theory into a comprehensive approach to artistic creation.
The first point to note about Ernst's work is its enormous variety. Standing at the opposite pole to a painter (and fellow-Surrealist) like Magritte, who, with minor exceptions, never deviated from his mature style, Ernst created new techniques and new idioms with astonishing ease. He earned himself the title of 'the complete Surrealist' because of his mastery of both illusionism and abstraction--the dream pictures and automatic paintings which correspond to the two major aspects of Surrealist theory. If this diversity is reminiscent of Picasso, Ernst's art was very different in intention from that of the Cubist painter. Where Picasso claimed to find rather than to seek, Ernst's oeuvre is characterized by an attitude of enquiry. It is this exploitation of many techniques and styles, in the service of a single aim, that provides the essential clue to Ernst's art.
While Surrealist theory restricted the role of the Surrealists to that of 'simple recording machines' of the unconscious, Ernst refused to regard art as the mere record either of a dream or of the automatic activity of the hand. Rather, he saw his art as the process whereby both dreams and automatism are investigated, as well as the visible result of such investigations. In other words, it was not only a question of exploring the contents of the unconscious mind, but also of initiating a dialogue between the unconscious and the conscious.
Ernst believed that this dialogue ... should take place on the canvas itself, in the very act of creation. To the extent that he regarded his art as a means of investigation rather than as an end to be savoured for itself, he was not deviating from the defined aims of Surrealism. On the other hand, his attempts to reconcile reason and intuition, intellect and inspiration, through the act of painting, forced him to focus his critical attention on his art in a way not attempted by any other Dada or Surrealist artist.
Light posting, or at least non-substantive posting, for the rest of the week, in all likelihood. I hope everything is going alright for everyone.
You are not a Nobel nominee, you jackass
Conservatives who wish to forestall Terri Schiavo's death have been citing the supposed expertise of one Dr. William Hammesfahr, a neurologist who claims that Terri's condition is not hopeless. Adding extra weight to Dr. Hammesfahr's credibility is conservatives' repeated invoking of the fact that the man was nominated for a Nobel Prize. Media Matters counted Sean Hannity as mentioning this a total of eight times during a single show.
Bloggers, too, have made much of Dr. Hammesfahr's prestige: My View of the World, Myopic Zeal, Red Meat, Sailor in the Desert, Right from Left, Black Kettle, among many others, have all repeated the fact that Dr. Hammy was nominated for a Nobel prize.
But the word from Media Matters, which comes via Oliver Willis, is that this "fact" is actually, well, not a fact:
[Hammesfahr's] claim to be a Nobel nominee is based on a letter written by Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-FL) recommending him for the prize. But Bilirakis is not qualified to make a valid nomination under the Nobel rules. According to the process posted on the Nobel Prize website, the Nobel Assembly sends out invitations to approximately 3,000 people who are allowed to propose candidates. The 3,000 are "mainly members of the Nobel Assembly, previous prize winners, and a selection of professors at universities around the world."
Needless to say, Rep. Bilirakis is not one of these 3,000.
So, basically, the guy's friend wrote a letter recommending him to win a Nobel prize. This, brothers and sisters, does not give him license to go around calling himself a Nobel nominee (in case you wondering, he does indeed make this claim himself). Just because some jackass writes a letter doesn't mean you were "up for the Nobel prize," as Hannity put it.
Oh, and on top of this particular fraudulence, Dr. Hammy has also been disciplined by the Florida Board of Medicine for charging patients for services that he didn't perform.
So I'd say the guy's credibility regarding Terri Schiavo is down to about nothing.
A blogger who calls himself HuckleMuffin (who seems to be only semi-literate, so give him a break) gives us the low-down on our Sapphic sisters:
WEll, as many men thin ktehy know, Lesbians are suppsoedly a "gift to mankind"
And who woudltn complain. Two beautiful women who want each other sexually sounds incredibly attractive.
Or does it?
Lets think about this one. If a woman's a lesbian. that means that no matter what, you don't have a chance with her ... And wahts so hot aobtu two chicks? There's n oaction. i mean naked girls are nice, but two of them tryign to find a way to please themselves is little mroe tham utual masturbation.
Now al lthese points still make it sound pretty alright, but now here's the kicker:
MOST LESBIANS ARE NOT HOT!
Most lesbians are not very hot. in fact they usually are mildly masculine.
Now why woudl that be?
OH YEAH! THEY'RE LESBIANS and that means that they don't want guys.
They like to dress up like lesbians. T
Nwo how am i sure of this?
I've never met an actual hot lesbian ever.
I've seen a couple of lesbians, but they werent hot.
... here are soem warning signs to ensure that you don't mistake a straight girl for a hot lesbian again.
So you see a girl lookign hot wearing a boy's shirt or something. . . WRONG! she's straight.
Now if you see a woman playing with boys on a boys team in sports, theres a much better chance of her being a lesbian.
Ok, now you see two women jogging together, nice. . . you think, i see them holdign hands. maybe they're lesbians!
Now if you are in a weight room and you see two women pumping more iron than most of the guys in the room. And they're grunting like beasts. Those might be lesbians.
For the record, I have known many quite attractive lesbians.
(Hat tip: The East Commons Family)
Isn't it ironic?
Or, if not, some other adjective. If you've not already heard, beloved kiddie cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants has been accused by Christian conservative groups of either being a homosexual himself, or at least being sympathetic to the homo-sin-ual "agenda." Apparently, a couple of months ago blogger and MSNBC personality Keith Olbermann, on his show Countdown, ran a segment on the story that failed to take the SpongeBob threat seriously enough. As a result, Keith still gets monkey mail from upset wafer-eaters and other religious types.
One of these irate letter-writers, one "Frank" from some place called "Albuquerque," after condemning Keith for "inappropriate toleration of pro-gay groups," ended with a quote from a famous poet:
The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges, or churches, or parlors, nor even in its newspapers (media) or inventors, but always most in the common people.
The author of those words?
That would be a poet by the name of "Walt Whitman."
Keith's tactful reply:
Um, Frank - I have a historical tidbit about Walt Whitman’s dating habits I think might interest you.
Given that 90% of conservative Christian homophobes are actually repressed homosexuals themselves, I wouldn't be surprised if Frank were more interested than he would be willing to admit.
Paul Waldman has an excellent idea:
I propose that every Republican politician be asked this simple question: Do you believe that the earth was created less than 10,000 years ago? In other words, is everything we have learned about the age of the universe, our planet, and the life thereon nothing but an elaborate hoax?
They'll have two choices. First, they can acknowledge the truth, and offend their most rabid supporters. Or they can say they do in fact believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old, in which case they will have proclaimed for all to see their antipathy toward the very notions of science and rationality.
We absolutely need to get politicians on the record on this. The view that God exists and has guided the process of creation and evolution or even set it in motion and stood back is not incompatible with an understanding of the world. The view that the entire accumulated knowledge of physics and biology is some kind of sinister scam, on the other hand, is not.
My suspicion is that if you looked into their heart of hearts, even most of the Republican caucus of both houses would admit that of course the earth is not 10,000 years old. But they don't have the guts to say so and alienate their fundamentalist supporters. They shouldn't be allowed to weasel out of it.
Incidentally, Dubya is on record as saying that "the jury is still out" on evolution. (No word on his opinion regarding the Copernican revolution.)
What is ironic about this is that Dubya himself is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence in favor of evolutionary theory:
More evidence here.
Iraq & Vietnam
Apparently, the number of Iraqis who have died in U.S. custody is approaching the number of American POWs who died at the hands of the North Vietnamese. Roachblog:
Suddenly, the count of prisoners dead in captivity is up to 108. Boy, that happened fast, didn't it? When I did my seven year hitch in the Navy, the gold standard for horrible, communist, totalitarian, non-Geneva convention deadly bastards who you never wanted to get captured by was the North Vietnamese.
They were happy if you died in your cell. They tortured. They hated. They abused just for perverse commie, Stalinist fun. They were the worst. Worse than Nazis, even, because the Nazis at least sometimes pretended to be civilized about POW treatment. The North Vietnamese didn't even pretend.
So how many American POWS died while captured by the insane and lawless North Vietnamese during the entire Vietnam war? One hundred and fourteen. From all causes. What killed the 108 (so far) reported in our custody?
Mostly "violent causes".
Hey, if you want to make an omelet of Freedom™, you're going to have to murder a few prisoners.
Socialist Swine has another installment of Liberal Eye for the Conservative Guy, wherein the swine helps a conservative find true love.
Americans to Bush: not good enough
Despite the delusions of some on the Right, George Bush's strategy in fighting his "war on terror" (a term of sheer propaganda I hesitate to use) has not been in any sense vindicated. In fact, a majority of the American public now disapproves of the way Bush is handling Iraq. Seventy-percent say that the number of US casualties is unacceptably high.
Only thirty-three percent approve of his handling of Social Security. Bush's overall approval rating is at about 50%.
Speaking of polls: 87% of Americans say that in a situation like that of Terri Schiavo, death is preferable to continued life.
A pet peeve of mine: people who describe themselves as "libertarians" but who vote Republican, willing to compromise on the issue of individual liberty for the sake of a slightly lower tax rate. Often, they rationalize this by claiming that the agenda of the Religious Right will never actually be enacted.
Earlier, I took note of one particular manifestation of the theocratic tendencies of the GOP:
By the way, note that the idea of outlawing sex outside of marriage is advocated by many of the Religious Right. Republican-voting libertarians: this is who you have allied yourselves with!
Eric Cowperthwaite took issue with this, saying:
The truth is that the GOP is not going to get most of their social program to go anywhere at all.
This delusion is a common, and extremely dangerous, one. Unfortunately, it is one shared by some on the Left as well, such as Thomas Frank, the author of What's the Matter with Kansas? Contrary to Eric's claim that the GOP won't get their social program "to go anywhere at all," the fact is that they already have significantly advanced the agenda of the Religious Right, and show no signs of slowing down.
Bush and the Republican Congress have been steadily chipping away at women's rights. In addition to signing legislation prohibiting late-term abortions and attempting to pack the judiciary with anti-choice judges, federal regulators under Bush's watch have blocked access to over-the-counter morning-after contraception.
And anyone who thinks that Roe v. Wade is not in danger, guess again. Bush has already indicated that he plans to nominate Supreme Court justices in the mould of Scalia and Thomas, both rabidly anti-choice. I would like libertarian-minded GOP-voters to give me one reason why Bush won't make good on this promise.
The belief that there should be no wall between government and God is a mainstream one within the Republican Party. Scalia believes that the US government derives its authority from God. Rehnquist has said that the " 'wall of separation between church and state' is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned." The loyalties of most Republicans lie not with individual liberty but with the law of God, which they would like to see enforced by the U.S. government. Libertarians who pretend otherwise are simply fooling themselves.
The GOP has made it clear: they stand against the right to privacy, to reproductive choice, to sexual autonomy. Is it really worth the tax cuts, libertarians? Is it really worth the rolling-back of regulations on big business? How long will libertarians continue to say to themselves, paraphrasing Krusty the Clown:
Well, the GOP is dedicated to eradicating civil liberties, destroying a 200+ year tradition of secular government, and imposing biblical law, but man ... I'm aching for that upper-class tax cut!