Friday, July 29, 2005


I was just thinking that it's probably good, in the context of this image-soaked culture, that there's nothing to see here at my journal.

So writes John, whose accusation of picture-thinking is pretty clearly aimed at Fort Kant. Maybe the core of John's objection could be put this way: what's most knowable to us is not what's most knowable in itself.

To further this discussion, Fort Kant, which strives to be knowable to us, offers moving images—the excellent and violent Flash animations of Justin Canha, a young teenager from New Jersey. His story might matter to your understanding of his work, though it might not matter at all, for the actions depicted in these movies are pretty much universally intelligible, if anything is.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

The pitcher plant


The pitcher plant is carnivorous. Tempted by the smell of nectar, an insect walks down into the pitcher-like structure for which the plant is named, where it drowns in fluid and is digested.

As a little girl, Hilary imagined that the insect stayed inside the plant because it was looking at pictures.

On Sunday, my parents and I watched a fly climb into a pitcher plant on our walk through the Saco Heath, a peat bog in Saco, Maine, with moss and sedge and pitch pines and other scrubby trees. Remembering Hilary's story, I imagined that, inside the plant, the fly was proceeding slowly through a gallery of pictures or watching a photo filmstrip or some shifting show of projections through tropical gels, some pixelated flux of animations.

I asked Hilary later what sort of pictures she had taken the plant’s victims to be looking at. As she imagined things, she said, the fly discovered inside the plant a scrolling panoramic landscape of sufficient veracity to convince him that he was still in the world, flying over lakes or lawns or fields of flowers he had known in life.

Monday, July 25, 2005


Readers of Hawthorne will appreciate a bumper sticker I saw yesterday: “Wakefield: the Spirit of New England.” I believe it was an advertisement for a town in New Hampshire.

So that all might enjoy the message more fully, this week’s two-for-Tuesday provides (1.) Hawthorne’s short version of the Wakefield story, which he frames as a recollection from an “old magazine or newspaper” and (2.) the moral of that story. The latter is an eloquent and persuasive statement of the moral core of conservatism. It may also explain something of the Yankee cast of mind.
(1.) The wedded couple lived in London. The man, under pretence of going on a journey, took lodgings in the next street to his own house, and there, unheard of by his wife or friends, and without the shadow of a reason for such self-banishment, dwelt upwards of twenty years. During that period, he beheld his home every day, and frequently the forlorn Mrs. Wakefield. And after so great a gap in his matrimonial felicity—when his death was reckoned certain, his estate settled, his name dismissed from memory, and his wife, long, long ago, resigned to her autumnal widowhood—he entered the door one evening, quietly, as from a day’s absence, and became a loving spouce till death.

(2.) Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever. Like Wakefield, he may become, as it were, the Outcast of the Universe.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Two for Tuesday

The Good Soldier probably isn’t the saddest story I, at least, have ever heard, though I am enjoying it a great deal. It is the source of this week’s Fort Kantian two-fer, posted on Wednesday because I fell asleep at the computer last night (late July Maine humidity; a fourteen-hour day at Leaps and Bounds; a vigorous Dance Dance Revolution session during Free Time (the neon arrows are still cascading through inner space)).

1.) And at the top there is a castle—not a square castle like Windsor—but a castle all slate gables and high peaks with gilt weathercocks flashing bravely—the castle of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. It has the disadvantage of being in Prussia; and it is always disagreeable to go into that country; but it is very old and there are many double-spired churches and it stands up like a pyramid out of the green valley of the Lahn.

2.) And it was pleasant to get out in the great big spectacular Prussian station with the hammered bronze ornaments and the paintings of peasants and flowers and cows.

Said’s Anti-Aesthetic

After adding the postscript to my last post, I wrote to John: When you read it, see if you can imagine that it's written by William F. Buckley, Jr.

John’s reply was charitable: If this consoles you, I could imagine that your post was written not by Buckley, but by Edward Said.

Well, John, imagine again.

Said, from “Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies and Community,” reprinted in The Anti-Aesthetic:
What is the role of humanistic knowledge and information if they are not to be unknowing (many ironies here) partners in commodity production and marketing, so much so that what humanists do may in the end turn out to be a quasi-religious concealment of this peculiarly unhumanistic process? A true secular politics of interpretation sidesteps this question at its peril.
More directly:
Moreover, I think, “criticism” and the traditional academic humanities have gone through a series of developments over time whose beneficiary and culmination is Reaganism.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Fort Kant's Anti-Anti-Aesthetic

Not really anti-anything, actually—the aesthetic doesn’t have to be.

A representation of the given social substance, the symbolic order in which we live, and a life lived pragmatically within that order:


(Note the pictorial unity, the modulations of colour (subtle and unsubtle), and the coherent design.)

P.S.: One could argue, as Benjamin does, that children's books minimize the aesthetic distance between the reader and the text (especially if the reader is a child!). The reader, not at all a disinterested and detatched observer, is absorbed in the manifest world of the book, identical to it.

Yet the child's reading is not so unlike a comportment toward things that could meaningfully be called aesthetic.

Mark Kaplan from Charlotte St. defines the aesthetic this way: a peculiar mode of appreciation that wishes to place in brackets or disavow the obvious content of a work and stress instead form and symbolism.

What about defining it like this: a mode of life that demands the freedom to become absorbed in and identical to what one wishes, and the freedom to be indifferent to the rest. A mode of life that wishes to place in brackets or disavow some presently uninteresting content of an object/event/??? and to pay attention instead to some other sort of content.

The aesthetic performs a strange alchemy whereby the obvious and literal is emptied of its content, leaving behind something numinous and pure (of which it is a mere sign), something that abstains from the world, that proposes nothing – or only the anodyne security of universal human truths.

Strange? Not at all—what could be more familiar than the experience of autonomy, than following the spontaneous movements of one's mind rather than the dictates of some other authority? (Though one may discover strange things!) Alchemical? Aestheticizing is a basic function of human intelligence, not an arcane pseudo-science. Abstention from the world? Not if learning about the world, holding an aspect of it in view, counts as abstaining from it. Yet the aesthetic mode does reserve the right to refuse the world's commands—it insists on the subject's freedom in perception and cognition. It says, along with the children of the world, "You're not the boss of me."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Alphonse van Worden vs. the art world


Alphonse van Worden answers my call to reply to Badiou's Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art:
We glean from a casual glance over them that they are intended to apply only to what is euphemistically called 'the Art World's' cochons. Indeed one of their evident purposes is - as is typical of theses on art - the winnowing of the art market’s present stock, the identification of the chickens in hog’s clothing and the expulsion of their value-disruption. The chosen exemplar of Badiou’s art object is one of the conspiracy drawings of Mark Lombardi, (certified cochon).


A memo basically to appraisers, investors and aspiring producers, sketching out projections for the next decade.

And this immediately places Badiou in the corps of clerks labouring away at the maintenance of the Art Market, which is fuelled constantly, and desperately, by the seemingly gratuitous issue of such prescriptions, Art is This, Art is That. It IS this, really, if hiddenly, and ought then be rendered more obviously itself (but not too obviously. It mustn't become out and out criticism). The predicates are of no consequence whatsoever. Art is a rose is an onion will serve. What matters is the compulsive, droning intonation - Art Is - in the face of what to the ideal naiveté of the fabulous child confronted with the bare arse of authority would be simultaneously puzzlingly obvious and uneasily suggestive in its surface insignificance: simply, that Art Isn't. Not really, anyway. Not in any fashion worth discussing. Because it isn't, there is a case of indecent exposure to be addressed.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Saatchisme everlasting

I am belately linking one of my favorite posts from Alphonse van Worden, in part so I know where to find it. It blasts away layers of ideology to reveal the essence of art; I challenge Hilary's conceptual artist classmates at Skowhegan to respond to its claims.

While we're on the subject, it remains open to Alphonse (and others) to complete my Badiou meme, as John has done. (Hilary has asked me which post contains the picture of Robichaux's studio; it is in the Badiou meme.)

Scenes from Pinardville, NH

1.) After years of unsuccessful legislative proposals, New Hampshire established the country's first legal lottery system in 1964. A special ballot was held for NH cities and towns, and the sale of Sweepstakes tickets was overwhelmingly approved. But there were dissenting voices—Hilary's mother, Mary, then a child, was one. Dressed in their Catholic school clothes, Mary and some of her classmates rode through Pinardville on an anti-gambling parade float, playing cards and passing around the table a pretend bottle of whiskey. As Hilary remembers the story, the organizers of the float objected not just to the Sweepstakes as such, but especially to the fact that proceeds from it would benefit public education. How exactly this objection went is now unknown.

2.) Klamland and Kreamland [This had been a link, but the page with the photo has gone missing, and the text concerning Klamland and Kreamland seems to have been deleted. Explore the mystery and view other photos of Pinardville at Go to Pinardvile.]

P.S. The link is back for now. Please consider Klamland and Kreamland.

P.P.S. The story recounted in 1.) has been contested by Mary, the subject of the story, who claims that it was a pro-lotto float, that the parade was in New Boston, NH, and that she was in high school at the time, which would place the event in the mid-seventies, which, one wonders why such a float would still have been necessary.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Floaters of all kinds



Two of Hilary's paintings from 2004