Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hannah Arendt, from The Human Condition: An Excerpt of Section 33 -- I R R E V E R S I B I L I T Y A N D T H E P O W E R T O F O R G I V E

We have seen that the animal laborans could be redeemed from its predicament of imprisonment in the ever-recurring cycle of the life process, of being forever subject to the necessity of labor and consumption, only through the mobilization of another human capacity, the capacity for making, fabricating, and producing of homo faber, who as a toolmaker not only eases the pain and trouble of laboring but also erects a world of durability. The redemption of life, which is sustained by labor, is worldliness, which is sustained by fabrication. We saw furthermore that homo faber could be redeemed from his predicament of meaninglessness, the "devaluation of all values," and the impossibility of finding valid standards in a world determined by the category of means and ends, only through the interrelated faculties of action and speech, which produce meaningful stories as naturally as fabrication produces use objects. If it were not outside the scope of these considerations, one could add the predicament of thought to these instances; for thought, too, is unable to "think itself" out of the predicaments which the very activity of thinking engenders. What in each of these instances saves man—man qua animal laborans, qua homo faber, qua thinker— is something altogether different; it comes from the outside—not, to be sure, outside of man, but outside of each of the respective activities. From the viewpoint of the animal laborans, it is like a miracle that it is also a being which knows of and inhabits a world; from the viewpoint of homo faber, it is like a miracle, like the revelation of divinity, that meaning should have a place in this world.

The case of action and action's predicaments is altogether different. Here, the remedy against the irreversibility and unpredictability of the process started by acting does not arise out of another and possibly higher faculty, but is one of the potentialities of action itself. The possible redemption from the predicament of irreversibility—of being unable to undo what one has done though one did not, and could not, have known what he was doing—is the faculty of forgiving. The remedy for unpredictability, for the chaotic uncertainty of the future, is contained in the faculty to make and keep promises. The two faculties belong together in so far as one of them, forgiving, serves to undo the deeds of the past, whose "sins" hang like Damocles' sword over every new generation; and the other, binding oneself through promises, serves to set up in the ocean of uncertainty, which the future is by definition, islands of security without which not even continuity, let alone durability of any kind, would be possible in the relationships between men.

Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer's apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell. Without being bound to the fulfillment of promises, we would never be able to keep our identities; we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each man's lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocalities —a darkness which only the light shed over the public realm through the presence of others, who confirm the identity between the one who promises and the one who fulfils, can dispel. Both faculties, therefore, depend on plurality, on the presence and acting of others, for no one can forgive himself and no one can fed bound by a promise made only to himself; forgiving and promising enacted in solitude or isolation remain without reality and can signify no more than a role played before one's self.

Since these faculties correspond so closely to the human condition of plurality, their role in politics establishes a diametrically different set of guiding principles from the "moral" standards inherent in the Platonic notion of rule. For Platonic rulership, whose legitimacy rested upon the domination of the self, draws its guiding principles—those which at the same time justify and limit power over others—from a relationship established between me and myself, so that the right and wrong of relationships with others are determined by attitudes toward one's self, until the whole of the public realm is seen in the image of "man writ large," of the right order between man's individual capacities of mind, soul, and body. The moral code, on the other hand, inferred from the faculties of forgiving and of. making promises, rests on experiences which nobody could ever have with himself, which, on the contrary, are entirely based on the presence of others. And just as the extent and modes of self-rule justify and determine rule over others—how one rules himself, he will rule others—thus the extent and modes of being forgiven and being promised determine the extent and modes in which one may be able to forgive himself or keep promises concerned only with himself.

Because the remedies against the enormous strength and resiliency inherent in action processes can function only under the condition of plurality, it is very dangerous to use this faculty in any but the realm of human affairs. Modern natural science and technology, which no longer observe or take material from or imitate processes of nature but seem actually to act into it, seem, by the same token, to have carried irreversibility and human unpredictability into the natural realm, where no remedy can be found to undo what has been done. Similarly, it seems that one of the great dangers of acting in the mode of making and within its categorical framework of means and ends lies in the concomitant self-deprivation of the remedies inherent only in action, so that one is bound not only to do with the means of violence necessary for all fabrication, but also to undo what he has done as he undoes an unsuccessful object, by means of destruction. Nothing appears more manifest in these attempts than the greatness of human power, whose source lies in the capacity to act, and which without action's inherent remedies inevitably begins to overpower and destroy not man himself but the conditions under which life was given to him.

The discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that he made this discovery in a religious context and articulated it in religious language is no reason to take it any less seriously in a strictly secular sense. It has been in the nature of our tradition of political thought (and for reasons we cannot explore here) to be highly selective and to exclude from articulate conceptualization a great variety of authentic political experiences, among which we need not be surprised to find some of an even elementary nature. Certain aspects of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth which are not primarily related to the Christian religious message but sprang from experiences in the small and closely knit community of his followers, bent on challenging the public authorities in Israel, certainly belong among them, even though they have been neglected because of their allegedly exclusively religious nature. The only rudimentary sign of an awareness that forgiveness may be the necessary corrective for the inevitable damages resulting from action may be seen in the Roman principle to spare the vanquished (parcere subiectis)—a wisdom entirely unknown to the Greeks—or in the right to commute the death sentence, probably also of Roman origin, which is the prerogative of nearly all Western heads of state….

Crime and willed evil are rare, even rarer perhaps than good deeds… But trespassing is an everyday occurrence which is in the very nature of action's constant establishment of new relationships within a web of relations, and it needs forgiving, dismissing, in order to make it possible for life to go on by constantly releasing men from what they have done unknowingly. Only through this constant mutual release from what they do can men remain free agents, only by constant willingness to change their minds and start again can they be trusted with so great a power as that to begin something new. In this respect, forgiveness is the exact opposite of vengeance, which acts in the form of re-acting against an original trespassing, whereby far from putting an end to the consequences of the first misdeed, everybody remains bound to the process, permitting the chain reaction contained in every action to take its unhindered course. In contrast to revenge, which is the natural, automatic reaction to transgression and which because of the irreversibility of the action process can be expected and even calculated, the act of forgiving can never be predicted; it is the only reaction that acts in an unexpected way and thus retains, though being a reaction, something of the original character of action. Forgiving, in other words, is the only reaction which does not merely re-act but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it and therefore freeing from its consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven. The freedom contained in Jesus' teachings of forgiveness is the freedom from vengeance, which encloses both doer and sufferer in the relentless automatism of the action process, which by itself need never come to an end.

The alternative to forgiveness, but by no means its opposite, is punishment, and both have in common that they attempt to put an end to something that without interference could go on endlessly. It is therefore quite significant, a structural element in the realm of human affairs, that men are unable to forgive what they cannot punish and that they are unable to punish what has turned out to be unforgivable. This is the true hallmark of those offenses which, since Kant, we call "radical evil" and about whose nature so little is known, even to us who have been exposed to one of their rare outbursts on the public scene. All we know is that we can neither punish nor forgive such offenses and that they therefore transcend the realm of human affairs and the potentialities of human power, both of which they radically destroy wherever they make their appearance. Here, where the deed itself dispossesses us of all power, we can indeed only repeat with Jesus: "It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea."

Perhaps the most plausible argument that forgiving and acting are as closely connected as destroying and making comes from that aspect of forgiveness where the undoing of what was done seems to show the same revelatory character as the deed itself. Forgiving and the relationship it establishes is always an eminently personal (though not necessarily individual or private) affair in which what was done is forgiven for the sake of who did it…. [L]ove, although it is one of the rarest occurrences in human lives, indeed possesses an unequaled power of self-revelation and an unequaled clarity of vision for the disclosure of who, precisely because it is unconcerned to the point of total unworldliness with what the loved person may be, with his qualities and shortcomings no less than with his achievements, failings, and transgressions….

Respect, not unlike the Aristotelian philia politike, is a kind of "friendship" without intimacy and without closeness; it is a regard for the person from the distance which the space of the world puts between us, and this regard is independent of qualities which we may admire or of achievements which we may highly esteem. Thus, the modern loss of respect, or rather the conviction that respect is due only where we admire or esteem, constitutes a clear symptom of the increasing depersonalization of public and social life. Respect, at any rate, because it concerns only the person, is quite sufficient to prompt forgiving of what a person did, for the sake of the person. But the fact that the same who, revealed in action and speech, remains also the subject of forgiving is the deepest reason why nobody can forgive himself; here, as in action and speech generally, we are dependent upon others, to whom we appear in a distinctness which we ourselves are unable to perceive.

Closed within ourselves, we would never be able to forgive ourselves any failing or transgression because we would lack the experience of the person for the sake of whom one can forgive.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kafka's "Give It Up!"

It was very early in the morning, the streets clean and deserted, I was on my way to the railroad station. As I compared the tower clock with my watch I realized it was already much later than I had thought, I had to hurry, the shock of this discovery made me feel uncertain of the way, I was not very well acquainted with the town yet, fortunately there was a policeman nearby, I ran to him and breathlessly asked him the way. He smiled and said: 'from me you want to learn the way?' 'Yes,' I said, 'since I cannot find it myself.' 'Give it up, give it up,' said he, and turned away with a great sweep, like someone who wants to be alone with his laughter.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Adorno, Adorno, Adorno.... --Chad Kipfer

Presentation III, from Aesthetics and Politics, presents three letters from Theodor Adorno to Walter Benjamin and one reply from Benjamin to Adorno. The letters addressed to Benjamin are all critiques of Benjamin essays/drafts and present the problems that Adorno finds within them. Benjamin's letter is a reply to Adorno's last letter which specifically denied the publication of Benjamin's study of Baudelaire in the Institute for Social Research's journal the Zeitschrift fur Socialforschung until after Benjamin made the required 'corrections'/alterations. The introduction to the presentation presents us with a nice bit of historical background to the letters, placing Adorno and Benjamin in context and touching on their prefered subjects of music and film respectively. The first letter from Adorno dated 2 August 1935 presents the most thorough of his critiques of one of Benjamin's works. In it Adorno calls for more specificity and less romanticism, he basically chides Benjamin for not being rigorous enough, citing many specific examples and noting pages needing revision within Benjamin's draft essay 'Paris -- Capital of the Nineteenth Century'. The second Adorno letter is in response to Benjamin's work 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' which Theodor appears to have appreciated and found less fault in than the first essay. Here he focuses on the limits of Benjamin's writing on art accusing him of a "romanticism of blind confidence in the spontaneous power of the proletariat in the historical process-a proletariat which is itself a product of bourgeois society." Adorno also offers glimpses of his writing on Jazz as a sort of example with which he encourages Benjamin to open the dialectic of art and realize the limits of film and the value of art for art's sake.  The third Adorno letter is in many ways the most biting and hints at a distance and difference between the two men. Adorno essentially keeps one of Benjamin's work from being published and then writes to him to tell him why, avoiding the obvious admission of disapproval and instead offering lines of other writers poems and prose as boon to Benjamin's project. To this we get Benjamin's reply. He addresses each of Adorno's concerns, highlights the decisions he made and then points out the great mistake of not publishing his work, which kept it from becoming part of the larger discussion. Then and interestingly we see a glimpse of Benjamin's great respect for Adorno, telling him of his life, entrusting him to run an errand and asking him of his wife and work.

The anti-enlightenment of the culture industry is the theme of Adorno's piece 'Culture industry Reconsidered'. In it he differentiates between the terms culture industry and mass culture, taking away the unconscious dream within the word mass. He goes on to define the culture industry as self sustaining and self serving beyond commodity and unflinchingly powerful over the masses.

This essay also references Benjamin's essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' in its discussion of film and its abandonment of the elevated individual and the aura. Both pieces however fail to foresee film becoming the culture industry reaffirming vehicle that it is today. Devolved into a tool of multiple senses and seemingly limitless time constraints, capable of offering false transcendence at every turn.

The Horheimer and Adorno piece here adds to the context of the term culture industry, highlighting especially the roll of advertising and way in which its expectation tempers its seemingly explicit goals. Advertising does not need to sell anything, it just needs to remind us that it is there, and for the bourgeois that pay its exorbitant fees it acts as waybill, pass code.

and then...
Marinetti's The Futurist Manifesto replacing "myth and the mystic cult of the ideal" with another myth and an ideal of abandonment and zest. Reaching for a future and brushing aside the past while standing on nothing but a now built of aggression and speed. Naivety as both the goal and condition....for the pursuit of yet another myth.

Adorno and Benjamin (and Horkheimer if you're keeping count)

General impressions and points that run throughout the texts
Art in the Age….. & The Culture Industry  linked

The main thing I noticed about these readings were how they were greatly intertwined. Benjamin's Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility is to me a laying of the ground that Adorno and Horkheimer roam around on. Benjamin touches on the fact that the film and photography, other mechanical reproduction as well are opening up a space for the public to become critic. That common citizen can be an extra in a film. The difference between public and author is about to lose its basic character.

Throughout this text Benjamin remains objective but in The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception Adorno and Horkheimer paint a bleak picture. By the way what a title!

They basically say that well the Culture Industry has us beat to the punch at every turn. They have "eeevvvery thiing youuu Neeed yessir!" and if they don't have it yet they will have it as soon as its available. Furthermore at what ever level one is at it is considered by the Industry. This notion chimes back to the blurring of the line between public and author. 

Benjamin gets the ball rolling on this in IV of Art in the Age saying " the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice - politics." 

Again Adorno get's even more bleak. "Dissidence as business strategy is still part of business." Read into this that one cannot truly be dissident - it is rather well planned originality. Does the commodification of Punk Rock and Grunge come to mind here? 

In my notes I have a point here that links to last week's play. Adorno and Horkheimer say that "the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are." Sound's familiar in that the lower classed characters would not break etiquette meanwhile their decadent hosts did nothing but trample on proper etiquette.

There is so much to talk about but I noticed one other thing in The Culture Industry,
the notion that the western world had arrived at a popular lexicon. A way of speaking influenced by the Culture Industry rather than that which evolved in the organic way we saw earlier with our plays - the dandys and their eye for fashions and customs - now to navigate one must adhere to Culture Industry norms and the Culture Industry is ready to package any new developments. Thus is worthwhile to pay attention, otherwise you just don't exist. I am thinking specifically of how most Americans under the age of 30 use the Valley Girl phrase, "like, I was like this" etc. 

Culture Industry Revisited

Or read It Gets Worse. He points out that Intellectuals have taken to ironic toleration of the Culture Industry.  TV shows, films off the rack, pocket novels are accepted as harmless fulfillment of democratic demand even though it is a stimulated demand.

Prescribed fun- prescription for fun- prescription fun

The world wants to be deceived, has become truer than had ever been intended.

Say it ain't so Adorno!

It is no coincidence that cynical American film producers are heard to say that their pictures must take into consideration the level of eleven-year-olds. In doing so they would very much like to make adults into eleven-year-olds.

It is only deep unconscious mistrust, the last residue of the difference between art and empirical reality in the spiritual make-up of the masses explains why they have not, to a person, long since perceived and accepted the world as it is constructed for them by the culture industry. 

The total effect of the culture industry is one of anti-enlightenment

Ok on to Adorno vs Benjamin and vice versa

The quarrel of the ancients and moderns continues. Benjamin in this exchange is in my opinion looking at the fissures and cracks in the pavement that we saw in I believe Bloch last week. He is willing to admit that the world is fragmented and approaches his work on Baudelaire in much the same way. He breaks his argument into three parts and allows the whole to coalesce in the readers mind. This is what I imagine it to be in hearing the interchange but having not read the Book.

Adorno however is obsessed with the idea of phantasmagoria. I sense he had a problem with it. This is Benjamin allowing things to be subjective. He is painting a setting, a revolving landscape and setting for the reader. Adorno is looking for things to be whole, cohesive, presented in broad daylight. It is an apt observation of their friends that Benjamin is getting lost and exploring the "cave" of the Paris flaneur. 

When considering Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility and Adorno's responses to it, the major ideas hinged on Magic and the Aura which are used to describe painting and the Surgeon and his activity of cutting into the body. A magician a "healer" heals by the laying of hands, by his/her authority. A surgeon navigates inside the body, once inside the body analyses.

This analogy is tied to the painter as magician, and mechanical nature of photography film to the surgeon. The world presented within a film is knowable through objective details of the world and the passing of time. A film builds the whole moment to moment, analyzing piecemeal. The painter presents an Aura dictated and completely whole, contained and presented all at once. 

Don't know how this fits in the relation between the two but Adorno keeps mentioning Magic.

I will sum up Adorno and Benjamin with the ending of Art and the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility

Comes down to War- Art for Art's sake- Mankind at one time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.

I had a hard time with the  Futurists, they just seem like a motorcycle gang pillaging and terrorizing with hate and calls for War. I think they were extremists but they do touch explicitly on the idea of the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns. That being that they are uber Modern pushing forward towards a grand future which they expect to be assassinated in promptly after the age of 40. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Don't Sweat the Orton

I know there's no link to the Orton one act. We have more than enough to talk about without it. We're doing a full-length comedy of manners by Orton in a few weeks, Entertaining Mr. Sloane and there's no online access to it either. I'll make a handout with both plays for you then. You'll love Orton, by the way!

Wilde @ the Legion of Honor

"The Cult Of Beauty" Comes to the Legion Of Honor

The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde runs through June 17, 2012, at the Legion of Honor, 100 34th Avenue.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Posted on Behalf of Ilchi Kim

Presentation 1

Ernst Bloch – Discussing Expressionism

Bloch suggests a close relationship between expressionism and fascism. Emotive, rhetoric, vacuous, pseudo-activism grounded in the expressionism. Bloch criticizes Lukacs for lacking the primary basis; supplying only second-hand evidences and making only ‘a concept of concepts.’ Moreover Bloch credits Lukacs for making fine observations on ‘the petty- bourgeois against…capitalism.’ Proclaiming the emergence of Neo-classicism, Bloch notes a retrospective dilemma of expressionism, in which the allegiance with classical heritage and rejection of its atavism co-inhabits. At last Bloch urges the liberation from Classical systems and expansion of a concept of reality.

I personally found that Bloch’s essay is too lack substantial primary groundings and purely reactionary to Lukacs’ essay but I do agree on the need of expansion on the reality in saving expressionism.

Georg Lukacs – Realism in the Balance

Lukacs calls necessary specification and re-evaluation of Expressionistic principles. Here Lukacs discards dialectics between modern and classical in modern art and observes its divorce from specific literary. Addressing inter-related individual economic autonomies and unity, Lukacs further defenses his notion of ‘totality’ in Marxist tradition to comprehend the essential truth that is ‘greater than emotional and intellectual reality.’ Prompting ‘organic connection,’ Lukacs discerns the danger of subjectivity, immediacy and maybe to the extent of the oedipal contingency. It is evident that Lukacs inserts the reality as measurable, concrete and independent of appearances and process.

Presentation 2

Bertolt Brecht – Against Georg Lukacs

As a practitioner, Brecht contemns Lukacs for ‘escaping’ rather than ‘advancing.’ Brecht demands the need of reduction, subjectivity and ‘artistic form’ – ‘absolute false’ – in assessing social content and deeper causal complexes. Brecht highlights the contingency of realism and offers that the intelligibility of work of art is ageographic, aperiodic and ahistorical. For this Brecht asks ‘generous’ and ‘careful’ assessments for possible abstraction.

Walter Benjamin – Conversations with Brecht

Here Benjamin unfolds his private and yet political conversations with Brecht in exile.

Again Brechtian maxims:

‘I’m not against the asocial, you know; I’m against the non-social.’
‘The struggle against ideology has become a new ideology.’
‘Don’t start from the good old things but the bad new ones.’

Fredric Jameson - Reflections in Conclusion

In conclusion, Jameson appoints the danger of reification and provisional lessons of the Realism/Modernism dialectics. And further states that the functions of new aesthetics and realism are to resist reification and to reinvent totality.