Wednesday, July 05, 2006

 
CENSORED LESBIAN SMUT!

Bourdieu is here talking (Rules of Art 58-9) about France in the middle of the nineteenth century, but it applies equally well to Ireland in the middle of the twentieth. And who knows, maybe it applies to other times and places as well.
Thus it is clear that the literary and artistic field is constituted as such in and by an opposition to a "bourgeois" world which had never before asserted so bluntly its values and pretension to control the instruments of legitimation, both in the domain of art and in the domain of literature, and which, through the press and its hacks, now aims to impose a degraded and degrading definition of cultural production.
Bourdieu is referring at the end here to one of his IMO more interesting and useful ideas, about the best way to explain the more or less constant fighting over Art -- and indeed, anything humans seem so driven to create.

All artistic judgements are in one sense arbitrary. You like this, I like that, they liked that 400 years ago, they wore THAT crap in the 1970s! That was horrible! (Well, it was. Most 1970s clothes were indeed empirically horrible. But I digress.) So if it is all arbitrary, why do people get so worked up over arguments that we all know will seem silly in a decade or so? (Whitesnake still, of course, sucks.) What's up with all the fighting?

Bourdieu's great insight (for me, anyway) is that this is an essentially political question. People get so worked up over these sorts of issues because what is really is at stake is what he calls the power to impose the dominant definition of legitimate cultural production.

The point of any specific conflict may be, say, Janet Jackson's tit, or Ulysses, or The Passion of the Christ, but take a step back from each of these controversies, and what do you have? Different groups and individuals struggling mightily over who gets to decide what we can and cannot, what we should and should not, say and do in public.

That is power at one of its most basic levels. What you wear, your haircut, the music you like, the books you read, the films you hate -- all of these define you as an individual and express a whole universe of data about how you see yourself (consciously and unconsciously) and how you relate towards the wider culture in which we all must exist. Ever dyed your hair, picked out a shirt, played a particular song, whatever, knowing that it was some sort of "message" about who you are and what you aspire to be? Ever refused to do so, because it was not who you thought you were, or think you are?

That's some powerful shit, man. Think about what it means to be able to influence such decisions for masses of people. If you can establish control over these obscure, arbitrary, contradictory, confused impulses -- THAT is power.

The natural corollary is that when you can define what people CANNOT so or say, that is also an expression of this same power. (All this explains why NRO gets so hysterical about this kind of nonsense.)

As for the rest of the excerpt I excerpted above, Bourdieu is arguing that in the middle of the 19th century in France, writers like Flaubert and Baudelaire had to struggle against a dominant bourgeois class that roughly, and even violently, asserted its power to define what could and could not be said in public, and deeply resented the capacity of "artists" to express their own unique view of the actual dynamics of the contemporary social and cultural order.

Wait, what was my topic?...

Oh yes, lesbian smut. See, in the debate in the Irish Senate I mentioned earlier, the fighting over Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices centered over a single sentence in that book -- and it is, indeed, in my opinion one of the most shocking and deliberately offensive sentences ever written, considering all the circumstances.

That's why it is, to this day, officially stricken from the official Irish parliamentary records, even 65 years later.

I won't tell you what that sentence was. You won't be able to handle it. It would horrify you to your very marrow. No: I will remain silent, and will not reveal the most awful sentence in all of modern Irish literature to you.

I respect your honor and sense of decency too much.

(PSSSST: The sentence is about teh GAY! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!)

UPDATE: Oh, OK. The sentence is "She saw her father and Etienne in the embrace of love."

Comments:
One thing I love about Bourdieu is his understanding of how hegemony bourgeois culture -- and artistic production -- flips over in the modern era to become one that's immanent. That is, it's a trench war in which to stop fighting is to lose, even if you suspect that you're ultimately overpowered. And in cases like that, the best course is to appropriate rather than resist.

(Btw, your beloved has my email address.)
 
Ok, here I go wading into depths with very little preparation. On a most fundamental level for us'ns of the 2oth & 21st Century, the epic struggle seems to be deep down about the question of meaning. Is there or isn't there any "there" there. We wrestle over everything else, come to blows, are ready to off each other because of this fundamental mostly unexamined and ultimately unanswerable question(yes I'm asserting an ultimate which would raise the hackles of the nihilists. So be it.)

What strikes me as remarkable is that while we have the intellectual ability to hold all sorts of questions and doubts in brackets, and to work out consquences from theories that we do not necessarily endorse-- we just don't have the emotional equipment to hold the same intellectual questions in brackets on a feeling level. And really, those who are fairly good at such restraint, not taking personally the blows and attacks of the opponent, are often so cold and bloodless that the real meaning and heartfelt expression of the arts is lost on them anyway. What good would winning the argument and loosing one's soul along the way?

After years of holding the question of meaning in brackets, I got tired, very tired of it. I succumbed to the simple joy in my heart and accepted the sense of numinous presence (if you will) as being a close enough appproximation to meaning. I decided to just concentrate on the presence of the positive when it emerged, and the result is a rooted life, quiet, mostly without large important arguments, but of real deep value and mostly missing the sort of fear (horror) of the stranger.

But I wonder about that unspeakable sentence. Was it worse than the mention of a lady's undergarments in a play on the national stage? Horrors! Maybe if we hang about long enough you'll reveal all-- and of course-- be damned.

Peace.
 
But it's not lesbian smut, surely. (Except that O'Brien was.)
 
crap, now i have to go to the library and see if they have a copy...

could it be worse than the final chapter of 'ulysses'?
 
NO FLIRTING!!!

Oh, wait....I'm in the wrong room, aren't I?
 
"She saw her father and Etienne in the embrace of love."

AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
Was it worse than the mention of a lady's undergarments in a play on the national stage?

You mean the ones your Mother laid out for you? (I know someone will get that...)


Not keeping up with the Art world, I wonder if, today, it's less a matter of 'someone' controlling and defining Art than 1) an abundance of outlets and/or media, which creates 2) the notion that 'everyone's an artist'. And with that increase in outlets, are artists necessarily dependent on 'someone' allowing them some exposure?

Again, what's the tipping point where someone's talent is recognized and suddenly becomes legitimate Art? And can an artist reach that point in spite of the Powers That Be, in today's techno-cultural landscape? Are there any artists who still rely on that golden column from a major paper's Art Critic?

As for Whitesnake, I was never a big fan but it was certainly a magnet/revolving door for talent, depending on the particular incarnation: Jon Lord, Ian Paice, John Sykes, Steve Vai, Viv Campbell, Tommy Aldrige, Adrian Vandenberg, Cozy Powell, Rudy Sarzo... anyhoo...

Also, back to art and legitimacy, there's always the odd one-off bands, who are signed and recorded simply because they sound a lot like 'what's hot' in any given musical cycle. Hair bands became a parody of themselves in the late 80's/early 90's as the Guitar Wars spun out of control, and the cut-out racks were filled with albums that probably cost some A&R folks their jobs.

Lastly, have I misunderstood all of this? I'll be in the corner...
 
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