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[Xmca-l] Re: Unreading Althusser


I am thrilled to see how much I agree with you on this!

Appropriation without understanding is just no different than kitsch, unless perhaps someone is Jeff Koons!

Check this out from the WSJ: Why Dictators Love Kitsch

I add this famous essay by Clement Greenberg on the Avant-garde and Kitsch (which will be nice to reread after a long while, so I'm quite glad for this to come up in my everyday consciousness!):

THEN for more immediate effect and connection, I also add this from the MOMA website with regard to The Definition of Kitsch:

"Term used to identify spurious imitations of genuine artistic creations in the fine and applied arts, architecture, literature, fashion, photography, the theatre, cinema and music. Kitsch is sometimes used to refer to virtually any form of popular art or mass entertainment, especially when sentimental, but, although many popular art forms are cheap and somewhat crude, they are at least direct and unpretentious. On the other hand, a persistent theme in the history of the usage of ‘kitsch’, going back to the word’s mid-European origins, is pretentiousness, especially in reference to objects that simulate whatever is conventionally viewed as high art. As Hauser (1974) remarked, kitsch differs from merely popular forms in its insistence on being taken seriously as art or as expressing ‘civilized’ taste. Kitsch can thus be defined as a kind of pseudo, parasitic art, whose essential function is to flatter, soothe and reassure its viewer and consumer. In his essay ‘Of the Standard of Taste’ (1757), David Hume remarked on ‘A species of beauty, which, as it is florid and superficial, pleases at first; but … soon palls upon the taste, and then is rejected with disdain, or at least rated at a much lower value.’ Kitsch was a term unavailable to Hume in the 18th century, but he recognized the mediocrity inherent in what would now be termed kitsch objects.

Kitsch properly begins with what has been called the bourgeois realism of Salon painting and sculpture in the 19th century. Some late Pre-Raphaelite work, with romantic fantasies of a medieval golden age, lies on the boundary of kitsch, while saccharine evocations of Classical themes by such painters as William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Lawrence Alma-Tadema often cross the line. Bell (1914) denied that Luke Fildes’s The Doctor (exh. RA 1891; London, Tate) was a work of art because its effect relies wholly on its sentimental subject-matter. Bell insisted that the painting is ‘worse than nugatory because the emotion it suggests is false. What it suggests is not pity and admiration but a sense of complacency in our own pitifulness and generosity.’ Bell’s objection is to an art that, rather than demanding or even examining virtue, congratulates the viewer for already possessing it. This same idea was stressed by the novelist Milan Kundera in his meditation on the concept of kitsch in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (trans., London, 1984). Kundera characterized kitsch as calling forth ‘the second tear’. The first tear is shed out of pity; the second is shed in recognition of the feeling of pity. It is essentially self-congratulatory. According to Kulka (1988), the standard kitsch work must be instantly identifiable as depicting ‘an object or theme which is generally considered to be beautiful or highly charged with stock emotions’, even though it ‘does not substantially enrich our associations related to the depicted subject’. The impact of kitsch is therefore limited to reminding the viewer of great works of art, deep emotions or grand philosophic, religious or patriotic sentiments."

One may read the rest of the entry here:

Kind regards,


From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
Sent: Saturday, February 7, 2015 6:27 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Unreading Althusser

I heartily agree with the view of Althusser that you ascribe to Seve,
David, and I strongly believe that Vygotsky's Cultural Psychology is the
key to meeting the various challenges which Althusser presents to a
humanist Marxism.
Perhaps a reflection on the word "distortion" is worthwhile in this
context. "Distortion" differs from a range of concepts like
"appropriation" by simply adding a derogatory connotation.
*Andy Blunden*

David Kellogg wrote:
> Although it is framed as a discussion of the Bakhtin "disputed texts"
> question, Seve's article in "Contretemps" (see Juan's posting) raises a
> much more important problem en passant. Seve would like us all to unread
> Althusser, and he sees Vygotsky as a key figure in doing this.
> Althusser argued that the early "humanist" Marx of the Manifesto and of the
> German Ideology was entirely supplanted by a mature, anti-humanist Marx of
> Capital and the Grundrisse. This anti-humanist Marx was essentially a
> structuralist: the commodity was a little like the "Selfish Gene" of
> Richard Dawkins, using the individual instrumentally to construct a society
> in its own image.
> As Seve points out, this kind of "Marxism" is particularly conducive
> to Stalinism and even post-Stalinist ideas of how activity can structure
> the human personality, but it is not at all conducive to understanding how
> language can structure a human personality. It's conducive to Bukharinist
> and even Foucaultian ideas of how society reproduces itself, virus-like, in
> the individual, but it's not at all conducive to understanding,
> contrariwise, a personality and even a whole socialist society as the
> result of human individuation. That's where Vygotsky comes in.
> I remarked earlier that Seve considers "Mind in Society" to be a
> "characteristically Anglo-American" distortion of Vygotsky's ideas about
> individuation. What I didn't mention was that Seve considers that this
> distortion was at least better than the situation that held in France until
> 1985, when his wife brought out the first (!) translation of Vygotsky's
> work into French (the French version of HDHMF is only now being brought
> out!).  Distortion is, after all, always better than outright suppression;
> a careful reader can go along ways towards undistorting a text, but you
> can't undistort silence.
> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> PS:
> Seve also mentions, tantalizingly, that the heirs to the Vygotsky family
> archive have sold all rights to a prestigious Canadian publisher, and this
> publisher has yet to bring out a single volume. Does anyone know the
> publisher in question?
> dk