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Re: [xmca] The Sense in Which the Sensory Is Not Artefactual
This distinction between elaborated and restricted semiotic codes, and not some crude distinction between high and low brow art, is at the heart of my sympathy for Adorno's aesthetics, and also the high Russian culture of Vygotsky and the Bolsheviks.
Trotsky famously argued that the working class had to master bourgeois culture before a socialist one could be created, and even Thomas Carlyle wrote that his goal was not to raise the cultural level of the working class to that of the bourgeoisie but rather to climb head and shoulders above it.
In some ways, the high brow/low brow distinction you are trying to make along class lines is a little quaint, Jay. There is nothing as thoroughly bourgeois as money, and there is nothing as moneyed as mass culture.
In contrast, there is really nothing at all "upper class" about the Shaanxi peasant opera that I learned to love and the Cultural Revolution "Eight Great Operas" that almost everybody of my generation sings (and even my wife hums in moments of distraction).
Brecht too was much taken with this art form, not because it was ascetic (although, being a peasant art form, it certainly is) but because it is mediated; it eschews empathy, direct involvement, and unmitigated, unexpressed, unexamined pain, and dwells on the consequences of violence rather than the act itself. It celebrates (for hours!) distance and reflection.
There is a wonderful, but completely apocryphal, story about Brecht and Stanislavsky touring the liberated areas in northern Shaanxi. Stanislavsky, fresh from a seminar with Vygotsky and Eisenstein, put on a performance of "Othello" in which the sound of gondalas was simulated by hollowing out the tin oars and filling them with water. Brecht put on "The Good Woman of Sichuan" using the fingers of both hands and adding extras by waggling his toes.
As a reward they were both treated to a performance of "The White Haired Girl", one of the operas that comes from the real revolution and not the "cultural" one. At the crisis, the heroine emerges from a cave and confronts the landlord's son who had raped her and turned her hair white:
My rage is a tall mountain.
But my hunger for justice is a sea!
She is, however, powerless to wreak either on the landlord's son. So in the middle of the performance, a soldier in the audience whipped out his pistol and shot the hapless actor playing the landlord's son through the head.
As was traditional, there was a party funeral for the actor, who was a comrade. Stanislavsky brought a wreath with a long inscription that read "To one of the greatest martyrs to art who ever graced a stage, in memory of a performance that will live forever in the collective memory". Brecht, they say, left a scribbled note that read "To the worst actor I've ever seen, in consolation for a particularly bad night."
Seoul National University of Education
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