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Re: [xmca] The Sense in Which the Sensory Is Not Artefactual
And anyone else who cares,
I am generally averse to dichotomies, and to reifying "class cultures"
or anything of the sort. It's much too complex I think to talk about
at the moment, but I don't think the road to post-bourgeois "high
culture" lies through bourgeois culture, though no doubt some sort of
interplay along the way must happen. Post-colonial theory deals with a
very similar sort of issue, I think.
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
On Dec 4, 2009, at 12:51 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
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
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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