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[Xmca-l] Re: Verismo and Kitsch


You are too generous; I'm afraid my last post wasn't very well written. But
I think one of the great advantages of xmca is that it allows people to be
inarticulate and then allows other people like you to step in and get them
to straighten up their act. So what the devil does this babbling fool
really mean when he burbles about what snuff pornography doesn't and cannot
do, and what kitsch doesn't and cannot do, and what verismo does and can
do? And does jazz do it or not? That's the question.

To make a short answer long, I think that another great advantage of xmca
is that the conversations are often "complexive". We can see very good
examples of this in Annalisa's writing (e.g. her "gut responses" to terms
like "malware", which are not really generalizations or abstractions but
something like associations based on wordings). So let me take as a
starting point Rob Lake's proposition that "the personal is political". It
seems to me there are two ways to interpret this, that both, like any art
form, have a vision of "the good life" centrally involved, and that the two
ways do correspond, respectively, to kitsch and to a (distorted, even
betrayed) form of verismo.

The first way of interpreting "The personal is political" is the way it was
originally meant in the 1960s: the oppression which we feel as inherent in
personal relationships (e.g. domestic violence) does not have a personal
answer, at least not on a societal level. That is, the oppression which
feels personal to a woman can only have a political solution, viz. the
organization of women as women, or as part of the working class, or perhaps
as part of some more amorphous body, e.g. "the people". It seems to me that
this is essentially a Bukharinist view--that is, an emotion is individually
felt, and it has to be socialized by being generalized. Art, in this sense,
a kind of social contagion: a virus which is spread from the artist to the

The second way of interpreting "The personal is political", however, is the
way it was re-interpreted by bourgeois feminists (among others) starting in
the 1970s (the "Me" decade, as Christopher Lasch put it), and expanding
throughout the reactionary Reagan-Bush years (the "Greed is Good" decades)
and culminating in our own extreme personalist politics: the oppression
which we see as being social (e.g. pay inequality) does not have a
political answer, at least not on a societal level. That is, the oppression
which women undergo in the workplace has no political redress at all,
because of the strength of the reaction to the (fairly mild-mannered)
upheavals of the sixties: we can only engineer individual "escapes" from
oppression (e.g. the "Supermom" phenomena which does, in individual cases,
appear to flaunt pay inequality). It seems to me that this really is the
Vygotskyan view of art, but in a distorted form (not, in Andy's sense,
applied, but rather more in the sense of betrayed or even turned upside
down)--that is, the sense of injustice is socially felt, but it has to be
individualized. Art, like personality formation more generally, is
essentially individuating, a process of turning a social emotion into a
real, personal one. It's not a good social programme, but it's a fine
aesthetic one.

In the first case, we have a real emotion, that is, grounded in personal
experience, which is then generalized and abstracted. In the second case,
we have an unreal emotion, that is, one which is grounded in abstraction
and generalization, which is then personalized and individuated. It seems
to me that the first is kitsch, and the second verismo: the first involves
using the real experience of the artist as a starting point and trying to
make it into a social contagion; the second involves taking the esthetic
understanding of the artist as a starting point and trying to make it real
for individuals of the audience.

Like you, I spent at least some of my formative years in Chicago, so I love
jazz. But part of that love is certainly personal experience: I worked the
graveyard shift at Electromotive Division of General Motors, and when I got
off work, sometimes at two in the morning, I would haunt blues and jazz
clubs with my mates Sugar Blue and Cecile Savage (who are still playing in
the Chicago area, more than thirty years later). There is no question in my
mind but that both tendencies are there in jazz, as in any art form: in
jazz the personal is societal in both senses, in the sense that the
artist's individual emotion can be generalized and also in the sense that
the "feeling" of jazz is individuated in the audience. But as a young,
highly unmusical, white kid trying to come to terms with the generalized
emotions of my (mostly black) workmates, I was always more interested in
the second sense.

I know that Adorno didn't dig jazz. First of all, he approached jazz
through popular music, not through real people the way that I did.
Secondly, he was one of a class of grown up white kids who thought, as he
put it, that the bourgeoisie teaches us to be austere in life and
voluptuous only in art, but we'd all be better off doing just the opposite.
But that doesn't make a lot of sense when you don't really have the
wherewithal to be voluptuous in anything but art. But in the third place,
it was his loss, as he probably recognized better than anyone; every
genuine human art form that an individual just doesn't dig merely shows us
how imperfect we all are as individuals. Isn't that another way of saying

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 10 February 2015 at 07:59, Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com>

> David,
> Care to offer your opinion on jazz?
> And then on Adorno's opinion on jazz?
> Just curious since I know he is often taken to task for his position on
> jazz (and I assume that this criticism is oversimplified at least a little
> but I don't quite know how).
> As for the rest, I wonder if Vygotsky has a Kantian notion of aesthetics or
> if you see significant differences there?
> And your post gave me a good smile (a real enough emotion) with all of its
> visions of the good life...
> -greg
> On Sun, Feb 8, 2015 at 11:05 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > In Leoncavallo's opera "Pagliacci", there is a love triangle in a group
> of
> > travelling Commedia del arte performers. They stage an performance for a
> > group of villagers (in which the theme of a deceived husband is
> > burlesqued). In the middle of the performance, the deceived husband
> murders
> > his wife, and the opera ends with the famous line "La commedia e finita!"
> >
> > Leoncavallo tried hard to convince his audience that it was a true story
> > based on a murder that happened in his own family, but he was sued for
> > plagiarism by another author, and the  suit was only dropped when still
> > another author sued the plaintiff.. The evidence, actually, is that
> > Leoncavallo wrote the opera out of jealousy of his colleague Mascagni's
> > "Cavalleria Rusticana", which has a very similar triangle, an opera which
> > is often paired with "Pagliacci" to this day.
> >
> > The idea of putting a play within a play and giving the real audience a
> > frisson of wonder about the reality of the stage death is certainly part
> of
> > art; it goes all the way back to Hamlet and even before (Shakespeare
> stole
> > the idea of a play within a play with real murders from Kyd's "The
> Spanish
> > Tragedy", which was showing while Hamlet was being composed.) But very
> few
> > people would admit that snuff pornography--that is, pornography in which
> > the actors are actually murdered--is a legitimate art form. So how to
> draw
> > the line, and why? And does the line tell us anything about the
> difference
> > between Kitsch and other forms of art.
> >
> > Vygotsky says that art is a social technique of emotion--real emotion
> > brought about by unreal events. He also sees art as a process of
> > indviduation, not socialization. Where Bukharin and his "Proletkult"
> > movement saw art as being the "infection" of the masses by the emotions
> of
> > a lone artist, Vygotsky sees exactly the opposite--the individuation of
> the
> > emotion of an artwork by the viewer.
> >
> > Snuff pornography doesn't and cannot do this: it's not a real emotion
> > brought about by unreal events but rather an unreal emotion (in relation
> to
> > what we would really feel if we witnessed a murder) brought about by real
> > events. But Hamlet can and does this: in fact, sensationalism is
> > deliberately deferred throughout the four hours of tergiversation by the
> > title character, and the sensationalist terror evoked by Kyd is
> brilliantly
> > transformed into intra-mental horror.
> >
> > Kitsch cannot and doesn't do this: the emotions that Jeff Koons evokes
> are
> > not real emotions at all, since his art is all about himself and his
> > celebrity (and the same thing goes for Lady Gaga and a great deal of the
> > "knowing, winking" kitsch that passes for art these days). it is not art,
> > but rather a parody of art we are being given. As Adorno says, every form
> > of art has to have some vision of the good life, even if it is only
> etched
> > as a negative. But if the "good life" were simply is simply the
> commercial
> > success of the artist which we are ordered to vicariously enjoy, then
> what
> > we are given is a real situation with unreal emotions, as in snuff
> > pornography, and not an unreal situation with real ones, as in verismo.
> >
> > Verismo--in Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana--uses an unreal play within a
> > play about an unreal play to create real emotions: "Actors have feelings
> > too," as Tonio says. There is some dispute about whether Tonio or
> > the murderer "Pagliacci" speaks the line "La commedia e finita". My own
> > view is that Tonio should say it, because the show must go on.
> >
> > David Kellogg
> > Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> >
> --
> Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor
> Department of Anthropology
> 880 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
> Brigham Young University
> Provo, UT 84602
> http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson