Tuesday, 30 June 2015

False beauty

Market individualism, in many ways, is the new religion. It has supplanted Judeo-Christianity in the western world. Most expressive art in the western world will not venerate some kind of grand abstract entity such as God. It will venerate the market. It will venerate products and recurrent fads. It will, above all, venerate the kind of individualism celebrated by the market: party and drink to excess, bad taste and bad art.

Art is a perfectly good surrogate for religion. As a matter of fact, it's a much better one. Religion is a non-rational belief. It is unapologetically dogmatic. Like art, it can ask questions about the meaning of ethics, existence and the cosmos. Like art, it can provide a sense of meaning and comfort to an individual's existence. Art can do all the things that religion does in a much richer and more variegated way. It also drops the dogma. Art, in my view at least, entered its most interesting phase after Nietzsche's 'death of God' proclamation. Gone was the idea of an abstract divine law. Our existence was haphazard and meaningless, but we were still autonomous agents who could shape our own destinies. Dostoyevsky claimed that without God anything permissible. In the art world at least, the idea of anything being permissible turned out to be an incredibly exciting development in the high water mark years of modernism.

Still, there is much in religion and religious thought to admire. There is much in the religious impulse to admire. (Even Nietzsche, or all the subsequent writers who tapped into the 'Death of God' sentiment, couldn't quite shirk it.) Religious art and buildings from clerical societies venerated something transcendent and unknowable. It tried to explore inexplicable things such as consciousness as well as the myths in the bible.

A lot of 'art' now doesn't really go for the questions broached either by religious writers or the existentialists. Art prays to, venerates and glorifies the market. The same point made by two quite disparate thinkers illustrates this. Robert Hughes and Roger Scruton have written and spoken about Jeff Koons' Michael Jackson and Bubbles. Hughes and Scruton point out that the sculpture is modeled on the style of the Renaissance. Instead of venerating God or a sacred figure, the sculpture is venerating a pop culture phenomenon. The result is, both critics claim, inordinately kitsch. Art, claim Hughes and Scruton, has degenerated into just this - kitsch veneration of shallow consumerism. It is false beauty.

This is what the 'serious' art world pretty much amounts to. Out of all the hipster art galleries that all these people attend, I would be very surprised if I saw something of value. To be an artist is to make money and to be trendy, not to make interesting art in and of itself. People like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin are held in high regard by David Cameron and the Conservatives because they embody everything they want the ideal person to be. They are not valiant artists communicating exciting ideas; they are entrepreneurs making dollops of money out of one-dimensional objects.

There is also a very lazy assumption underpinning the critics who commend their work. They assume that just because that something is abstract or conceptual that it therefore is engaging with issues and making points. They assume that something figurative can't do this. Figurative art has lost a lot of currency because of this reason. You need only take a look at the Mona Lisa to know that this is wrong. I am not saying that abstract or conceptual art cannot engage with issues - on the contrary, it can in ways that figurative art is incapable of. It's just that it is sheer nonsense to write figurative art off for that reason.

'Low' art (I do not feel comfortable using these labels, but it's useful to make distinctions), meanwhile, is becoming more and more hideous. It is increasingly impossible to break away from its world. This is especially so with social media, where everyone is so much connected to each other. It is difficult not to be inundated with the horrible music on radio stations. If you want to socialise (or even simply go to work...) and go out somewhere, that synthetic music is everywhere. I have lived in my own obscure little world for years now, so when I talk about myself and my preferences to the average person they look at me incredulously. There is obviously a lot of stuff in popular culture that is really good - often better than the stuff considered part of 'high' culture. There is also a lot of stuff that straddles the line between high and low culture and is subversive and exciting for that reason.

The noble interests of the modernists and early post-modernists have been hijacked by vested interests. Modernism in literature, painting, film, music etc. wanted to play around with form and break free from the straight-jacket of convention. Post-modernism took the elements of self-referentiality and irony further. 'Vested interests' such as chic elites and business people have 'hijacked' it by turning the sentiment of destroying everything into something edgy and pretentiously outré. That's not to say that there aren't individual writers, artists and filmmakers doing innovative and brilliant things. But to speak of a genuine movement doing anything that rivals the ones from modernism and early post-modernism is untenable. If you were to join any such movement you would be confronted with a bunch of self-regarding poseurs who you find have very little to say.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Dialogic education

The purpose of this post is to delineate why I prefer dialogic, not prescriptive, education. University, obviously, began in ancient antiquity as conversation. To learn was to enter into discussion, take into consideration the other person's viewpoint and thus synthesise a resulting argument. It was called 'dialecticism.' Yet dialogic education often seems very novel in the class room. Until not so long ago, you were prescribed Latin and Greek. If you were not of an academic disposition, you went off to learn metal work.

Education systems should foster individual learning. It is pointless to prepare you for the job market. You will hardly ever apply your studies to the workplace. Out of all the people who went to school, how many became lifelong learners? (Out of all the people who read Shakespeare at GCSE, how many read a novel? How would reading Shakespeare prepare you for stacking boxes? The disparity is palpable.) Education systems should just supply you with a set of tools, tell you how they work and tell you 'pursue what interests you.'

What is presented to the students should not be taken as sacred. The students should, if disposed, made to question what is being taught and thus enter into dialogue with it. As great as Shakespeare is, the problem with teaching him in a class room is that it often is heresy to ever question anything he ever did.

The class room should consists of an interplay of all the student's ideas. The teacher should not prescribe something as gospel. Rather, he should merely present an idea or a set of facts and open them up to discussion. Students should, in true dialectical manner, learn from each other's arguments and to accept or discard what's on offer.

It is often assumed that this pedagogic method is confined to the university seminar room. It is actually perfectly applicable to all stages of development. It is merely method; it does not presuppose difficulty. The teacher simply adopts the material from each key stage and uses these methods. Children mostly prefer to be taught this way. They are bored to tears when classes are rigid and prescriptive. To be more open-ended in this way encourages the child to be more creative, to express himself and provides an incentive to learn.

Yet, still, shockingly enough, some universities don't even teach in a dialogic way. I've been told that there are even some universities where students are meant to read facts in a textbook and regurgitate them in a test. Universities should help you to think critically and to present clear and cogent arguments. It should make you look beyond your comfort-zone by making you research thoroughly and to be selectively rigorous. Students who are not familiar with this are not learning in the proper sense.

Still, it is important to have a degree of classicism. It is important to cling onto the Greeks and to Shakespeare. The trouble with academia is that is became so revolutionary in the 1970s that it decided to do away with the canon and replace it with a extravagant kind of relativism. The intrinsic literary value of great works of literature are cast into doubt for the sake of confronting 'power' and 'truth.' A lot of chic post-modernist writers are taught (Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan, etc.). Students end up spending inordinate lengths of time studying what essentially amounts to fanciful piffle when they could be studying more important subjects. As an undergrad and a post-grad I remember the sense of frustration of having to plough through thinkers like Derrida and Deleuze. About 90% of both writers makes no sense to me. I remember feeling frustrated that I could be reading more history, political and economic theory and philosophical thinkers that I found fascinating but weren't taught. Instead I spent a portion of my time reading thinkers that essentially seemed meaningless and like a waste of time. Even when their core theses were teased out by the lecturers, I found them uninteresting.

So, essentially, I would advocate the kind of dialogic education outlined above. I would retain the canon and would not force-feed post-modernist relativism. (Forcing one thought system, which might well be relativistic, is in itself a form of absolutism.)  Instead, I would provide a variety of thought systems through which to engage with. Dialogism does not presuppose difficulty - it is simply a method through which to present given material. For that reason, it can be applied to all stages of development, starting from kindergarden.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Two parodies: Why I Want to Fuck Theresa May/Principle of Sufficient Inebriation

1)      Her aggressive élan as she addresses the cameras of the world. The way she purses her lips, brushing off interlopers of the higher truth – the Conservative project.
2)      The putrid stench emanating from her labia as she rises from her palatial seat in Westminster.
3)      The angular contours of her jutting lips.
4)      The power she wields. She is able to extradite thousands of innocents immigrants. She is able to extradite thousands of innocent foreign students. All by a mere snap decision.
5)      Enforcer of law, order and justice.
6)      Her scientific precision. She believes in reacting immediately, in finding temporary expedients. This is in stark contrast to the unscientific Michael Gove, a most unsubtle Conservative, who believes in radical reform.
7)      Her thaumaturgic appearance. She is capable of sorcery.
8)      Her oppressive aura. She is leader of the ‘the nasty party.’ She can use this appellation to undermine and oppress anyone.
9)      Her grit and determination.
10)   Margaret Thatcher was called a ‘witch.’ May, in many ways, will follow through on this lineage and, upon becoming prime minister, will create a dynasty of witches. Yet, despite her occultist inclinations, she approaches it with scientific precision.
11)   Once metadata has a record of this, she can bring me to account and penalise me.

Parody of J. G. Ballard.

Principle of Sufficient Inebriation 

All inebriation has a reason. Here I propose a ‘principle of sufficient inebriation.’ This brief tract is meant to gauge how inebriation comes about. 
                First of all, time and space, which are known to us a priori, are muddled. We lose are ability to discern abstract concepts. Indeed, the phenomenon which appears to us is in direct contradiction with the intellect. As a result, we can make no sense of the phenomenon. The intellect cannot discern between things as they are and his knowledge.
                When a person does not know where he is, who he is or where he came from, the principle of sufficient inebriation accounts for this. Indeed, he is so drunk that he cannot use his intellect to mediate between phenomena and abstract concepts. He is confused when he talks. His a priori understanding of causality is confused. Objects organised in space can appear smaller or larger than they really are. He does not understand why a cause comes about. It surprises him if a person appears on the other end of the room, when just a second ago he was right next to him.
                How do we reach the principle of sufficient inebriation? This is relative. It depends on the person. In the case of this writer – Simon King speaking rather confusedly as Arthur Schopenhauer – just two glasses of red wine will suffice. Other people need a little more, some a little less.
 Parody of Arthur Schopenhauer

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Sexual striving

My existence - and the existence of most people, even prudes - consists of sexual striving. Nerdy or neurotic men generally find it difficult to find sex. Women - note that this isn't sexist, I'm just sticking to casual observation and I am generalising - prefer men who are confident. Nerdy and neurotic men generally are so, in many ways, because they have no sex.

I am especially partial to Schopenhauer's fascinating world-view. Part of it was the idea that energy (he called it 'the will' which, like a lot of philosophical jargon, sounds deceptive) runs through everything. He identified the thing in itself as, to some extent, running through us as well. (Schopenhauer agreed with Kant's distinction between the thing in itself, which is external reality, and the phenomenon, which is our subjective perception.) The 'will' charges all objects and it charges us. This will constantly seeks satisfaction and it is constantly denied. This applies to the whole of nature - it is comprised of constant suffering and striving, all of which is thwarted.

This, in many ways, is proto-Freudian. (Freud read Schopenhauer as an elderly man after having formulating his world-view.) The neurotic finds no sex and develops a number of complexes. (Granted, all these are simplifications - I'm just providing the setting for a couple of points). One's desire is always rejected by the object of desire and the individual continues to fixate over it. This desire is an abstraction. Usually, the person imputes onto the object what he wants. When he realises that the reality is a little more complex, that the person has feelings and a personality, he is disappointed.

One's sex drive charges everything. The reason why I do stuff is, in many ways, driven by sexual impulses. Sexual desire is a rapacious hunger. I have never understood why people see the intellect and sex as polar opposites. 'Cerebral sex' is a phrase I encountered in a book that I like. I googled it and found some whiny guy writing 'I'm too cerebral for sex.' Reading books, listening to music etc. is, to use a trite analogy, like having sex. It can be intense. It can be orgasmic. You are engaging in a game of wits with another writer or composer. It's like a fusion of minds. They both feed each other. That's why I have always been interested in books and films which marry the sexual and the cerebral. Ballard's Crash is a good example - the characters elaborate their own forensic world-view as to why they are sexually aroused by car crashes. They seem completely emotionless - sex is a cold practice, a laboratory to test out extreme behaviour. I loved Lar von Trier's film Nymphomaniac. It is a sexual film which is highly cerebral. There are sprawling digressions about intellectual topics. Granted, the film does recognise the sex/intellect dichotomy. The film consists of a bookish type and the titular nymphomaniac. Yet it does not stop there. The bookish type identifies as asexual and is not titillated by the character's tales. However, he becomes sexualised. The nymphomaniac listens to his bookish monologues with rapt fascination.

Porn, for all to its coarseness, is about displacing identity and love. It is the effacement of the other. When you watch a porn scene, you don't care about the personality of the porn stars. They are stripped of their personality and reduced to being sex objects. There is no love involved. It consists of a sexual duel between two - or more! - ciphers. It is the perfect fodder for our sexual fantasies. It is completely fake. All our idealised conceptions about sex - unrealistic positions, submissive women, etc. - are realised. It is highly sexist. Women are treated as passive and submissive. It still manages to ease the frustrations of the nerd and the neurotic who is routinely rejected by women.