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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Archive for the day “December 24, 2012”

Disappointed with Sephora

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Remind me never to buy anything from Sephora online ever again. I wanted to treat myself to something nice for Christmas and ordered my favorite Dior mascara. It arrived right in time for Christmas, which is good, but look at how it was packaged. A big box stuffed full of paper. I had to rummage in it for a while to fish out the small tube of mascara. Mascara isn’t fragile, so it makes zero sense to waste all that paper and cardboard on shipping it. Now, instead of feeling happy about my purchase, I feel guilty about wasting all this paper.

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Modernism II

Now, I believe, is a good time to continue our discussion of modernism. The Great War taught the people who survived it to see the world as a scary, incomprehensible place. The belief that science and technology would improve everybody’s lives was shattered when not only tanks but also biological and chemical weapons were used in the war for the very first time in the history of humanity. The war was incomprehensible, its motives and consequences confusing. So many people had died, and for what? In 1918, very few of the survivors could say that the war had been worth the sacrifice, the deaths, and the suffering.

The great realist project of explaining the world with the goal of transforming it had to be abandoned. Artists were as lost and confused as anybody else. After you see the massive destruction of a world war, it isn’t easy to believe that a great novel will, indeed, achieve a profound change in the way people live. The feelings of loss, confusion, and impotence brought by the war did not constitute a break with the years immediately before it. Already at the end of the XIXth century, there was a growing sensation that the world was becoming too complicated and dangerous. The World War contributed to the feelings that already existed and magnified them.

So if artists saw no more reason to create meaningful content, what remains? The answer is obvious: form. Modernist art strives to create an original, beautiful, exquisite form and mostly abandons the task of explaining what the increasingly complicated and confusing world is like.

See, for instance, a poem titled “Rain” by Guillaume Apollinaire:

hirsch_poem

 

The poem is visually striking. It defies our expectations as to what a poem should be like. And here lies the most important contribution of the modernist writers. Unlike their predecessors, they don’t strive to provide answers. More often than not, they don’t even pose any questions for us to answer. Instead, they offer us – the readers, the spectators – an opportunity to formulate our own questions and look for answers on our own. A modernist work of art requires that the reader / spectator invest as much effort into  creating it. Without our active participation, this work of art will simply not happen. In case this sounds confusing, here is the perfect example:

Black_square

 

Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square” demonstrates perfectly what modernist art is all about. The first time you see the painting, you feel annoyed.

“What?!? What the hell is this?” you ask. “This guy is crazy if he thinks I will agree to consider this art!”

If you are a lazy, stupid person, you will stop right there, walk away, and never try to approach modernist art again. If, however, you are not entirely averse to intellectual exertion, you will eventually get over your annoyance and start asking questions.

“Why does this bother me? What did I expect this painting to be? What is my definition of a work of art and where does the conviction that this isn’t what art should be like come from? What are my expectations and how did they arise? What is the role of an artist? What is my role? Why did nobody paint this way before? And what can the future of art be after this?”

This painting that seems like one huge fraud at first can produce a plethora of insights if you give it a chance. This is the art of people who don’t expect to sit there passively and be entertained and / or brainwashed. This is the art of thinking individuals who strive to formulate their own approach to everything they encounter. Is it any wonder, then, that the totalitarian Soviet regime banned all modernist art and everything that resembled it?

[To be continued. . .]

Translation: Ross “Me-me-me” Douthat

In the early days of this blog, I had a tradition of ridiculing Ross Douthat, NYTimes‘s most useless columnist, every Monday. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, Douthat has come up with a response so idiotic that I decided to restore the good ole Douthat-bashing times and use this hapless journalist’s column for my translation series. In the series, I explain what people are really saying with their dishonest articles and blog posts.

Here is how Douthat begins his piece titled “Bloomberg, LaPierre and the Void”:

FOR a week after the Newtown shooting, the conversation was dominated by the self-righteous certainties of the American center-left.

Translation: “I’m a completely cynical individual who believes that everybody is motivated to live, breathe, write, speak, and emote by the desire of money and fame. I’m too intellectually limited to realize that this is nothing but my projection of my own driving forces. This is why I believe it’s appropriate to address a tragedy with whining about getting less chances to be in the spotlight that others. The only person who should be spouting self-righteous certainties is me. Me, me, me.”

In print and on the airwaves, the chorus was nearly universal: the only possible response to Adam Lanza’s rampage was an immediate crusade for gun control, the necessary firearm restrictions were all self-evident, and anyone who doubted their efficacy had the blood of children on his hands.

Translation: “I’m so used to yelling “baby murderers!” every five seconds as part of my anti-choice crusade that I have convinced myself that everybody else uses the death of children as a rhetorical device as easily as I do. For immoral people like myself, the only possibility of being at peace with ourselves is by believing that everybody is as rotten as we are.”

The leading gun control chorister was Michael Bloomberg, and this was fitting, because on a range of issues New York’s mayor has become the de facto spokesman for the self-consciously centrist liberalism of the Acela Corridor elite.

Translation: “All of my fake concern about fetuses, however, only serves to mask my profound indifference towards children. Of course, sometimes the mask slips off, and everybody gets to see that airing some minor grievances against somebody who has nothing whatsoever to do with the tragedy I claim to be addressing is a lot more important to me than discussing the dead children. Remember, I’m a proud anti-choice woman-hater. This means that I’m congenitally incapable of caring two straws about children.”

The entire Obama era has been shaped by this conflict, and not for the good. On issue after issue, debate after debate, there is a near-unified establishment view of what the government should do, and then a furious right-wing reaction to this consensus that offers no real policy alternative at all.

Translation: “Finally, I can drop the pretense of talking about these boring dead kids and discuss what really bothers me. Namely, how come the wonderful me-me-me has ended up wrong on absolutely everything I ever predicted in my columns for years and have become a laughing stock with my moanings about the “libertine Sex and the City,” my gushings over the huge social value of tabloid journalism, and insistence that community service is a great substitute for sex. Since I’m too infantile to take responsibility for anything, I make a solemn oath to blame Obama for everything that upsets me in life for as long as I shall live, amen.”

What’s missing, meanwhile, are real alternatives — not only conservative, but left-wing as well. On national security, the left has essentially disappeared, sitting on its hands while President Obama embraces powers every bit as imperial as those his predecessor claimed.

Translation: “In the aftermath of the last presidential election, it has become painfully obvious that my political party is in a deep crisis. As a profoundly dishonest and immature person, however, I cannot recognize this. Instead, I choose to pretend that the winners are suffering from the same kind of crisis. This will allow me and my peers to avoid taking stock of our mistakes and changing our agenda in order to make our party more relevant.”

Let There Be Light!

I just found this great collection of photos showing how the world’s major cities would look without human-made lights.

Seeing it made me value human civilization even more.

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