The Atlantic has a profile of Tristan Harris, a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is doing something very different than others of his ilk: he's advocating to make software less addictive, not more. Harris, who is a product of Stanford and Apple, founded Time Well Spent, an advocacy group that encourages companies to design software that ensures our "time is well spent, instead of demanding more of it." Read an excerpt from the profile below, or the full text here.
Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience. As the co‑founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group, he is trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices.
While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” “You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.
Under the auspices of Time Well Spent, Harris is leading a movement to change the fundamentals of software design. He is rallying product designers to adopt a “Hippocratic oath” for software that, he explains, would check the practice of “exposing people’s psychological vulnerabilities” and restore “agency” to users. “There needs to be new ratings, new criteria, new design standards, new certification standards,” he says. “There is a way to design based not on addiction.”
Image of Tristan Harris via The Atlantic.
Marwa Arsanios is an artist living in Beirut. She is one of the co-founders of 98weeks research project and a part-time teacher. Here she speaks with e-flux's Anton Vidokle about the relationship between art coopting politics, and vice versa. The second part of this interview will be published later in September.
Anton Vidokle: Dear Marwa, hi, how are you doing? I wanted to see if you would like to do an interview with me for e-flux conversations. There is no specific deadline or topic, and we can start immediately.
Marwa Arsanios: Hi dear, would love that. What would be the focus?
AV: Let’s talk about art?
MA: Well, art seems to be a subject I want to avoid, or at least I want to avoid labeling a conversation as “art.” I don't really know why. Maybe I have an idea that whenever something is labeled as art it looses its dynamic and the political dimension that motivated it. From where did I inherit this idea? Or maybe if something is labeled as art it is up for sale and we would be calling for the markets' attention. In this sense, avoiding the label of “art” has been a tool of resistance? I don't know how efficient that is. Or maybe lately I have been disappointed by a certain art conversation that has become more and more corporate and professionalized (at least that's what I have been hearing), which is also not very emancipatory. I found other conversation topics much more motivating—from politics to garbage to sex What has made this conversation so dull lately? I think I can talk better about works, specific works, or artists. Maybe that's it.
I think there’s been a shift in the scene here in Beirut that is not very convincing. The conversation has shifted from being about culture and politics to becoming more and more about art—and that does not mean art history—but more pertaining to stuff, things. I am still thinking what do to with that. What are the structures, motivations and economies behind this shift?
AV: A friend sent me some pictures this morning: paintings by an Austrian artist I have never heard of, a certain Manfred “Odin” Wiesinger who is apparently the favorite artist of Norbert Hofer, the right-wing favorite in the Austrian presidential election. The paintings are neo-Nazi kitsch with thinly veiled symbols, for example a prewar map of Germany in one background. Of course the mythical Arian name Odin is also a cryptic nod to fascist circles in Europe.
As paintings they seem pretty lame: the guy just isn’t very good technically and doesn’t have much pictorial imagination. But it’s interesting that an artist, in our time, would essentially style himself after Hitler, who also started as a painter.
A couple of years ago I watched a documentary film by a British filmmaker who was making an argument that the center of the Nazi project for Germany was largely an artistic, aesthetic project of shaping what they thought would be a more beautiful Germany: free of undesirable foreigners, communists, homosexuals, the infirm, elderly, etc. On the other side of the ideological spectrum, Boris Groys writes about the Soviet Union during the Stalin era as a total work of art: one very much in keeping with certain desires of the avant-garde.
It seems to me that art is deeply intertwined with major political forces, so much so that it’s almost frightening because of certain disastrous situations, like the ones above. So I wonder: Why do we feel that the act of naming something art deprives it of a political dynamic?
MA: The totally kitsch reproduction of Nazi aesthetics is interesting and it’s unsurprising that Wiesinger would be Hofer’s favorite artist. There’s a revival of right-wing and fascist aesthetics that is being foregrounded with the right wing currently gaining political power in Europe.
So we know what ideological structures we are dealing with. Maybe this clear entanglement of art into political projects is less scary or less provocative than... I want to say contemporary art structures, but it is not really contemporary art per se. It is something else.
AV: So I wonder why do we feel that the act of naming something art deprives it of a political dynamic?
MA: We can do something that does not necessarily look like art and insist on calling it art, and this is an interesting gesture per se. But, whenever we do something that looks like art and say “this is art” it loses its political dynamic. This might be an old problem and we might as well say “who cares if this is art or not.” But then again, we fall into the problem of nihilism that contemporary from which art often suffers.
Sometimes calling something art becomes totally apolitical and assimilated, and other times it is a very political gesture and brings a new political dynamic to the foreground. But this seems to happen more on the level of micro-politics.
So, to which politics are we referring? Because maybe what I am talking about is the politics of art that are inseparable from art market politics. This is not to say that there’s no agency within this at all, but rather that this agency is contingent to those politics.
AV: I’m not sure that we really know the ideological structures we are dealing with today—it seems to me they are mutating and changing. I think most of us still think that the ultimate evil is the market, neoliberalism, the establishment, co-optation, etc. Meanwhile we have these extremist people appearing, such as this Nazi painter in Austria or the people making videos for Daesh. I do think they are making a kind of contemporary art, be it kitsch or propaganda, and they do not plan to sell it at art fairs or show it in museums or biennials. It seems to me that they see art as a weapon that can and sometimes does actually kill. On the other hand more and more people have been getting killed, jailed or physically punished for making a certain type of art recently. Like cartoons for example, or poetry, or performances. So I am not sure why we see art as this sort of “who cares” type of field, so entrapped by its internal politics, that it has to struggle just to maintain some fraction of agency. It seems that the edges of this field, our field, are in fact an active battle zone, not a metaphoric one but an actual battle with casualties and mortality.
Not so long ago a lot of people were thinking that history has ended—history in the sense of ideological class struggle, geopolitical conflicts and so forth. After the end of history we were supposed to be primarily engaged with the arts, because politics would have similarly come to an end. I was flying Austrian a few years ago and thought about this while looking through the airline's in-flight magazine: 99% of the content was about art, design, architecture, dance, theater, cinema, music and fine food. It was as though nobody really works in this country, there are no more struggles, and everyone basically just enjoys aesthetics, culture and the art of cooking, like some extremely posh version of communism: basically the totality of life became art.
But we’re not there anymore and history is back, and it’s not impossible that the next time I fly Austrian that its magazine will contain images of neo-Nazi art.
MA: I recently visited Istanbul for an opening and left a day before the coup happened. There, I met an exiled Syrian writer who asked me, within a very casual conversation, “why don't you make some work about the Syrian question?” I tried to escape the conversation but he caught me again and pressed me to answer, and I started telling him that such work needs to come from an urge and personal place. But then I started telling him what kind of work I would do—very naively and sometimes ironically but it ended up being a nice conversation. I am naturally defensive to these kinds of conversations, but in this situation it seemed we were discussing a political project rather than being propagandist. The conversation wasn’t about a certain representation of the Syrian question or the refugees or... It was more like a conversation on the possibilities of politics and aesthetics outside of a merely representational sphere.
He really believed in culture as a tool. And I understand his project because it was not culture as diplomacy but it was politics. This made me leave my prejudices about the “instrumentalization of the arts” aside and stop wanting to defend the boundaries of the arts to and join him.
On the other hand, counter to Daesh’s videos, how can we start engaging in an art that is shamelessly engaged in some political project outside of the propaganda, outside of a certain diplomacy and outside of a certain usefulness, or maybe this is just impossible? And maybe the uselessness is an amazing political tool?
Ahmed Nagy, in the first chapter of his novel “The Use of Life,” describes an apocalyptic situation coming out of a series of natural disasters; the desert winds, earthquakes, etc. That would destroy the city of Cairo to the extent that the inhabitants, or those who remain, could not even imagine the possibility of rebuilding it. The scale of the destruction was massive, parts of the pyramids were destroyed to pieces, etc.
This is the opening chapter of his book before he takes us back to his day-to-day love adventures in the city for which he was jailed for supposedly “disturbing public morals.”
This first apocalyptic scene is not about a war-ravaged city but some kind of an ecological disaster. Nagy was jailed for the sexually explicit content of his book. But maybe also for daring to imagine the city of Cairo destroyed, for daring to imagine the pyramids in rubble, for daring to imagine the consequences of climate change and the desert revenging and sending its winds and earthquakes back. It was a war between urbanity, heritage, nationhood and the desert on the other side.
So yes, people can get jailed for this material. In the meantime, they are already planning and bidding to rebuild Aleppo. So maybe the plan to rebuild Beirut was already in the making in 1984... I don't know how I got here but maybe your question about the return of history triggered that.
Nagy represents forced exile with a counter political project that is trying to think about culture as politics. Nagy, who dared to imagine the pyramids destroyed is in jail. And some planners and developers are now plotting how to rebuild the historical city center of Aleppo so it looks like it was before the war but also as a luxurious place for tourists and the upper class.
*Image of Marwa Arsanios via Medrar TV
Misery loves company, apparently: 4chan owner Hiroyuki Nishimura, who acquired the site in 2015, announced that 4chan is not meeting its costs--apparently the basement dweller hotspot is not exactly prime ad real estate--and that King Troll Martin Shkreli is considering footing the bill. Shkreli, you will remember, is the pharmaceutical executive who made national headlines and gained the world's ire for price-gouging a long-generic, life-saving AIDS drug through exploiting FDA loopholes. Shkreli likes the idea that 4chan encourages the "free expression" of "anything" (namely, um, gore, and organized attempts to hack celebrity nudes from iCloud), but he doesn't like that the site is kinda really anti-semitic. He's on the fence.
While it seems unlikely that 4chan will shut down completely, Nishimura would probably slow down the site's server speed or prohibit users from posting large images to save on costs. 4chan, you had it coming. Read Sara Ashley O'Brien's report for CNN Money in partial below, in full here.
Nisimura listed three options for 4chan's future: Slow the speed of the site, limit the size of pictures users can post and even close some boards entirely; add more ads; or have more people sign up for its paid feature, 4chan Pass.
Nisimura, a Japanese entrepreneur who took over the site in 2015, wrote that 4chan recently cut down on the number of ads on its site due to ad serving costs. In an email sent to CNNMoney, he said that 4chan is not for advertisers and that "attracting advertisers is not [the] first option." He said relying on ads is "risky," citing ad blockers -- where users block ads from surfacing in their browsers.
His post attracted the attention of those who've advocated against 4chan: "It's ground zero for orchestrated harassment," tweeted game developer Brianna Wu, who expanded on her thoughts in a post on Bustle.
But Wu told CNNMoney that while she doesn't expect 4chan to die, she does anticipate the site to be much "slower and require users to pay to upload large images."
While 4chan's future is far from clear, there is one person interested in ensuring the site stays around: Martin Shkreli. The former pharmaceutical exec who's facing criminal charges expressed interest in making sure the site doesn't die. Nisimura confirmed to CNNMoney that he and Shkreli are talking.
(It should be noted that Shkreli is known for stunts aimed at getting a rise out of people, like auctioning off the chance to punch him in the face.)
In a call with CNNMoney, Shkreli declined to comment on a possible 4chan deal but did talk about 4chan more broadly. He referred to himself as a "blackbelt troll," but even he has been "very distraught" by some of 4chan's content, including a gross amount of antisemitic posts. "At the same time, I respect that people have those thoughts. I think its wrong, but I can't do anything about it."
*Image of Martin Shkreli via CBS News
The question in the title of this post is posed by Mariana Mogilevich, an architectural historian who teaches at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture, in her review of four recent scholarly books on landscape architecture: Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory by Charles Waldheim; Toward an Urban Ecology by Kate Orff; Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies, edited by Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar, and Natasha Chandani; and Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics, edited by Emily Eliza Scott and Kristin Swenson. Underlying this question is the idea that landscape architecture, with its careful attention to the connections between the natural environment and the built environment, can help reshape urban landscapes in a sustainable fashion. Particularly promising, writes Mogilevich, are approaches to landscape architecture that draw inspiration from an eco-feminist perspective. Check out an excerpt of the review below:
While the previous cohort did not save us from environmental cataclysm, a newer generation of landscape architects has developed a powerful new hold on our ideas about the future of cities. Over the last 20 to 30 years, a wave of new urban landscapes from Seattle to Madrid, Shenzhen to Brooklyn, have garnered widespread attention and praise. One reason for the ascendance of landscape in our urban imagination is that new parks compare favorably against the developments in contemporary architecture. Today’s money-laundering tower, misguided museum, and unwarranted stadium mostly serve to remind us of the depressing parameters of our contemporary existence. Meanwhile, the proliferation of imitation High Lines is simply a sign of the enthusiasm—from city governments and private funders—for brownfields turned into pleasure gardens and, with any luck, into generators of economic activity.
"Landscape urbanism,” as the practice has become known, is a label attached to work like that of James Corner, the designer behind New York’s High Line and Freshkills Park. These two projects—along with earlier, theoretical proposals, as well as current work underway for the Toronto waterfront and elsewhere—share a number of characteristics that unite the new field. Sited on obsolete infrastructure such as landfills, decommissioned airfields, and postindustrial waterfronts, the designs of landscape urbanists ostensibly eschew aesthetics in favor of “program” (design-speak for what people actually do in a place). Plans for these spaces are long-term and open-ended. By highlighting the evolution of the space over time, such projects often put the designer’s authorship in question: Is the adding of new plants the work of the original landscape architect, or of the seeds the birds choose to distribute over the site? Wind, water, and ecological systems seem to take control.
An image of the proposed archipelago that would support oysters and filter-feeding shellfish, 2016. Via Public Books.
Writing for Real Life, Navneet Alang describes how daily use of Twitter over more than a decade has shaped his everyday consciousness, mode of thinking, and self-image. Not only does he ceaselessly craft and recraft an internet persona that he believes will appeal to his imagined social media audience. Every occurrence, from the the most mundane to the most extraordinary, is also becomes first and foremost as a potential tweet. As Alang writes, "The engine of my thought is always directed toward Twitter." Here's an excerpt from the piece:
The tension between the imagined audience who sees you perfectly and the one who you contort yourself to please is precisely the nature of modern control. When in response to the ubiquity of surveillance we namedrop Foucault — speaking of the way sous-veillance has chilling effects — we often forget that the French philosopher suggested that power doesn’t simply say “no” like a police officer brandishing a truncheon; it beckons us to say yes, asking us to remake ourselves in its image, happily and contentedly producing the right sort of content. To internalize the structure of a social network is a way of both connecting with other humans and becoming subservient to our imagined visions of what they want.
To use Twitter is to become its consumer but also its bureaucrat. We tweet and read, expressing and absorbing what we wish as we propagate and internalize the logic of the platform, hundreds of millions of us performing these new behaviors in lockstep, beckoning each other to join in. It is a kind of auto-colonization: adopting the notion that a public digital self is a way to temporarily exceed the body, and embracing the personal brand as a mode of existence. We perform, as we always have, but perhaps more consciously, more acutely and persistently attuned to being watched. As we offload more of our identity and day-to-day life to the platform, we bend to the imagined Other like plants craning to maximize their exposure to sunlight.
I worry that this is what Twitter has done to me — or perhaps, what I have let it do to me. I have watched my tweets change over the years: first, in response to more followers, then to the incessant awareness that I need to make a living, then to callout culture, the politics of representation, and sheer exhaustion. But a decade on, I still find myself thinking in the terms of Twitter: how each absurd, mundane happening in my life might be framed so as to be alluring to my audience, a potential employer, a date, or new friend. I still always carry my followers with me. In fact, I can’t get rid of them. They are like a ghostly companion, ever at my side. It isn’t just my tweets that have changed, but the way in which I relate to reality.
Image: Gut Check by Mike Winkelmann. Via Real Life.
Hilarie M. Sheets writes a great (though unfortunately titled) profile on Carolee Schneemann for the New York Times, and reading it I was struck that the legendary feminist performance artist's upcoming solo exhibition at Museum der Moderne in Salzburg is her first major museum retrospective ever. Sheets writes about Schneeman's influence on younger artists such as Matthew Barney, as well as her upcoming collaboration with the Artists Institute in New York. Read Sheets in partial below, in full via New York Times.
Carolee Schneemann’s influence, both acknowledged and unacknowledged, is widespread, and the artist documents this beautifully in a binder she has kept for 20 years called “Influence, Plagiarism, I Forgot.” It juxtaposes her work with images she comes across in art and pop culture, and last month it was all printed as a magazine by the Artist’s Institute in New York.
Ms. Schneemann is infamous for using her naked body to challenge boundaries in her groundbreaking interdisciplinary performances and films of the 1960s and 1970s, such as “Meat Joy” (1964).
The magazine’s side-by-side comparisons include a 1974 picture of Ms. Schneemann, drawing on surrounding walls while dangling naked in a harness, next to an image of the artist Matthew Barney suspended from ropes in his studio more than three decades later. Another pairing shows a photo of Lady Gaga wearing her meat dress next to a photo from “Meat Joy,” in which performers revel ecstatically with paint, raw chicken, fish and sausages. “Her range of visual connections is great,” said Jenny Jaskey, director of the institute, which dedicated its six-month season last year to exhibitions and events related to Ms. Schneemann. “It’s high, it’s low.”
The magazine’s publication comes on the heels of Ms. Schneemann’s first major museum retrospective, this year at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg in Austria. (The show travels to Frankfurt in 2017.) And on view in New York is a two-part exhibition of Ms. Schneemann’s lesser-known works from the 1980s to the present, at P.P.O.W. and Galerie Lelong.
After decades without much institutional support or a strong market for her work, the tide is finally turning for Ms. Schneemann, 77, at a moment of growing interest in female artists of her generation. Last year the Museum of Modern Art acquired her 1962 painted construction with moving parts, “Four Fur Cutting Boards,” an environment she then activated with her nude body in the photographs “Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for Camera” (1963). That series set an auction record for the artist of $185,000 at Christie’s last year, although her work has sold privately for up to $900,000.
“That was the first time I felt I could position my body as an extension of painting and sculpture,” Ms. Schneemann said recently of “Eye Body,” sitting in her 1750 stone house and studio near New Paltz, N.Y. “I was reacting against Pop Art, with its slick mechanistic polish of the female form, and against masculine eroticism, which I felt was prurient and suppressive to what our lived experience could bring forward.”
As an art student at Bard College in the late 1950s, she was suspended for painting herself with her legs open, while it was standard for female students to model naked for male peers. The essential question her work posed early on was, Can a naked woman be both image and image-maker?
Stuart Comer, MoMA’s chief curator of media and performance art, who steered the acquisition of “Four Fur Cutting Boards,” called the piece “a watershed moment” in Ms. Schneemann’s career and for the Happenings movement, for feminism, and for a shift in understanding the relationship of performance and painting. “To say that Carolee was a visionary is an understatement,” he said. “She is crucial to the way so many artists are working now.”
*Image of Carolee Schneemann's "Meat Joy" via columbia.edu
The Guardian (and many other outlets) reports that Paul Beatty has won the Man Booker Prize, the first American author to ever been awarded the honor. His book The Sellout has been characterized as both uproariously funny and transgressive in its portrayal of the current state of race relations in America. Read Mark Brown's report for the Guardian in partial below, in full here.
Paul Beatty has become the first American writer to win the Man Booker prize, for a caustic satire on US racial politics that judges said put him up there with Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift.
The 54-year-old Los Angeles-born writer won for The Sellout, a laugh-out-loud novel whose main character wants to assert his African American identity by, outrageously and transgressively, bringing back slavery and segregation.
Beatty has admitted readers might find it a difficult book to digest but the historian Amanda Foreman, who chaired this year’s judging panel, said that was no bad thing.
“Fiction should not be comfortable,” Foreman said. “The truth is rarely pretty and this is a book that nails the reader to the cross with cheerful abandon … that is why the novel works.
“While you’re being nailed, you’re being tickled. It is highwire act which he pulls off with tremendous verve and energy and confidence. He never once lets up or pulls his punches. This is somebody writing at the top of their game.”
Foreman called it a “novel for our times”, particularly in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The Sellout is one of those very rare books: which is able to take satire, which is a very difficult subject and not always done well, and plunges it into the heart of contemporary American society with a savage wit of the kind I haven’t seen since Swift or Twain.
*Image of Paul Beatty by Ulf Andersen / Getty via Daily Beast
David Sax writes for the New Yorker about Soylent, that adult baby formula favored by tech workers, and the company's new line of meal replacement bars and their subsequent recall. Sax writes that Soylent is an interesting product because it pushes against the way our consumer eating habits have evolved, namely away from factory farming and the industrialization of food. While Sax makes a good point, I don't think that these two poles are mutually exclusive: while one the one hand we're working more hours and the boundaries between work and play are increasingly more nebulously defined, we can either treat food as a.) something that we need to put in our bodies, ideally as efficiently as possible so as to not have to leave the office--this is where Soylent comes in handy, or b.) food and eating are an escape from work, a reward at the end of the day that we can use to divide our work from our leisure time. Read Sax in partial below, in full via the New Yorker.
The problem with all this food-2.0 stuff isn’t that it sometimes tastes horrible but that it misses the mark on how our eating is evolving. The tech world approaches food from the perspective of engineering: a defined problem to be solved, with the right equations, formulas, compounds, and brainpower. Soylent was developed by its creator, Rob Rhinehart, to compress all the nutrition the human body needs to live into one single, easily digestible formula, like the twenty-first-century version of manna. But that is fundamentally the opposite of the way we increasingly want to eat in America and in much of the developed world.
When you look at the recent arc of food culture, the most significant food movement is the purposeful pushback against the postwar industrial food system, a system that was the food futurism of its day. This industry brought us preservatives, Wonder Bread, Tang, and microwavable frozen TV dinners. It lowered the price of food tremendously and increased convenience in innumerable ways, but it also made us fatter and sicker, and robbed our meals of their original flavors,replacing them with addictive but unhealthy substances. As Michael Moss has written, food scientists, particularly in the realm of snack foods, figured out how to combine salt, sugar, and fat in a way to provide “maximum bliss.” In his recent book “The Dorito Effect,” the journalist Mark Schatzker details the persistent effect that progress in food processing has had on our taste buds, as we amp up artificial flavors in an attempt regain the natural flavor we have stripped from our food with technology. He argues that returning food to the most basic, unaltered form is the best solution not just for taste but health.
Starting in the nineteen-seventies, the American food movement that began in the San Francisco Bay area and its international equivalents, such as Italy’s slow-food movement, saw the harm that this technologically centered food system did to taste, culture, health, and the environment. Instead, they proposed alternatives that were seen as archaic at the time, but which we increasingly accept as commonplace: organic produce and livestock, locally sourced products, and traditionally made food from whole ingredients.
*Image of Soylent via Wikipedia
This report about university executive pay by Jon Wiener for The Nation is from 2014 but relevant as ever: he states clearly that student debt is worst at schools with the highest-paid presidents. This isn't necessarily a causative correlation, i.e. students aren't necessarily only paying for the executive's salary, but rather high executive pay is indicative of a university's tendency to overpay and over-hire administrators as a means of executive self-preservation. Read Wiener in partial below, in full via The Nation.
The “most unequal” public university in America, according to the report, is Ohio State. Between 2010 and 2012 it paid its president, Gordon Gee, a total of almost $6 million, while raising tuition and fees so much that student debt grew 23 percent faster than the national average.
The only people on campus worse off than students with loans are the part-time faculty members—and they too were worst off at schools with the highest paid presidents. OSU, while paying its president $5.9 million, focused its faculty hiring on low wage part-timers, hiring 498 contingent and part-time but only forty-five permanent faculty members.
At the same time that the regular faculty has been shrinking, the number of administrators has been growing. During the period when OSU hired forty-five permanent faculty members, it hired 670 new administrators. A similar pattern is found throughout American universities.
The Institute for Policy Studies report, “The One Percent at State U: How University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor,” examined the relationship between executive pay, student debt and low-wage faculty labor at the twenty-five top-paying public universities. Co-authors Andrew Erwin and Marjorie Wood reported that money spent on administration at the highest-paying universities outpaced spending on scholarships by more than two to one.
“The high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending,” Ms. Wood told The New York Times. “But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.”
Why is this happening? “The motor force behind these trends is the hiring of ‘professional administrators’ whose primary commitment is to their own careers and advancement,” says William R. Schonfeld, former dean of social sciences and emeritus professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine (where I teach history). “They take jobs as stepping stones to other positions higher on the ladder.”
“To protect themselves,” Schonfeld says, “they grow the bureaucracy. They are committed to goals which can be relatively quickly achieved—more funds raised this year from the immediate business community, as compared to building a strong foundation for long-term giving by alumni; new schools and academic units, as compared to the tedious and slow process of building true distinction.”
The focus on quick results—not so different from corporations’ focus on quarterly profits—is responsible for the increase in both the number of administrators and their growing salaries. At Ohio State, “We’ve been hiring financial VPs from Wall Street and HR heads from private corporations,” says OSU’s Harvey Graff, professor of english and history and Ohio eminent scholar in literacy studies.
*Image of Ohio State University via gradschoolhub.com
Village Voice film critic Melissa Anderson heaps glowing praise on the new film Moonlight by US director Barry Jenkins. The film follows a young gay African American man through three stages of his life: the age of nine, the age of sixteen, and the age of twenty-six. As Anderson writes, the film's frank, tender portrayals of black male desire are rendered all the more poignant by the current political context of unspeakable violence visited on black bodies in the US. Here's an excerpt from the review:
A betrayal in the second section leads to more than one reconciliation in the third and to an even swoonier kind of romance. In his mid-twenties and now living in Atlanta, Black, the sobriquet bestowed on Chiron by Kevin in high school, has entered his onetime mentor's profession and has built up a carapace of muscle. A phone call from Kevin (played as an adult by André Holland), the first time Black has heard from him in a decade, prompts a drive back to Florida and a reunion that — filled with so much pain, regret, omission, tenderness, and love — is almost too much to bear. Here, again, the film calls attention subtly yet sharply, in a few lines of dialogue, to appalling realities of warehoused black male bodies, of the prison-industrial complex. "I got sent up for some stupid shit," Kevin, grinning, tells his old friend as they're catching up in the diner where he now does double-duty as a waiter and cook. "Same stupid shit they always put us away for."
After the restaurant clears out, Kevin plays a song on the jukebox for Black — I won't name the title for fear of ruining the surprise; the track, like all the others heard in Moonlight, beautifully distills a mood. The lyrics serve as an apology and maybe even a seduction. Both times that I've watched Moonlight, I've been reminded of a work that precedes it by almost thirty years and that was made in an entirely different idiom: Marlon Riggs's Tongues Untied (1989), a personal video essay full of spoken-word poetry and monologues about desire, shame, and racism that declares "black men loving black men is the revolutionary act." In Jenkins's film, that love — whether carnal, paternal, or something else — has many permutations. It also need not extend to another person. "I'm me, man," Black replies when Kevin asks him that key question mentioned above, a declaration of ever-endangered pride and self-worth.
Still from Moonlight via the Village Voice.
At the website of the New Republic, Jacob Silverman details the surprisingly simple technology behind the DDoS attack that caused a massive internet outage last Friday, affecting major websites like Twitter, Netflix, Airbnb, and Reddit. Hackers used an open-source virus called Mirai to commandeer poorly secured "Internet of Things" devices like web-enabled thermostats and home surveillance systems to overwhelm and paralyze a key piece of internet. Silverman writes that this attack is a watershed moment for internet security (or lack thereof), as it reveals how vulnerable the emerging Internet of Things is making the web as a whole and the people who use it. Here's an excerpt:
Mirai isn’t the first malware of its kind—some cyber-criminals offer rentable botnets and other forms of “DDoS-as-a-service”—but it’s become the most visible example of the growing insecurity of the Internet of Things (often referred to by its acronym IoT). Once hailed as the next frontier in technological development, the IoT was supposed to empower consumers by connecting more “smart” devices to the internet, making it so that various home appliances could talk to one another. But some commentators have long questioned both the utility and the security of IoT devices. Just because we can connect a toaster or a fridge to the internet doesn’t mean we should—a fact that becomes all too clear when shoddy security leads to your fridge being press-ganged into a million-strong botnet. (Many consumers will never even know that their devices are compromised. Earlier this year, The New York Times ran a story about the owners of a Wisconsin welding shop who were baffled to discover that Chinese hackers had commandeered their computer, using it as a command-and-control server from which to launch cyber-attacks.)
The problem lies less with consumers than with device manufacturers who have either not considered security or simply see it as an expensive inconvenience. Many IoT devices ship with widely used default passwords, with no password protection, or are easily hackable; with some, users have no ability to change the password at all. The search engine Shodan can be used to trawl the internet for unsecured connected devices, from thermostats to printers to baby monitors. Simple apps like Live Camera Viewer, made for Android, provide feeds from unsecured surveillance cameras, offering an eerie, voyeuristic look into Russian hotels, Spanish restaurants, and German streetscapes, along with the requisite feeds of animals at play in aquariums and zoo exhibits. Because manufacturers rarely, if ever, update the firmware on their IoT devices—some have no way to push out security updates en masse—vulnerable devices like these are unlikely to ever be fixed.
Image via the New Republic.
With the announcement of this year's MacArthur grant recipients came the effusive praise of one winner in particular: art historian Kellie Jones. Jones is known for spending her entire career diversifying art history as a subject, opening it up to focus on work by women and people of color. Speaking to Dayna Evans of The Cut she describes the lack of non-Western contemporary artists in early art history books, "They were Egyptians, they were Aztecs, they were Ancient Chinese people. There were no contemporary people. I thought hmm, this is not right.” Below, Jones gives some advice about working mindfully in the art world, in full via The Cut.
Take your eyes off your phone and go out to see art in person
Information can come out now much more rapidly. People can self-publish. You don’t have to wait to be backed by a big publishing house. Information has the potential to circulate quicker. You see the curatorial world really being more embracing because of this. But I would disagree about one thing, which is — for me, at least — the best way to experience art is in its presence. If you’re just consuming art in the digital form, I don’t think you’re getting the full impact of what art can be in your life. You really have to be around these things and go to galleries, go to art museums, go to parks. You can walk in New York and go down to see Martin Puryear’s “Big Bling” at Madison Square Park, which is fantastic. That’s really the way to experience art in the way artists wanted you to. Always try to be in the presence of art. You cannot just rely on it as a digital interface.
It’s easier to persevere if you enjoy the work
I never found anything so difficult that I would give up on this work. I enjoy it too much. You’ll find resistance to change everywhere and you just have to keep moving at it. People have been asking me a lot about resistance lately. I enjoyed the work so much that I kept working at it. I think a lot about the people who had come before me: If they could do something then I could, too. It’s about the work. You do the work. I would be doing this whether or not I got the award. I like to say that I’m kind of a boring person because I’ve been doing the same thing all these years, but the wonderful part is that I’m still very excited about it. I’m still very excited about the things I can say about history. The things I can say about artists now, how I can connect those histories. As long are you’re excited, there’s no problem.
Take the long view
In the ’60s, African-American artists, and other artists generally, were protesting at these museums to make them more open to the general public, which is why we have late nights now, it’s why we have free nights now. It’s because people protested. African American artists were protesting to be in these collections because they were taxpayers, too, because our artists were not represented. It took a while for us to get there, 40 years, but I think the change that people really wanted in those days, in the ’60s, has really come to bear now. It just shows you that you have to have the long view of history sometimes.
If you look at the history of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, that’s been in process for 100 years. People never gave up. It started out as veterans of the Civil War who were saying, “We want a monument, too,” and it turned into a quest for a museum. Twenty years ago, Congressman John Lewis raised this and he never gave up. And now that museum is standing.
*Image of Kellie Jones via LA Times
If you've spent much time on Twitter, you've probably stumbled upon the account Cursed Images. The feed simply consists of tweet after tweet of creepy images with no context but a seemingly random number. For example, cursed image 6172 depicts a limousine caught apparently attempting to traverse a muddy ravine; cursed image 2001 is a flash photograph of a strangely decorated home's stairwell lined with menacing-looking Furbys' cursed image 40523 catches a horse eating out of a dumpster; cursed image 32314 (above) finds a man huddled in the corner of a bathroom overflowing with white bread. The New Yorker doesn't reveal the identity of whoever runs the Cursed Images account, opting for absolutely no context, (they even refuse to speak to the writer, Jia Tolentino, on the phone), but they speak with her via email and reveal some interesting thoughts behind the account. Read in partial below, in full via the New Yorker.
The Cursed Images account, which has rapidly amassed more than eighty thousand followers, is anonymous; the bio simply reads, “all these images are cursed.” It’s become one of my favorite things on Twitter, a social network that tends toward cacophony. Within an avalanche of news and unprompted disclosure, accounts that offer untethered and untimely dispatches from nowhere can work like a reset button, a split-second rem cycle. My favorites—like Samoyed Bot (dogs), Magic Realism Bot (Borgesian assemblages), Cartoon GIFs (snippets of traditional animation), and R.L. Ripples, a.k.a. @TweetsofOld (early newspaper clippings)—are consistent, single-serving, non-sequitur interludes. Never urgent and devoid of persona, they provide a break for the brain.
But what I find soothing about Cursed Images is also what makes the account creepy: the images grab your attention and leave it blank for solid stretches of time. Among the most recent images are a man in a suit walking down a green path into the darkness, lit by a spotty flash (568); a person in a homemade-looking cat costume pushing another homemade cat in a wheelchair (27443); a series of dolls and shoes nailed to a tree trunk (372); and a crowd of people on aquamarine bleacher seating, crammed perfectly above a diagonal line of shade (340). They are little snapshots of a world arranged by a spooked, mischievous, possibly malevolent presence—although the specifics of that presence still escape me, as the Cursed Images administrator declined my phone call, wishing to remain indistinct.
So we e-mailed. I asked if the administrator had always had a freaky imagination. “To this day, I waste a ridiculous amount of time watching videos of dolls supposedly caught moving on camera,” the administrator replied. “My family travelled a lot when I was a kid, and, wherever we went, I would read about the urban legends for that area, or any interesting paranormal sightings. When I was nine, my mother and I went to the Sallie House”—a white brick residence in Kansas, notorious for stories about the ghost of a little girl—“and we met someone who was supposedly tormented by Sallie. I can’t recall if we started going to these places because I was interested in them, or if I became interested because we kept going to these places.”
Cursed Images only follows two accounts on Twitter: the official account of the child actor Frankie Muniz—that’s a joke, the administrator told me; Frankie Muniz does not run Cursed Images—and Uncursed Images, which supplies attributions for the Cursed Images photos. “Not too long ago, someone mentioned that they recognized a few images as professional photographs, and suggested I start crediting the artist,” the administrator wrote. “Usually when I find these images, they’re submissions given to me without sources, so I wasn’t sure how I’d find the photographers. Knowing the story behind these pictures kind of takes away the creepy feeling, but I’m incredibly thankful that someone is taking the time to credit artists for their . . . interesting work.”
Knowing the stories behind the cursed images does not always make them less creepy. “Cursed image 1783,” showing a woman encased in medical equipment with balloons wreathing her face, is from an Associated Press story about a woman in Memphis who died after a power failure shut off the iron lung she’d lived inside for almost sixty years. “Cursed image 1627,” showing a terrible plasticine figure in a waste-green pool, is from a Daily Beast story about a seventy-year-old man named Robert whose pastime is dressing up as a life-size doll. These images hew to the Freudian description of the uncanny: a sense that something once familiar has become terribly strange. Seeing a flock of flamingos crammed into a dirty public bathroom is uncomfortable, whether you know that the photo was taken at the Miami Zoo during Hurricane Andrew or not.
*Cursed Image via Twitter
In The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer makes the case for Donald Trump as the first demagogue of the Anthropocene. What does he mean by this? He means that the conditions generated by climate change—increased migration, competition over dwindling natural resources, widespread immiseration, etc.—exacerbate the social tensions that demagogues like Trump seek to exploit on their road to power. And if Trump is the first demagogue of the Anthropocene, Meyer points out that he most certainly won't be the last. Read an excerpt from the piece below or the full text here.
Spend enough time with some of the worst-case climate scenarios, and you may start to assume, as I did, that a major demagogue would contest the presidency in the next century. I figured that the catastrophic consequences of planetary warming would all but ensure the necessary conditions for such a leader, and I imagined their support coming from a movement motivated by ethnonationalism, economic stagnation, and hatred of immigrants and refugees. I pictured, in other words, something not so far from Trump 2016.
I just assumed it wouldn’t pop up until 2040.
This kind of worry is speculative—very speculative—but it is not ungrounded. A large body of scholarship suggests that climate change could exert grave effects on international politics this century. Planet-wide warming will dry out regions of the world already riven with ethnic and political strife, all the while impoverishing and destabilizing the Western powers that backstop global order. A recent study even argues that climate-triggered environmental shocks will exacerbate the very divisions that authoritarians have historically sought to exploit.
So to now watch a demagogue contest the presidency, running a campaign that appeals to racism and xenophobia, has felt less like the sudden apparition of an unfathomable nightmare and more like the early realization of a seasonal forecast. You can hear the long-predicted gusts, the rain pounding on the roof and the groaning thunder. It’s all just happening four decades earlier than the weather person said.
Image via The Atlantic.
The open letter below was circulated today by an international group of artists and curators in defense of Memory Wound, a proposed memorial by artist Jonas Dahlberg to be installed on Norway’s Utøya island, where 77 people, most of them children, were massacred on July 22, 2011. The Norwegian government, in response to lawsuits brought by local residents who live near the memorial site, is considering cancelling the installation of the memorial. We republish the open letter in full, including its many signatories (the letter originally circulated over email in PDF format):
The installation of Jonas Dahlberg’s work of art, Memory Wound, on Sørbråten has caused heated debate for some time now. The memorial was scheduled to be completed in 2015, but now it is turning into a difficult legal case, jeopardising the plans to realise one of the most important public works of art in the Nordic region in our time, and a crucial manifestation against terrorism. It is hardly surprising that the design of a memorial site is accompanied by debate; this is always the case – because there are strong feelings, and the purpose is to keep the memory alive, and the memory is painful. The discussions are not a problem; they are an essential part of the process, a strategy for coping with the event.
The purpose of memorials is precisely to preserve a memory; living with it enables us to process it. All over the world, memorials have proved to have a healing effect, not just nationally but eventually in the local area. What would happen if we refrained from creating memorials because we were afraid that they might be upsetting? What kind of society would that engender?
Jonas Dahlberg’s design is one of the most powerful works of art in the Nordic countries. Memory Wound is a gash in the bedrock, a wound in nature. For walkers along the pathway it presents a serene and beautiful place for contemplation between sea and cliffs. Jonas Dahlberg forces us to look inwards, away from the island, so that we can embrace the greater sorrow within ourselves.
The work of art is already established in people’s minds all over the world. It has been published in newspapers and books and discussed in workplaces and around dinner tables. The reason for this is that it so poignantly captures the event that it was designed to remind us of, while offering a place for coping with our grief. That is exactly what art is capable of: to give us an emotional relationship to events that are so brutal that they are impossible to comprehend.
In this discussion, it is vital to remember that it is not the work of art that is brutal but the actions that it commemorates. To stop such a work of art is to reduce the magnitude of the event itself. It is to deny people access to their own feelings, to refuse to offer reflection on the value of democratic society.
We appeal to the Norwegian government to be brave and allow Memory Wound to become a dignified place of healing through processing the wounds rather than suppressing them.
Miroslaw Balka, artist Warszawa, and reponible for Estonia monument in Stockholm
Daniel Birnbaum, director Moderna Museet Stockholm
Konrad Bitterli, vice- director Kunstmuseum St.Gallen
Iwona Blazwick, director Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
Ina Blom, professor, IFIKK, Institutt for filosofi, ide- og kulturhistorie og klassiske språk Oslo Universitet
Mikkel Bogh, director Statens Museum for Kunst, Köpenhamn
Manuel Borja-Villel, director Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid
Gerard Byrne, artist Dublin Dan Cameron, curator Prospect I and II, Cuenca Biennial, New York
Lauren Cornell, curator New Museum, New York
Florence Derieux curator Centre Pompidou Foundation Paris og New York
Claire Doherty, director Situations Bristol
Olafur Eliasson, artist Berlin
David Elliott, curator, previously director Mori Art Museum Tokyo
Charles Esche, director Vanabbe Museum
Dora Garcia, artist and professor of visual arts, Kunstakademiet Oslo
Eva Gonzales Sancho, curator, previously director for FRAC Bourgogne
Leevi Haapala, director Kiasma Hesinki
Tone Hansen, director Henie Onstad Kunstsenter Oslo
Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy, curator CPPCA (Art and Ideas from Latin America), New York
Alfredo Jaar, artist New York
Hicham Khalidi, associate curator Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette, Paris
Magdalena Malm, director Statens Konstråd, Stockholm
Chus Martinez, curator Institute of Art at FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
David Neuman, director Magasin 3, Stockholm
Isabella Nilsson director Göteborgs konsthall
Lars Nittve, senior advisor M+, Hong Kong
Marit Paasche, art critic and museum curator
Ann Pasternak, director Brooklyn Museum
Laura Raikowitz, director Queens Museum
Mats Stjernstedt, artistic director Hus, Oslo
Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founding partner Snöhetta, Oslo
Nato Thompson, chief curator Creative Time New York
Sabrina van der Ley, head of contemporary art department, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design Oslo
Philippe Vergne, director MOCA, The museum of contemporary art Los Angeles
Image: Mock-up of Jonas Dahlberg's Memory Wound memorial.
In the LA Review of Books, Hugh Ryan reviews the new book by Michelle Tea, best known for her fictionalized queer punk chronicle of pre-gentrification San Francisco, Valencia (2000). As Ryan writes, in Black Wave Tea explores the sometimes humorous and sometimes agonizing effort of a protagonist named "Michelle Tea" to find some measure of stability after a youth spent drinking heavily, partying hard, and experimenting sexually. This storyline is weaved into a dystopian plot that explores what people will do when they know the world is about to end. Here's an excerpt of Ryan's review:
Questions of adulthood — what it means, when we enter it, what adults do and don’t do — permeate the book, as when Tea writes:
It is so hard for a queer person to become an adult. Deprived of the markers of life’s passage, they lolled about in a neverland dreamworld. They didn’t get married. They didn’t have children. They didn’t buy homes or have job-jobs. The best that could be aimed for was an academic placement and a lover who eventually tired of pansexual sport-fucking and settled down with you to raise a rescue animal in a rent-controlled apartment.
Obviously, this is hyperbolic and true only for a very specific valence of “queer,” a segment of the population that grows smaller as those “markers of life’s passage” become more open to gay people — not because we’re all about to toss away the alternative lives we’ve constructed, but because for the next generation of queers, the rights we’ve fought for (marriage, childrearing, etc.) will eventually be understood as obligatory (as they are for young straight people now). In this sense, Black Wave is a eulogy not just for Tea’s life in the 1990s, but also for her entire community in those years.
Her jaundiced view of this community is in contrast to her earlier work, which celebrated her nonconformist compatriots and their antiestablishment stances. In Black Wave, her relationship to her fellow riot queers is deeply conflicted, as in this description of one of the women she’s (sort of) dating at the start of the book:
Penny was indeed amazing, but Michelle worried there was a time limit on that sort of amazing. That it was the sort of amazing that could begin to look sad with age. Michelle fought against this analysis, which seemed cruel and typical. The messed-up queers Michelle ran with tempted fate daily, were creating a new way to live, new templates for everything — life, death, beauty, aging, art. Penny would never be pathetic, she would always be daring and deep, her addiction a middle finger held up to proper society. Right? Right?
Image of Michelle Tea via clintcatalyst.com.
Der Spiegel has an extensive and detailed analysis of the complex geopolitics at stake in the conflict in Syria. Ostensibly a conflict between the Assad regime and rebel forces, the war also involves ISIS and several Middle Eastern governments—participating both openly and covertly—and is a proxy for the boiling tensions between the US and Russia. Der Spiegel suggests that it's not outside the realm of possibility for the Syrian conflict to escalate into a world war in the future. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
Even if the Syrians are the ones being forced to suffer, for many of those involved, the conflict is no longer about Aleppo or even Syria. Of this, the Babylonian mixture of languages spoken on the frontlines and in the air above is just one of many indications. "I have the feeling that we have become laboratory rats for Russian, Iranian and Syrian weapons -- and for the West's political experiments," says Sharif Mohammed, a civilian who is holding out in eastern Aleppo.
In its sixth year, the conflagration has become a kind of world war in three respects. Firstly, for the last four years, large numbers of foreigners have been flowing into the country to join the fight. More than 20,000 radical Sunnis have joined Islamic State (IS) and about three times that many Shiites from a half-dozen countries are thought to be fighting on behalf of the Assad regime.
Secondly, the conflict has destabilized the entire region, a development that has helped Islamic State expand its influence in addition to heating up the civil war between the Kurdish PKK and the Turkish government.
Thirdly, Syria has become a proxy war between the US and Russia. At stake is the role America wants to play in the world -- and the role that Russia can play in the world.
Image via Der Spiegel
Writing for The Nation, Michelle Chen reports on the October 10 protest action at American Museum of Natural History organized by the collective Decolonize This Place. Timed to coincide with Columbus Day in the US, the action took the form of an guerrilla education tour through the museum to highlight the colonialist origins of much of the material on display. Here's an excerpt from Chen's report:
At the Hall of Asian Mammals, standing amid a macabre menagerie of decorated carcasses, Tongan artist Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu proclaimed, “Shot down, stuffed, and hauled to the museum for display, these species made their way here through the circuits of empire.” Rooted in colonial plunder, she explained, the project that began with the embalmed animals continues today with the ongoing expropriation of native land throughout the world for “conservation,” with wildlife preserves that have been “depopulated for the use of tourists, just as the tradition of indigenous resistance continues.”
The tour proceeded to examine the antiquated orientalism of the “Hall of Islam,” which depicted the Muslim world as a primitive anti-modern cultural sphere; exposed the eugenicist ideology underpinning the “Man’s Rise to Civilization” exhibit, which placed Western modernity and technology at the pinnacle of social development; and dissected the “Hall of African Peoples,” in which black bodies are displayed as specimens and “the vast multiplicity of African social and cultural life is thinned out and labeled like flora and fauna.”
The collective behind the alternative tour, Decolonize This Place, grew out of the academic and artistic collaborations that began percolating during Occupy Wall Street five years ago. Their museum takeover was a symbolic protest against the gentrification and displacement unfolding just outside the marble walls, in poor communities of color of the surrounding city that are excluded from such elite cultural spheres.
The action was incubated in Artists Space in Soho, a freewheeling downtown studio that cultivates innovative contemporary art projects. During their three-month “takeover” at Artists Space, Decolonize is hosting meetings, performances and film screenings, along with art builds, in which activists gather to create protest signs, paint banners, and construct other DIY productions focused on gentrification, global labor activism, Palestinian resistance, and movements for indigenous rights around the world.
Image: Decolonize This Place's protest outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on October 10, 2016. Via The Nation.
In the Boston Review, prominent scholar of international affairs Alex de Waal pronounces the end of the era of interventionism. His basis for this claim is two British government reports on the military interventions in Iraq and Libya. The reports render harsh judgement on these campaigns, citing inadequate planning and a lack of clarity about their actual goals. De Waal suggests that the inherent folly of military intervention is that governments erroneously believe that it is not really war. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
The era of the West’s enthusiasm for military intervention is over. Two reports on Iraq and Libya—written from the heart of the British establishment and published recently—have delivered its obituary. Each is damning; together, they dismember the case for intervention in both its neocon and liberal-hawk variants. Although their focus is almost exclusively on decision-making within Whitehall—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Ministry of Defence, and, above all, No. 10 Downing Street—Americans will recognize many of the same ills afflicting their own government...
Herein lies the crux of the problem. The central failing of military intervention is not coordination, secretiveness, or dishonesty, though these certainly exist. At its core, the problem is the iron law of organized violence: intervention is war, and war commands those who choose to fight, however much they may believe they are its masters. This became evident in both Iraq and Libya in the failure to call a halt to military action when the original objectives had been achieved, the dismissal and denigration of options for negotiation, and the way in which militarism quashed any emancipatory aspirations that may have existed. In each instance, those who believed in quick, clean applications of force were deluded.
This was compounded by a catastrophic limitation of intellect and imagination. Senior politicians and security officials didn’t know much about the countries in which they wanted to intervene. But, rather than conceding this from the outset, they set a policy course based on faulty precepts, biases, and groundless assumptions. And once set on a trajectory of escalation, political leaders would not be deflected—neither by evidence of failure nor, ironically, of success. Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly described this syndrome as “from Troy to Vietnam.”
Image via Boston Review.
Peter Fleming has written an interesting opinion piece for the Guardian: he argues that self-help gurus have given the overworked unrealistic and innocuous advice, advocating that workers "set boundaries" or find a new job. Fleming writes that such advice is difficult or impossible to apply in today's hyper-competitive workforce, and that workers should rather focus on organizing and creating unions. Read Fleming in partial below, in full via the Guardian.
People encouraged to look as if they are always doing something ironically become less productive. Recent research has convincingly demonstrated that rest and shorter work-days can allow us to work much faster and smarter compared with the excruciating and ultimately needless marathons that are currently the norm.
What’s more, some employees invariably begin to fake these long hours given how difficult it is to pull off in reality. A study of management consultants in the US discovered that some workers devised ingenious ways to give the impression that they were following the 80-hour rule.
Sure, this corporate camouflage allowed the consultants to pick up their kids from football and eat a meal. But maybe it also helped get the work done successfully and on time. Here we see productivity (performing a task well) and the culture of work (staying in the office till late) strangely diverge.
Most employers realise that something is amiss, but the ideology of work seems stronger now than ever. Some people have even convinced themselves that they love being wedded to their job 24/7, what researchers label “enthusiastic workaholics”. They’re the most difficult self-harmers to reason with. They can’t even think about a vacation without having a panic attack.
The trouble with much work-life balance advice is that it’s been captured by the self-help movement. It all centres on the individual. If you want to rekindle your wellbeing and discover your inner potential, then take control of your choices, find a job that better fits your temperament, erect firm boundaries between work and leisure and learn to say no.
This gives an unrealistic picture of what is possible in most jobs, and would probably end with an untimely trip to the Jobcentre if taken seriously. In other words, work-life balance gurus assume that everyone is a middle-aged creative type, living in London with family money to fall back on, and firmly within their rights to tell the boss to bother off. Yeah, right.
The trick is to see the ritual of overwork as a societal pressure, not an individual fault. And much of this pressure stems from the disempowerment of the workforce that has occurred over the last 20 years. Insecurity – real or imagined – naturally makes it more likely that people will sacrifice everything for their job. That’s why confronting work-mania as an individual is pointless. We need to come together as a group to voice these concerns if progressive policy and legislation are to be forged. Otherwise little will change.
Want a heathier work-life balance? Join a union. Or better still, create your own. But steer clear of that self-help section at the airport bookshop. It pretends the ideology of work might still be tamed by individual willpower. But it can’t.
Sonnet Stanfill, a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, has written an op-ed for the New York Times about some major art museum directorship vacancies that she hopes may go to women. She points out the V&A, where she works, as well as Nicholas Serota's Tate position, which are vacant. Also vacant but smaller beans is Stephan Kalmar's executive director and chief curator position at Artists Space. Read Stanfill in partial below, in full via New York Times.
LONDON — The directors of two of the world’s most popular art museums recently announced their resignations. Martin Roth, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, will step down this year, and Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate museums, both in Britain, will depart next year. These job vacancies, which search committees are now working to fill, offer an opportunity to correct the gender imbalance in art museum leadership in Britain, America and beyond.
In 2015, the world’s top 12 art museums as based on attendance — what I call the “directors’ dozen” — were all led by men. When Frances Morris became the director of the Tate Modern in April, she became the first woman to join the club. This gender gap extends from Europe to North America, where only five of the 33 directors of the most prominent museums (those with operating budgets of more than $20 million) are women, including Kaywin Feldman of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Nathalie Bondil of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It’s the leaders of those big-budget institutions who set the tone for all.
The top three art museums have never been run by a woman. The Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are treasure-filled, international destinations. They are also big businesses, together attracting more than 20 million people a year. A large portion of these visitors are tourists who spend money at hotels and shops along the way to contemplating the Rosetta Stone or taking selfies with the Mona Lisa. Museums directly contribute $21 billion a year to the American economy alone, and far more thanks to the indirect spending of their visitors.
Many women work as curators. In American art museums, about 70 percent of curators are women; where I work, at the Victoria and Albert, also known as the V&A, the figure is about 75 percent.
Yet women remain scarce in the directorial roles. A 2014 report released by the Association of Art Museum Directors suggested that gender might not matter in selecting the best candidates, but that museum boards and their search committees, still predominantly male, may be appointing in their own image.
The report also asked whether some women simply aren’t applying for the top jobs. As a curator at the V&A for 18 years, and not on an executive shortlist, I’ve seen firsthand that for the women who aim to balance an arts career with a life outside the institution, reluctance to throw their hats into the ring may be linked to the international travel and all-consuming nature of a directors’ dozen role. For many, the most productive work years coincide with child-rearing years.
Much is at stake, and not just for museums. Last year, 62 million people visited the world’s top dozen art museums. In Britain, there are an estimated 97,000 jobs in museums, galleries and libraries, while 400,000 people are employed in American museums. Executive recruitment at these institutions matters because the cultural sector has such influence. Museums and galleries frame the world for us: Senior managers decide what goes on the walls, and this in turn shapes what the public values and remembers. The male dominance in leadership at the directors’ dozen helps to explain why so much of what’s on display is man-made, rather than work by female artists.
*Image of Tate Modern via the Tate
At The Baffler, Laurie Penny asks why the macho Right is so afraid of feminist visions of the future, as imagined in sci-fi works by authors such as Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin. Their fear, she suggests, revolves around the image of a world with men no longer at its center. Here's an excerpt:
A great deal of post-apocalyptic fiction written by women imagines society in a way that is so radically different from the patriarchal literary imagination that it would read as science fiction even without the nuclear fallout. The alt-right cannot imagine a world in which the rights of men and those of women are not opposite and antithetical, in which gains for women must by definition entail losses for men. The alt-right could really do with reading some Octavia Butler, although I’m not sure their delicate sensibilities could cope with the alien sex scenes in Dawn.
One reason it seems easier for women, queers, and people of color to come up with nuanced and diverse futures is that, in many ways, the future is where we’ve always already lived. Women’s liberation today is an artifact of technology as well as culture: contraceptive and medical technology mean that, for the first time in the history of the species, women are able to control their reproductive destiny, to decide when and if they want children, and to take as much control of their sexual experience as society will allow. (Society has been slow to allow it: this is not the sort of progress futurists get excited about.) It has been noted that many of the soi-disant “disruptive” products being marketed as game changers by Silicon Valley startup kids are things that women thought of years ago. Food substitutes like Soylent and Huel are pushed as the future of nutrition whilst women have been consuming exactly the same stuff for years as weight-loss shakes and meal replacements. People were using metal implants to prevent pregnancy and artificial hormones to adjust their gendered appearance decades before “body hackers” started jamming magnets in their fingertips and calling themselves cyborgs.
But what precisely is it about stories by women and people of color, stories in which civilization is built and rebuilt by humans of all shapes and flavor working together, that throws water on the exposed wires of masculine pride? It’s all about how humans cope when their core beliefs are threatened. As Frantz Fanon wrote, “When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” Core beliefs are the ur-myths essential to the way we understand our lives, our identities, our place in the world. For example: “It is right and natural for men to hold most of the offices of power in society.” For example: “Male violence plays a vital role in society, and you can adapt to it, but you can’t resist it.” For example: “Feminism has gone too far.”
For all the alt-right’s vaulted claims to base their reasoning on scientific opinion—most of it hand-wavy, cod-evolutionary psychology filtered through the unreality engine of mass media headline wrangling—they tend to react very badly when presented with evidence against their ideology. As I write, all the evidence suggests that in just under three weeks, a woman will become President of the United States, despite the best efforts of a man who is the very personification of a wilting erection in a suit, leaking drivel everywhere in his failure to grab America by the pussy. Have Trump’s armies of online followers accepted that perhaps a woman in power might not mean the end of society as they know it? Have they hell. For those to whom even the all-female Ghostbusters film was an existential threat, the concept of a female president is enough to fry vital circuits somewhere in the groaning motherboard of neoconservative culture.
Image via The Baffler.
Slovenian philosopher Mladen Dolar, co-founder of the Ljubljana school of psychoanalysis with Slavoj Žižek, Alenka Zupančič and Rastko Močnik, speaks together with Conny Habbel in June 2009 in Ljubljana. They talk about the nature of art, philosophy, and inspiration. Read in partial below, in full via wie geht kunst.
WgK: Is there an artwork that had a lasting effect on you?
Dolar: The work of Samuel Beckett – if I have to single out just one. It is both the importance it had for me and for the particular historic moment of the end of the twentieth century. I think he is the one who went the furthest in a certain way. There are various reasons for this, and one of them has to do with an enormous will to reduction. What Beckett did was to create an infinitely shrinkable world. There is never little enough. You can always take away more.
Take the The Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. In the Beginning there is some sort of plot and some sort of characters. Then in the second novel you have just Malone, who is dying alone in his room and who is inventing stories as he is waiting for death. The space has shrunk, there is no more travel. And then you have the third novel, where you don’t even have this. You don’t even have a space, you don’t even have a character, you just have a voice. A voice which just rambles on and continues, and it doesn’t matter what it says in the end. It’s just the sheer thrust of perseverance, of persistence, which carries the whole thing. So just persist. You have to go on. And you know how this ends, it ends in the most beautiful way: “I must go on, I can’t go on, I will go on“.
I think this is an incredible point, I don’t think literature has ever gone this far this radically. This is so completely reduced to a bare minimum, what Beckett has called ‘the unnullable least’. And extremely powerful.
WgK: So what is art actually?
Dolar: I think to make art is to make a break. And to make a cut. This would be the simplest way of answering your question.
But there are different ways of answering. One of them would go to Freud’s theory, which looks at art through the spyglass of sublimation. I think what Freud conceives as drive, ‘der Trieb’, actually has to do with the transition between something natural and a creation of a separate space, and that everything he describes as the specificity of culture actually has to do with the structure of the drive. The drive is like thwarting of a natural hang, it gets thwarted towards a different sort of end. This is like a supposed initial natural need, but which in the process of its satisfaction actually gets thwarted. It produces something else than merely the satisfaction of a natural need. If you look at the way Freud describes culture in Unbehagen in der Kultur, he defines culture with a list of features.
The first on the list would be the question of tools. We’re getting more and more tools in order to be the masters of nature, so that we can do all the magic things, we can look at far away distances through the telescope, we can see the invisible in the microscope, we can talk through distance with the telephone, we can do absolutely magical things. And Freud uses the wonderful word, he says: “Der Mensch ist ein Prothesengott“. So he’s a god with prostheses. You just need some prostheses to be a god. So you have these extensions of the body. And what actually the drive to master nature produces at the same time – something more than the simple mastering of nature – it produces prostheses, a sort of ‘in between space’, a space which elongates your body, prolongs your body into the world. The eerie space between the inner and the outer is libidinally invested. And, to cut it short, this is also the area where culture comes in.
WgK: Do you have any idea of what good art is? Which art do you regard as good?
Dolar: Well, this is not a subjective question. There is a strong tendency to reduce art to the question of taste. And the question of taste is kind of dangerous because it always goes down to the question of narcissism. There is something profoundly narcissistic in the judgement of preference. ‘I prefer this, I am a connoisseur, I prefer the late Beethoven quartets against symphonies.’ The difference which means difference as such and which means that you are distinguished and that you can distinguish yourself from the common lot of people by being the man of refined taste, to see all these differences that the others don’t see.
I have this conception of art, which is that art has to do with universality and infinity. It introduces something into the continuity of being, into the continuity of our survival. A break. Which is a universal break. A break to universality. It can speak universally. What is important in art is not a question whether it is an expression of a certain individual or whether it is an expression of a certain ethnic group or nation or of a certain age.
I think that the break is such that it makes the universal out of particularities.
But the problem is how to do this with the subjective means at your disposal, within the nation to which you belong, or language, or culture, within a particular type of civilization, within this historic moment – which are all very finite and singular things. How to produce universality and infinity out of this? And this I think is the moment of art. This is not a production of spirit, this is a material production of the break. I like very much this saying, which is on t-shirts like: “Art is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it“. You have to get your hands dirty. This is a very material thing. You produce the idea with the material, with the matter. Art has always worked with the sensual. If one tries to get immediately to universality or the infinity of a beyond, an idea, the sublime or whatever – this is, I think, a big mistake. You cannot do this. You just have to produce it the hard way. But it depends on being able to produce a break.
And this sets the standard by which it can be judged. I don’t think it can be judged on the basis of taste, it’s not just a question of whether I like it or not. It has the power to produce universality. It creates a potential virtual audience which goes far beyond this audience here. And I think the awareness that it goes beyond this, beyond my particular taste and reaction, is what makes good art.
WgK: Is art a benefit for society? Why does there have to be someone who does this dirty job?
Dolar: Well, I think that in the question with which I started, the question of drawing a line, making a cut in the continuity of our animal or social being, of our finite being, that this is what defines humanity. I’m not saying that art is the only way to do this. I think thought is something which does this also, it breaks with the conditions of its own production. This is the practice of philosophy. I think philosophy, similarly, but also very differently, makes a conceptual break in the continuity of particular received ways of thinking.
We have the definition of man as homo sapiens, the thinking animal, but the trouble is that thought is very rare. It’s not that men think all the time, it happens very rarely. There are very few occasions when thought happens and when it does, it seriously changes the very parameters of the ways we conceive the world, ourselves, whatever. There’s a handful of thinkers. This is a strange thing in the history of philosophy, there’s only a handful of thinkers with which we have to deal continually. But I don’t think – this is important – that thought is some sort of prerogative of philosophy, that philosophers are very special because they have this specialisation in thought. I don’t think that at all. I think thought can happen anywhere. In silence and…
WgK: Does it also happen in art?
Dolar: Oh yes. It does most definitely. It has a different way and the question of art working with the sensual, with sensuous material means is very important, this is a materialised thought. It’s the thought which works within the matter and shapes the matter. It is attached to matter, and matter thinks in art. This is very important, the materiality of thought. I think thought actually happens in a number of areas of human endeavour. And art is one of the most reflected.
WgK: Which are the others?
Dolar: Do you know the work of Alain Badiou? He has made a list of four truth procedures, four areas where truth emerges.
These are: Science, and above all the completely constructed science like mathematics. It doesn’t refer to anything in the world, it just creates its own entities, pure entities. Then: Poetry and art as such. Then politics. Politics not of opinions but politics of truth. There’s an opposition between the two. Democracy basically is a democracy of opinions. Anybody is free to hold any kind of opinion and then you count the votes. This is not a politics of truth. There is a sort of truth at stake in politics which has to do with justice and equality, it has to do with an idea. And then there is the question of love, which is the emergence of a truth event. A subjective truth event.
Badiou lists the four areas as the areas in which this break happens. I am not sure that this list is the best, exhaustive or conclusive. Maybe this list is too neat in some way. I think things are messier in life. In many everyday situations, even trivial ones, there may be a sudden and unexpected break, people show an inventive creativity and do something very unexpected, and actually change the parameters of the situation and their own lives and the lives of others. I would leave this field open.
WgK: I just had this spontaneous thought if humour might be one of those areas too?
Dolar: Well, you have an old suggestion which goes back to Aristotle, that the man is a laughing animal. You have various proposals for the definitions of man, one is the thinking animal, another one is the tool-making animal, which goes back to Benjamin Franklin. Marx takes this up that one can define the man through the tool which conditions his capacity for work. And then you have Aristotle’s suggestion: Man is a laughing animal. The only animal that can laugh – laugh at what? To laugh, precisely, at being able to produce a certain break. The break in meaning, in the very parameters of making sense. One way of describing this could be where I started – to make a break, to make a cut – which is also to make a break in meaning in order to produce sense, if I may use this Deleuzian opposition between meaning and sense. And sense is the sort of unexpected thing which emerges. In order to produce this you have to cut down the usual expectation of meaning. The very horizon of meaning in which you move, in which you live your life. And this is the capacity of art.
As far as humour is concerned, I would just point out that there’s a question of humour and there’s a question of ‘Witz’. Freud has written a book on ‘Witz’ and a different paper on humour and he says that those things are absolutely not to be confused. Additionally there’s a question of comedy and there’s a question of irony. So we have four different things which are not the same. We may laugh as a result, but there is laughter and laughter. Laughter itself does not have to be subversive. It can also be very conservative.
WgK: Who becomes an artist? What is it that makes people become artists?
Dolar: I don’t think there’s a rule. There is the capacity, well, the break-making capacity. The way that we relate to ourselves is always conditioned by a break, there is a question of redoubling. Culture is always a question of redoubling: it redoubles the ‘normal’ life. It reflects it into something else, but redoubling is always already there.
WgK: But still there are some people who don’t become artists or intellectuals.
Dolar: No, no, of course. I think the capacity is there, and it is a capacity which defines humanity and subjectivity. And… how the hell do you become an artist? What particular things have to come together? I think what makes the greatness of art is precisely its singularity. Which means that if you could establish this rule art would stop being art.
WgK: But couldn’t it be that there is some reason why people start to make art? Robert Pfaller once suggested that artists might have some traumatic experience that they – all their lives – try to handle by making art.
Dolar: Don’t we all have to handle some sort of traumatic experience? It’s very hard to say. I mean, the question has been asked many times, so you have art schools which precisely can teach you everything except what is essential.
WgK: Yeah, but art school starts at a moment where you already decided to go to art school. Who is likely to go to art school? So there are two aspects of this question. The one is: How do you become a good artist? The other question – which actually interests me – is: Why does someone want to become an artist? No matter if good or bad, if successful or not: What makes a person take up this way?
Dolar: If you want to become an artist, what do you want to become? If I take some of the greatest musicians of all times, like Bach and Mozart or Haydn. You can see what? Who was Haydn? He was hired by the Esterhazy family as a craftsman. I mean, did he want to become an artist? I don’t think he ever thought of himself in that way actually. He was a paid craftsman. And if you look at Mozart, he was all the time trying to get hired by some court or something. If you look at Bach, he was employed by the St. Thomas church in Leipzig to produce a piece of music for mass every week.
It was not a question of genius or inspiration. You were hired. Because this was another craft and I don’t think anybody would look at themselves this way today. If you want to become an artist you don’t want to become a craftsman. You see yourself as a person with a special vocation, which goes beyond all usual vocations. This is due to the romantic model of art and then to the modernist conceptions.
WgK: Let’s stick to today’s understanding of art: Do you think artists are narcissistic?
Dolar: The question of art and narcissism… I would say that on the one hand it’s profoundly narcissistic. It’s usually linked with a project of profound narcissism of self-expression and the precious treasure I have in me and want to disclose to the world.. But I don’t think that this is what makes art. As I said before: Art is not expression. It’s not an expression of yourself. People may want to do it to express themselves, but what makes the break and what makes the universal appeal, the claim of art, is not a question of whether they express themselves well or not. It’s just not the question by which art is ever judged. So on the one hand I’m sure that the motivation for doing this is in most cases narcissistic.
WgK: Did I understand you right when you say art is not an expression – could you say art is one of the ‘Prothesen’?
Dolar: Yes. Oh yes.
WgK: I really like this picture.
Dolar: The ‘Prothesengott’? Yes. But, well, Freud uses this in the context of technology and tool-making.
WgK: I have the feeling that it’s very good, maybe not only for tools.
Dolar: Yes. It’s a good thing. It’s not just a question of tool. A tool is never a tool. It’s a libidinally invested extension of the body.
WgK: So you could also say art is a libidinal extension of yourself. Of the body.
Dolar: Well, it has something to do with the libidinal extension. The way Freud introduces the notion of prosthesis, it has more to do with technology than with art. But I think it’s nevertheless a useful metaphor also to think about art.
WgK: Could you also call it objet a? Art as an extension towards objet a?
Dolar: Well, yes. I didn’t want to use the heavily technical Lacanian language for this. I mean this could be described in another language, but what Lacan calls objet a is precisely the object of transition between the interior and exterior, which doesn’t quite fall either into interior or the external world out there; the objective world. I mean it’s neither subjective nor objective. In this sense it’s always in this zone of indeterminacy, in the zone which opens in between. And which is the zone of ‘Prothesen’ if you want, I mean, the Prothesen always fill the zone: you put something between subjects and objects. You extend your body into the world, and at the same time the world extends into you. Still, what Lacan calls the object a doesn’t coincide with any existing object, it has no substance of its own, while art produces existing objects whose task is to evoke this impossible object. To evoke the impossible.
WgK: Would you agree that artists and philosophers share similarities in the realities they live in?
Dolar: Yes. I think there’s a lot of common ground. The tools with which they work are different, but I think they work on a common ground and that they can’t be neatly delineated. One way of differentiation – which I particularly dislike – is to say that artists have the passions and the feelings and they work with this and philosophers have the reason and understanding and they work with this. I don’t think this opposition is worth anything. It never works this way. I think that any human activity has both: indiscriminately passion and reason inscribed into it.
If you look at the history of philosophy – look at Plato, look at Spinoza, look at Augustine, look at Hegel, Marx, Kant, Wittgenstein – there is always a huge passion. This is terrible passion you have in this. They are all passion-driven. To describe this as works of mere intellect is completely misguided. This is the erroneous common conception of philosophy, rationality and concepts. If it doesn’t involve passionate attachment and passionate involvement, then it’s not philosophy. There is very, very serious passion at work in this. And at the opposite end I think there is very, very precise thinking involved in art. If it’s not, it’s just not good art.
*Image of Mladen Dolar via wiegehtkunst
For the Guardian, Maev Kennedy reports that England will stop offering A-level (or advanced placement) exams in art history, effective 2018. This comes as a continued assault of the arts after major Arts Council funding cuts in recent years. It remains to be seen what the UK arts landscape will look like years into new conservative Prime Minister Theresa May's reign. Read Kennedy in partial below, in full via the Guardian.
The last exam board in England offering art history A-level will drop the subject from 2018, marking the latest in a cull of perceived “soft” subjects following the curriculum changes begun by the former education secretary Michael Gove.
The exam board, AQA, which had described history of art as a subject leading students to “an appreciation of some significant themes, from classical Greece to the end of the 20th century” confirmed that students taking AS exams in the subject next year and A-levels in 2018 will be the last of their kind.
The Association of Art Historians called the decision a significant loss of access to a range of cultures, artefacts and ideas for young people.
It added: “Being able to signpost educational opportunities such as an A-level in art history to students who may never have considered this an opportunity, forms a significant part of our campaign work with partners across west Yorkshire, Bristol, Brighton and Sussex. The loss of that A-level means that for many prospective students of the subject that door will close and future opportunities [will be] lost.”
A spokeswoman from AQA said the decision to drop the subject had been difficult. “Our number one priority is making sure every student gets the result they deserve – and the complex and specialist nature of the exams in this subject creates too many risks on that front. That’s why we’ve taken the difficult decision not to continue our work creating a new AS and A-level.
“Our decision has nothing to do with the importance of the history of art, and it won’t stop students going on to do a degree in it as we’re not aware of any universities that require an A-level in the subject.”
Only 839 students sat the A-level exam this summer, and history of art is only offered in a handful of state schools, but she insisted the low numbers [and therefore high cost to AQA of setting the exam] were not the main reason for dropping it. “But it’s true to say that the small number of students combined with the way the subject has to be assessed [ie the large number of specialist options] is what creates the ‘risks’ we refer to in our response.”
In the Irish Times, Andrew Gallix reviews Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School by Stuart Jeffries, a book that goes behind the daunting intellectual facade of figures like Adorno, Marcuse, and Benjamin to explore their personal lives. As Gallix writes, one of the most refreshing aspects of Jeffries's book is the humor he finds in the idiosyncrasies and small hypocrisies of the uber-serious Frankfurt School men. Here's an excerpt from the review:
Humour (“to get dialectical for a moment”) is one of the most unexpected facets of this book devoted to hard-core German intellectuals. Benjamin’s somewhat ludicrous resemblance to Groucho Marx or Charlie Chaplin is remarked on, and a quotation from his Neapolitan peregrinations elicits the following gloss: “It’s hard to tell in this passage whether Walter Benjamin is being given directions or being propositioned. Either way, he seems to like it.” And Herbert Marcuse’s meeting with Jean-Paul Sartre (above) at La Coupole is recounted in hilarious detail.
His “group biography” is an intellectual saga. Readers looking for upskirt pictures of Hannah Arendt will be sorely disappointed: titillation in these rarefied climes is of a purely cerebral nature. The infamous Busenaktion of 1969,when Adorno was surrounded by three female students who “bared their breasts and scattered rose and tulip petals over him”, barely raises an eyebrow. A benign, possibly enviable form of protest to be faced with, in theory, but one that proved profoundly hurtful in praxis.
Commendably, Jeffries only ever adduces private matters to highlight glaring discrepancies between rhetoric and reality. A prime example is the highly conventional lifestyle led by Marcuse, despite publishing works “indicting bourgeois repression”.
The New Left darling’s fondness for a stuffed hippo is as close as we get to tittle-tattle. Yet even this cuddly-toy fetish proves significant, highlighting how some of the last century’s finest minds were also overgrown children. Incapable of making himself a cup of coffee, Benjamin was bankrolled by his parents until “well into his thirties”. Marcuse could neither cook nor drive. Adorno is described as a “child prodigy who never grew up (because he didn’t have to)”. Few of them did, given their wealthy backgrounds and the women – conspicuous by their absence at the Institute for Social Research, to give the Frankfurt School its proper name – who waited on them at home. Practice was never the school’s forte; nor, to be fair, was it ever meant to be.
Image: Theodor Adorno in Rome.
In Public Books, Stacey Balkan reviews The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh. Ghosh is best known as a novelist, but The Great Derangement is a nonfiction book that explores the convergence of the rise of literary realism in Europe, the spread of European imperialism, and the explosion in the carbon content in our atmosphere. As Balkan writes, Ghosh draws a crucial connection between Western empire-building and climate change that most commentators on the Anthropocene have failed to note. Here's an excerpt from the review:
We cannot ignore the coincidence of European imperialism and the so-called great acceleration in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. At the same time as Britain’s premier trading company acquired an exclusive writ of free trade for the purpose of growing and selling opium, Western imperialist projects became increasingly reliant on new modes of transport and production. This includes, of course, plantation agriculture. The cultivation of cotton, for example, would far outstrip the impact of poppy production: even beyond the American South, Manchester’s Cotton Supply Association was laying the groundwork for the horrors we are now witnessing in India’s cotton belt.6 Since 1998, approximately 250,000 Indian cotton farmers have committed suicide because of debt incurred from free trade policies between the Indian government and agricultural companies like Monsanto. It is worth mentioning that sugar would also play a critical role. Sidney Mintz’s 1985 Sweetness and Power offers a remarkable glimpse into its destructive path.
Ghosh argues, therefore, that we should expand our indictment of “capitalism”—a common protagonist “on which the narrative [of the Anthropocene] turns”—to include “an aspect of the Anthropocene that is of equal importance: empire and imperialism.” Indeed, he notes, the uneven effects of climate change are the “result of systems that were set up by brute force to ensure that poor nations remained always at a disadvantage in terms of both wealth and power.”
The burden of the book’s two shorter chapters, “History” and “Politics,” is to demonstrate just this. In “History,” Ghosh offers an exhaustive portrait of the material impact of our modern worldview. With a nod to his 2000 novel The Glass Palace, he begins with a critique of the petroleum industry, citing Burma (now Myanmar) and not Titusville, Pennsylvania, as the site of its prodigious birth. He then links the above-mentioned epistemological shifts to economic models that also emerged during the colonial era and that laid the groundwork for what former World Bank president Larry Summers would call an “impeccable economic logic.” In a shockingly explicit endorsement of accumulation by dispossession, Summers actually suggested that it made perfect economic sense to sacrifice the third world for the prosperity of the first. As if responding directly to Summers, Ghosh notes quite rightly that “the patterns of life that modernity engender[ed could] only be practiced by a small minority of the population.” He then cautions: if “every family in the world” acquired “two cars, a washing machine, and a refrigerator,” we’d all be asphyxiated.
Image: A man stands by the sea during the heavy rains that flooded Mumbai, 2013. Via Public Books.
In the wake of the shocking Brexit vote, some left-wing forces across continental Europe have called for a "re-democratization" of the European Union in order to avoid a similar outcome there. But as Frédéric Lordon argues at the Verso blog, it is impossible to re-democratize the EU because it was not designed to be democratic in the first place. Instead, it was a neoliberal project designed to concentrate financial and political power in the hands of certain transnational bodies and certain strong national governments, like German. If we want greater democracy in Europe, writes Lordon, the EU must be dismantled, not repaired. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
To repeat: if the alternative is ‘either we change Europe or it will die’, then it will die. A cut-price parody of democracy is not going to keep the EU alive for very long. So the question must shift terrain: it is no longer a question of the chimera of a ‘democratic European Union’ but of the best means of putting an end to the irremediable despotism of European neoliberalism.
Given how unable it is to transform itself, the European Union can now only choose by what means it will disappear: through obstinacy and a terminal explosion, or an ordered deconstruction process. And an ordered process means a mutually agreed path, a sort of cooperative dissolution agreement, coolly-made. We might mention in passing that if there is indeed a point of convergence that increasingly does look likely to emerge, it is that of everyone understanding that they have a common interest in cutting their losses.
Moreover, such a process could take on different forms: that of a simple return to the national level, which does not at all exclude the maintenance (or even deepening) of the varying degrees of cooperation that are already in place (in industry, in science, etc.), but without any formal integration. Or perhaps that of an open proposal for the reconstruction of ‘Europe’ – and I put ‘Europe’ in quote marks because its perimeter could not of course be the same as that of the defunct EU or its Eurozone. It would instead invite the states who want to (and some do not) gather around a real principle of democratically organising the various fields of integration. (And it is, we might note in passing, probable that they could not go as far as constituting a complete political community.) It is, in any case, in this sort of sense that Lexit takes on its full meaning. Indeed, whoever takes the trouble will notice that the word Lexit is not formed on the basis of a contraction of any country name - itself attesting to its consistency with a well-understood internationalism.
Through a cruel paradox, it increasingly seems that in the name of virtue ‘another Europe is possible’ is in fact involuntarily making things worse. Not through the project of ‘another European Union’, as such, but through its on-principle refusal to imagine the slightest form of rupture. This condemns it to non-existence on a spectrum of political supply that it is already difficult to enter onto. That is especially true when the popular resentment against the EU has – quite legitimately – broken through a critical threshold. Perhaps meaning that it has passed a point of no return.
Image of Frédéric Lordon via the Verso blog.
Nikil Saval waxes lyrical about the resurgence of interest in Brutalism in T Magazine. He notes that Brutalism--those post-war bunker-like cement buildings that often house civic institutions--has found a friend in the internet, as Tumblrs and other blogs dedicated to the architectural style abound. Saval writes about the rise and fall and subsequent rise of Brutalism. Read him in partial below, in full via T.
IN THE RANK OF UNFLATTERING monikers for an artistic style, “Brutalism” has got to score near the top. Like the much kinder-sounding “Fauvism” or “Impressionism,” it was a term of abuse for the work of architects whose buildings confronted their users — brutalized them — with hulking, piled-up slabs of raw, unfinished concrete. These same architects, centered on the British couple Alison and Peter Smithson, enthusiastically took up Brutalism as the name for their movement with a kind of pride, as if to say: That’s right, we are brutal. We do want to shove your face in cement. For a world still climbing gingerly out of the ruins of World War II, in need of plain dealing and powerful messages, this brand of architectural honesty was refreshing.
Despite a decade or so of unexpected popularity, at least among architects and planners, Brutalism went out of favor by the mid-’70s. Films such as “A Clockwork Orange” turned Brutalist masterpieces into symbols of future dystopia. Planning budgets were slashed, and the Brutalists lost their backers. Over the last three decades, the style’s many scattered examples have suffered from age and neglect, their walls crumbling and leaking, threatened everywhere with demolition. Tom Menino, the late former mayor of Boston, proposed to sell its city hall, one of the most famous American examples of Brutalism; and in 2013, despite a fervent preservation campaign, Bertrand Goldberg’s eerie, cloverleaf-shaped, alien-eyed Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago succumbed to the wrecking ball.
But now, like the chevron mustache, Brutalism is undergoing something of a revival. Despite two generations of abuse (and perhaps a little because of it), an enthusiasm for Brutalist buildings beyond the febrile, narrow precincts of architecture criticism has begun to take hold. Preservationists clamor for their survival, historians laud their ethical origins and an independent public has found beauty in their rawness. For an aesthetic once praised for its “ruthless logic” and “bloody-mindedness” — in the much-quoted phrasing of critic Reyner Banham — it is a surprising turn of events.
THERE’S NO QUESTION that Brutalism looks exceedingly cool. But its deeper appeal is moral. In the words of Reyner Banham, it was an attempt to create an architectural ethic, rather than an aesthetic. When the Smithsons called their work Brutalist or part of a New Brutalism, the brutality to which they referred had less to do with materials and more to do with honesty: an uncompromising desire to tell it like it is, architecturally speaking. The Modern movement in architecture had supposedly been predicated on truthfulness in materials and forms, as well. But as a dreary stroll down Park Avenue will remind you, Modernism swiftly became a gutless orthodoxy, its high ideals devolving into the rote features of the International Style, a repetitive and predictable series of gestures (curtain walls or ribbon windows, recessed plinths, decorative piloti, windswept plazas, ornamental lawns and flat shimmering pools).
What was and still is appealing about Brutalism is that it had a kind of purity to it. For their first large project, a school in Hunstanton, and in subsequent projects, such as the Economist building in central London, the Smithsons went back to the lessons of the modern masters, to Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier: to build transparently, cleanly and truthfully. “Whatever has been said about honest use of materials,” Banham wrote in a 1955 article, “most modern buildings appear to be made of whitewash or patent glazing, even when they are made of concrete or steel.” The Smithsons’ project at Hunstanton, by contrast, “appears to be made of glass, brick, steel and concrete, and is in fact made of glass, brick, steel and concrete.”
Honesty in materials was allied to the rough, prosaic goals of social democracy. Brutalism is, as the critic Michael J. Lewis has pointed out, the vernacular expression of the welfare state. From Latin America to Europe to South Asia, Brutalism became the style for governments committed to some kind of socialism, the image of “the common good.” When the most representative building of our era is 432 Park Avenue, Rafael Viñoly’s elegant middle finger of a luxury condo tower, the tallest in the world, looming ominously over Manhattan, it is bracing to revisit a period when planners sought out the best, most avant-garde-minded architects to build libraries, city halls and public housing.
*Image of Boston City Hall by Ezra Stoller via New York Times / ESTO
I first came across the 19th Century French painter Rosa Bonheur while preparing the exhibition I co-curated at Kunstverein München together with Judith Hopf. Bonheur is reputed to be the first female artist who managed to make a living from her work, and when I looked into her backstory I became particularly interested in how she, as a woman, managed to manoeuvre through the art world of her time and find a position for herself within it. I was curious to know what drove her to overcome obstacles set by a social construction dominated by male patriarchy. What qualities did she possess that made it possible to disestablish this power at the time and to use it in her own favour?
Crucial to this reading are several biographical texts on Bonheur, published both before as well as after her death in 1899. Moreover, it appears that during her lifetime Bonheur was fully aware of the power a biography could have upon an artist’s reception and exercised fastidious care over her own memoir. As such I would like to consider how her biographical portrayal – both by others and herself – has had subsequent influence upon how she, to this day, is seen as a pioneering figure for women in art. And in this respect, it is important to consider whether Bonheur’s legacy is based on her being first a painter and then a woman, or a woman first and then a painter.
The cult of personality intensified from the mid-19th Century onwards. While glorification and praise of certain figures was at the time nothing new, the accelerated machinery of print media brought facts and information about celebrated artists, writers, and political figures to wider public attention faster than ever before. A newly acquired position as a free market agent also increased competition between artists, which forced them to work on establishing and marketing their own persona. With trends shifting from academic Classicism to reactionary Realism, the artist was then seen as a passionate individual that used their skill to express emotion. The increasingly wealthy middle class had also started to spend money on artwork for their homes, and wanted to know more about an artist’s persona. This in turn established the artist’s biography as a way to decode their art, bringing the person behind the artwork to the fore. It is here that an economy around biographical details came into existence and with artists aware of this, they often adapted to it strategically.
Bonheur’s first biography Les Contemporains: Rosa Bonheur was written by Eugène de Mirecourt and published in 1856 shortly after her work gained recognition. She was however incredibly dissatisfied with the way in which de Mirecourt depicted her life, as he failed to describe the personal relationships she felt had so much influence on her persona. She spent endless time making corrections in the margins of his text and such was her annoyance the artist became obsessed with writing an autobiography that would do her own life justice as she saw fit. However because Bonheur did not consider herself good enough a writer, she searched instead for someone who could write it for her. It seemed almost a prerequisite that someone should be willing to enter into an intimate relationship with her in order to tell the artist’s story from her own position. Toward the end of her life she met the young American art student Anna Klumpke in whom she found the intimacy and devotion she had been looking for. Klumpke became her second partner and they set out writing her autobiography together. Klumpke ultimately completed the book after Bonheur’s death, writing part of it as if written directly by Bonheur herself, hence the title Rosa Bonheur: the Artist’s (Auto)biography.
This publication is the main source of interpretation when looking back on Bonheur’s life and, importantly, her work. While its narrative is personal and therefore emotionally driven throughout, her career and close analysis of Bonheur’s paintings while alluded to, nevertheless remain a subtext. Given this, I myself do not aspire to add yet another biographical strand to the artist’s past, however feel it necessary here to address certain notable facts about her life. A realist painter of animals, or animalière, it was the artist’s painting The Horse Fair (1852) that brought her recognition. First exhibited during the Paris Salon of 1853, Bonheur’s depiction of Percheron horses inspired by Delacroix and the Parthenon frieze was noticed by Empress Eugénie de Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III. The Percheron was well known to be the French royalty’s favourite breed of horses, and one can attribute Bonheur’s painting to her support from the royals; the Empress soon brought her influential friends to Bonheur’s studio. This led to Bonheur becoming the first woman to receive the Legion d’honneur in 1865, a civilian order of merit established by Napoleon Bonaparte at the beginning of the 19th century.
Bonheur’s naturalistic painting style coincided with a time when Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet’s banal Realist depictions of the everyday and the ordinary had a coarseness that was read as ironic, and thereby politically provocative. Realism however allowed her to paint scenes to her own liking because it made way for a movement away from Classicism’s worship of the past. By making animals the central and nearly sole subject of her paintings, Bonheur adopted a visual strategy that brought her an audience of established authority; firstly the French royals, and later the new rich of the American and British middle classes. Her chosen subject matter and highly decorative compositions were skilfully executed and thus accepted as works of art. Strategically using conservative imagery also suggests a careful political position of neutrality. At the same time, one can sense from her paintings that Bonheur felt at one with the animals she portrayed. Painting animals may have been a way to remove herself from any direct association with gender roles, yet as much as she professed to identify with animals, she portrayed them almost as human with a caring, ‘maternal’ eye. For example, numerous depictions of dogs remind of human portraiture. In the painting The Lion at Home (1881) she goes to great effort to show the paternal protection of a family of lions, while in her studies of herds of sheep – seemingly without any will of their own and driven around by shepherds in the Scottish Highlands – hint at an obedient compliance inherent to moving in crowds.
Large parts of the biographies written on Bonheur are devoted to her father, Raymond Bonheur, and his devout affiliation with Saint Simonianism that was to have so much effect on her upbringing and later attitude to life. The Simonianists were a social religious group that was structured along a similar hierarchical structure as that of Christian religion. The central principles of the movement are often presented as early forerunners of Socialism, with social regeneration through the privileged classes helping the working classes being their main ideology. Importantly, the Simonianists believed in a god that was both male and female, and a large part of their campaign was fighting for the equality between men and women. This was also expressed in part in their dress, which looked like equestrian apparel and included trousers for women. Bonheur’s father taught drawing and he stimulated his daughter’s career as an artist from an early age. In Rosa Bonheur: the artist’s (Auto)biography she muses on going to school together with boys, which wasn’t standard for the time, and how she always saw herself as an equal: ‘it emancipated me before I knew what emancipation meant.’
Bonheur’s special position as an artist and public figure is well illustrated by the fact that in a time when women were not permitted to freely wear trousers, she had a permit from governmental authorities allowing her to wear them. Although there is in the biographical texts a strong focus on what is referred to as Bonheur’s ‘mannish’ appearance and behaviour – emphasising her wearing of trousers and chain smoking – I see these at attempts at underlining her strength of character or labelling sexual orientation. After all, she lived in a period before any recognised women’s movements were officially labelled as feminism, and dressing like a man must have then created instant commotion. As always, but at the time even more explicitly so, rejecting art’s hierarchical structure was problematic for women, as it could affect their status as professionals. Purposely dressing ‘like a man’, one could say that Bonheur’s ‘masculinity’ was entrepreneurial as it played into the desire for personality, complaisantly affiliating with the machismo of the business she was in in order to infiltrate the maleness of the art world and gain equal footing in it. If this was to have been effective in any way, could her attire now be seen as a deliberate strategy?
A woman wearing trousers at that time would have suggested both the absence and the presence of masculinity, blurring fixed conceptions about how bodies were classified. Bonheur spoke about this topic in restrain, emphasising that she wore trousers for practical work purposes – for example, when she studied animals in slaughterhouses – rather than to look more ‘mannish’. Wearing trousers from an early age as part of the Simonianists’ attire, she would no doubt have been all too aware of the power anatomy has to shape experience. I don’t believe though that it was her objective to be in a position of power the same way that men are. From Bonheur’s perspective, which is also in relation to her upbringing, her style of dress was not a way of demonstrating that she was emancipated, but a way of being truly emancipated. Instead of seeking conformation from existing hierarchical structures, she showed that she would do whatever she wanted. In my opinion she seems to have consciously lived a life of revolt that was intuitively inspired and seemingly aimed at pursuing her one passion – the study and painting of animals. What might appear as strategy served the purpose of creating a bubble in which to work and live freely with a female partner in a cosmos of mutual care and balanced daily activities removed from the hierarchy that rules on the outside.
Seeing that there is generally not much analytical attention paid to the content of her painting means her emotional life takes the upper hand in Bonheur’s legacy, consequently underpinning the interpretation of her artworks. At the same time however, her work and life story are naturally and completely intertwined; her personality would not be of importance to us if her paintings weren’t there to carry it. However, I would state that it is for a large part due to the existence of biographical material that we still discuss this particular female artist’s relevance now, and that this literature was something she seemed self-aware of in her own lifetime. In conceptualising the show, perhaps Bonheur was a recurring figure of reference because of the position she holds as a female artist that worked her own way towards self-sufficiency in a time when female artists were not generally accepted and art made by women was seen as a very rare phenomenon. As such, Bonheur persistently worked her way past the seemingly indestructible obstacles she came across.
This text was originally commissioned by Kunstverein München in 2014 for the yet-to-be published catalogue of the project and exhibition "Door Between Either and Or" from 2013. It has been published in Mimi Magazine (a one-off self-published magazine by Anna-Sophie Berger, Marlie Mul, Anne Speier, Philipp Timischl and Min Yoon) in May 2016.
*Image above: Rosa Bonheur, "Lion At Rest" (c.1880). Image via arthistoryarchive.com
Writing in The Intercept, Ava Kofman tells the harrowing story of Steve Talley, who was mistaken for a man who robbed multiple banks in Colorado. Law-enforcement officials used facial recognition software to identify Talley, and even though he was eventually exonerated, he spent time in jail for the crimes. The startling story demonstrates that facial recognition software is far from a reliable tool, even as more and more law-enforcement agencies rely on it. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
Scientists have only recently discovered that facial recognition ability exists along a spectrum. Just as there are people who are completely face blind, there are also individuals who wield exceptional, preternatural skill in recognizing faces. The London Metropolitan Police has administered tests to form a selective bureau of officers, the first of its kind, filled with these “super-recognizers.” Many super-recognizers display higher accuracy with images in varied conditions than even the most refined algorithms, and David White, the Australian scientist, has worked with several of them to gain insights into the nature of human recognition abilities. But it’s unclear if other departments will follow the Met’s lead in testing and trusting them.
The forensic comparison and video analysts who spoke with me emphasized the steps they took to guard against bias: limiting their knowledge of the case to only the relevant evidence at hand, securing the original format of the video, admitting when the evidence was insufficient.
“Bias can lead to error if you think you know the right answer and are supposed to know the right answer,” Jason Latham explained. He said that his clients sometimes get frustrated because he avoids hearing prejudicial information before conducting his analysis. In 2015 the National Commission on Forensic Science dictated that fingerprint analysts be provided with only the information necessary to their analysis, but such steps have only taken the form of recommendations for facial examiners. Meanwhile, the Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science started work last year to update the Facial Identification Scientific Working Group guidelines and standards. The updated documents have not yet been released.
Image: A selection of photos is mapped with grid points by facial recognition software. Via The Intercept.