2004/02/26

Classical Music - Too Old? Too Abstract?

"Mainstream classical music is in crisis. To some extent, the crisis is quantifiable. Classical recording is tanking, classical radio is shrinking, and so is media coverage of classical music. The biggest fear is that the audience will disappear, and while conservatives in the business think that won't happen—"So what if the audience is old?" they cry, "it's always been old!"—reports from the National Endowment for the Arts show that even in the past 10 years the classical music audience has gotten older. "

"View from the East: How We Can Save the World "

2004/02/24

A Whitney Biennale Gallery

Sense, coherence? Check it out in this slide show.

A Whitney Biennale Gallery

Fine Art Amid the Paper Towels

About art. In the end, in post modern societies, it's all about sales. "Costco applied the same pricing system to art that it did to other goods, marking them up no more than 14 percent above what it pays".

"In Search of Fine Art Amid the Paper Towels"

Times have changed...
Today the works of Rubensses could be found among toilet paper and other commodities! Are art works really becoming commodities? Well in post-modern societies, meaning has been transferred from reason to merchandise. So should we be surprised that art works be sold among toilet paper, toothpaste and candy? But the supreme irony here is that "The artwork is museum quality, matted and framed".

What's going on in our cosmos?

"Anne Kinney, director of NASA's Astronomy and Physics Division, cautioned that final answers on the nature of dark energy will not likely come for a very long time. Science can sometimes be much like art, she said: 'You approach, you don't arrive.' ".
Read here....

"Universe has at least 30 billion years left, scientists say"

Genes find their way from pharm crops to ordinary corn

Another interesting news confirming the validity of the conclusions of the latest Pentagon report. The "NEW SCIENTIST" just published this piece about Genetically Modified Foods:

"Crops 'widely contaminated' by genetically modified DNA"

In summary: "Crops engineered to produce industrial chemicals and drugs - so-called "pharm" crops - could already be poisoning ostensibly GM-free crops grown for food, warns the study by the Washington-based Union for Concerned Scientists"

2004/02/23

Chaos

Instructive:
Since decades scientists, artists and others speak and write about the damage done to the sustainability of human life on earth by the logic of capital. They were often labeled extremists.
Today the Pentagon confirms those fears and informs of the coming treads to the USA.
Enjoy the reading... But beware it is not rejoicing news.

"New Pentagon's report on coming chaos"

"Key findings of the Pentagon "

2004/02/13

Could China one day save the West?

Looking at how reality is dscribed from different perspectives....
Here are 2 good articles describing how Chinese view the West and particularly the US. Very interesting reading.

"Why I say China will one day save the West?"

"The evil root of all instability in the world today"

2004/02/11

The power of beauty

!!!!!!
Very similar to what I wrote already a few times about in this blog.
"We experience the power of beauty when spiritual value and outward appearance seem inseparable, capturing a sense of what it means to be human in those rare moments of deepest satisfaction".

This commentary is by Elizabeth Sourbut, in the issue of the 14th of February 04 of "New Scientist" about the following book:

"The Secret Power of Beauty: Why happiness is in the eye of the beholder"
By John Armstrong
Publisher: Allen Lane/Penguin


MOST of us would claim to recognise a beautiful person or object when we see it. But we are often unable to explain why we find the object of our gaze so appealing. John Armstrong thinks this is a shame, so in The Secret Power of Beauty he sets out to examine the power that beauty holds over us, and to consider why it's able to touch our emotions. His clear and thoughtful analysis leads the reader confidently through art history and philosophy towards a humane and convincing set of answers.

Drawing on examples from art, architecture, literature and music Armstrong traces two historical approaches. One focuses on the outer, physical appearance of the object and looks for serpentine lines, perfect proportion or the fit between form and function. The other asks what it feels like to find something beautiful and considers the response of the beholder - perhaps spiritual or moral. He argues that the power of beauty lies in a combination of these two. We experience it when spiritual value and outward appearance seem inseparable, capturing a sense of what it means to be human in those rare moments of deepest satisfaction.

An appreciation of beauty deepens our enjoyment of life, and with his elegant and accessible style Armstrong encourages readers to seek beauty in everyday life, not just in high culture. Look around you. Is any of your furniture beautiful, or the view from your window, or the heart of your Valentine?

Elizabeth Sourbut



2004/02/08

Thoughts and reality

Western thinkers from the left as well as from the right take the substance of the idees that are foundational to their discourse from the Greek philosophers. These established as their ultimate truth that there is an absolute and general root cause to everything that happens, a root cause that influences even the conception of natural movements. In this model, reality is the result of a cause.

For both the ancient Chinese and the Greek philosophers, change is thought of as the result of the princip of opposites.
But while in the Chinese tradition the opposite princips of YIN and YANG by themselves contain the full explanation for all changes, the Greeks need to add a third term to the opposites (antikeimena).
For the Chinese, reality is THE FLOW FROM YIN TO YANG and vice versa while the Greeks, thinking that opposites distroy each other, had to reject the idea of opposites transforming into their opposites. Thus they needed to come up with a substantiation of the opposites into matter (hupomenei). Hupomenei could than change (metabole). In other words they thought that matter could change into its opposite.

The flow from YIN to YANG is powered by the perpetual burst of power that is unleashed by the differential of energy residing in both of those polarities which makes that change is conceved as spontaneous emergence in autoregulation mode.
In comparison, the Greek metabole is inert so to put movement and change into motion, the Greek philosophers needed to invent an external motor and energy (to kinoun). Change is then the result of an outside cause and causality is thus established as the philosophical model.
The external motor that will cause change is god (ens realissimus) and his energy is love or the thirst for his love. This thirst, and the desire that it induces, is then what allows the Greeks to stop the search for an earlier more originel cause, the relegating process had indeed been internalized as by an act of magic.

The advent of reality for the Chinese is just a spontaneous process of emergence that auto regulates. In this view, there not only is no finality but there is also no good and no bad, reality is only what is.
In the West, reality is seen as the consequence of god's universal love that projects upon all and everything which in return causes all and everything desiring to imitate god's so perceived perfection and love. In this process of perception, of god's perfection and love, lies also the "recognition" and the justification for the authoritarian establishment of those who perceive, god's perfection and love, as the holders of the supreme good. Bad and evil, defined as not bowing to god's perfection and love, are thus becoming the ennemy. History is full of this kind of thinking that led to so many wars. By the way, please check out the words of Georges Bush after 9/11, they seem to be the perfect caricature of what I try to describe here.

From the perspective of whatever side of the cultural divide between east and west, the other's cultural build-up upon such vastly different foundations is bound to be incomprehensible and thus the difficulty of the West and the East to understand each other.

Post-modernism, I think, shall be vastly different from what Western right and left thinkers are making about it. They are privileging the Western internal tendancies to the point of blacking out all that may be going on externally. But it seems to me that what is going on outside of the West is bound to have gradually a decisive impact on the West itself. The awakening I believe shall be rude because there is no doubt that the foundations of our Western civilization are already crumbling. We are nowadays economically so totally dependant on science that the conclusions arrived at by scientists will, there should be no doubt about it, shake our certainties. Their establishing the fundamental truth contained in the foundations of the Chinese civilization is bound to lead to the most fundamental revolution in Western thought since the early days of Western civilization itself. A very readable account of what is going on in the scientific community is given by Mitchell WALDROP in his books "Chaos" and "Complexity".

I believe that the recognition of the princips of spontaneous emergence and auto-regulation are engendering a whole new form of consciousness in the West and post-modernism is the right title, I thinks, to describe the forms that will emerge under this new consciousness.

Post-modernism is an economic rebalancing act. The center of capitalistic power is shifting towards noth-east asia. This process that is already at work should last some 50 more years at least and shall gradually pull in its track the emergence of Chinese culture on the world stage and in the process, I bet that Beijing shall impose itself as the world's premier cultural center. But what does this imply in terms of content in the arts? Well, first and foremost we'll assist at the relegation to the dustbin of history of large swathes of so called Western post-modern productions. It will not be a loss since most of those productions are not more than garbage that collectors' greed only can establish as works of art . Furthermore, it will also establich the primacy of personal visions instead of the vision of schools and that of their their masters. Last but not least, it will establish the primacy of the princip of rich content + technical skills.

2004/02/07

Culture, economy, politics and civilization

Last thursday I concluded my post saying: "What drives humanity over the long haul is not its economy, it is unmistakenly it's culture, it's ways of behaving, it's ways of interacting with the other species, the environment and it is evident that we are doing very poorly on that level. We have more goods than at any time in our history but the more our economies enrich, the more our cultures enpoor and in the process humanity's chances of survival are thinning fast. The coming cultural input of China could not be better timed".

I know that this conclusion is poles apart from the views and theories expressed by the recognized authorities from the left as well as from the right in Western countries. But I have the weakness to think that both sides of the Western intelligentsia are wrong, I think that both behave as pure Westerncentrics. They know that there is a world out there that is different from the Western world, another world that has another understanding of realities but that's about all. They generally know nothing about the ideas, the values and the ways of behaving inside that external world that, let's never forget it, represents 90% of the world population. Could it be that 10% of the world population has in its hands the destinity of humanity?
Never, that's pure delusion.
Our future can't be thought of as a simple projection into the future of trends observed today within the Western world.
I concede that it's not a given to build up a global vision out of this kind of Westerncentricism and to try to gain a more global picture of humanity's road. My personal approach is to diversify my sources of information, I read stuff written by people from the US, the EU and China and I compare. I also follow the advances in scientific research and I can guarantee that the knowledge that I gain from modern physics, chemistry, bilology, and so on helps to structure my thoughts by allowing me to adapt my ideas and visions in terms of my conclusions about economics, politics, art, culture and civilization.

The Western approach from the left as well as from the right, to put it bluntly, somehow follows in the footsteps of "The end of History" of Francis Fukuyama. In this model, the end game on humanity's road is a post-modermist stage of evolution that leads to the appearance of a last man that eliminates all other forms of being and behaving from the entire earth. It is not important for me here that the right glorifies such an outcome while the left rejects it. The thing that I find utterly disconcerting is that both right and left come to the same conclusion of an end-game in history, in human evolution.

"Classical modernism belongs in a 'transitional era' poised between 'two distinct worlds', those of the traditional, agricultural and peasant order, and the new machine-based industrialism, where the 'new technological machinery brings with it its own aesthetic shock, in the way it erupts without warning into the older pastoral and feudal landscape. Russia, Italy, and to some extent pre-First World War France provide the key examples.
Late modernism is an essentially US affair and is a product of the Cold War, but in all kinds of complicated ways. It is late not just in the temporal sense, post-Second World War, but also as a belated reprise at once modifying and traducing of some of the canonical features of earlier modernist thinking. On one hand, it keeps faith with the anti-modernity strain of high modernism, a last ditch stand against the depredations of capital as a market society hovers over its descent into the trammels of a fully commercialized postmodernity. On the other, it is distinguished from the heroic moment of its predecessor in its complicity with the end of a whole era of social transformations and indeed of Utopian desires and anticipations. It embodies a retreat from political alternatives to the rule of capital, through its insistence on (a version of) the autonomy of art". (1)


This version of post-modernism presenting itself as the natural extension of modernity should thus reject to the dustbin of history all other possibilities of post-industrial development. And art in this vision becomes a dull merchandise... that has to be a-utopia in order to please a customer base that has been numbed.
One can't but wonder how a healthy thinking process could lead to such a linear projection towards certainty. And how come that this certainty leads to a vision of reality with an ultimate outcome. Is this not a caricature of the foundings of Judeo-Christian thought?
Let's just register for now that it's always a black versus white, good versus bad final outcome that is given as well from the left as from the right.
But let's discover now how this kind of thinking works.

"Rejecting into the blur Kant, Freud and Marx, the modern form of capitalism induces an in-depth replanning of the spirits. Under pleasing and democratic airs, and since it is a question of selling or of buying, any moral, traditional or transcendantal consideration tends to be erased. As the ideologies which preceded it in the 20th century, neoliberalism wants to create a "new man".
(...) THIS PROGRAMMED DEATH of the subject of modernity does not seem to me foreign with the changes that one observes since a good 20 years in capitalism. Neoliberalism, to name by its name this new state of capitalism, is detaching itself from all forms of exchanges which remained by reference to an absolute guarantor or metasocial of the exchanges. To go quickly and to the essence, one could say that one needed gold like standard to guarantee the monetary exchanges, as one needed a guarantor symbolic system (Reason, for example) to allow philosophical speeches. However, one ceases referring to any transcendantal value to practice exchanges. The exchanges are not worth any more as guaranteed by a higher power (transcendantal or moral), but by the fact they put directly in report with the merchandises. In one word, commercial exchanges today desymbolise the world.
(...) Any transcendent figure which came to found the value from now on is rejected, there are only goods which are exchanged at their strict commercial value. Men today are requested to get rid of all these symbolic overload systems that guaranteed their exchanges. The symbolic value system is thus dismantled in the benefit of simple and neutral money value of the goods so that nothing any more, no other consideration (moral, traditional, transcendent...), can make obstacle with its freedom of movement. From this results a desymbolisation of the world. Men should not agree any more to transcendental value systems, they must simply yield to the play of infinite and widened circulation of goods.
(...) THIS RADICAL CHANGE in the play of exchanges involves an anthropological change. Since every symbolic guarantor system of the exchanges between men is liquidated, it is the human condition itself that changes. Our being-with-the-world cannot be the same any more since what is at stake for human life is not the search for an agreement with these transcendantal symbolic value systems playing the role of guarantors, but is related to our capacity to follow an always moving flow of goods in circulation. In one word, it is not the same subject any more who is required here and there.
(...) In the desymbolisation that we live in the present, it is not any more the critical subject proposing a deliberation in the name of the moral requirement of freedom that suits, it is neither the nevrotic subject taken in a compulsive culpability, it is a precarious subject, a-critical and psychotic, who from now on is necessary, a subject open to all commercial transcations and all kinds of identity fluctuations.
(...) Under pleasing and democratic airs, a new ideology, probably as virulent as the terrible ideologies that broke out in the West in the 20th century, is busy imposing itself. It is indeed not impossible that after the hell of Nazism and the terror of Communism a new historical catastrophe is profiling. (...) We are entering a new time: a time of total capitalism that is not interested only in the goods and their capitalization any more, is not satisfied with the social control of the bodies any more, but also aims, under cover of freedom, at an in-depth replanning of the spirits". (2)

"(...) Late-modernist ideology thus envisaged a practice of art from which -content- (Greenberg's term) was to be excised. The relevant form of content was largely narrative in kind and excising it was one way of making history disappear". (3)

I must say that this description fits well with societal evolution in the the US and the EU but for 90% of the people of this earth, this description makes no sense. Furthewrmore, even the West is not one. That this model reflects the working of the big mass of society does not mean that the game is over. The best informed citizens who are also the most active stay on the margins of such a lodel.
So, in this vision, as we have seen higher already, art productions become merchandises that have to be freed of all content. Post-modern man has to be "a precarious subject, a-critical and psychotic, a subject open to all commercial transcations and all kinds of identity fluctuations", for let's not forget that for the left "in the desymbolisation that we live in the present, it is not any more the critical subject proposing a deliberation in the name of the moral requirement of freedom that suits".
For sure one can find exemples of art productions with no content those days. In music Richard Kleiderman I guess, while in visual art John CURRIN, both fit quite well the bill. But It is one thing to name a few artists whose productions are empty of content, it is a totally different feat to conclude from those limited exemples that post-modernism should be "a practice of art from which -content- (Greenberg's term) was to be excised".

My personal view is that our human world has entered a chaotic period of disorder. But as science and the Chinese phylosophy of change are showing, out of disorder comes order.
Post-modernism for now in Western societies is a historical process of merchandization, that seems to be a fact. To continue to grow the market needed indeed an internal expansion of demand and to make such an expansion of demand possible, the market was in need of an hegemonic ideology, in a Gramscian sense (4), in order for such an expansion of demand to become acceptable in the eyes of the populations.
But this has not been the only strategy of big capital. Free trade was the other leg used to try to increase global demand and free trade has been over successfull those last 20 years in the sense that it unleached an unforecasted dynamic of geographic rebalancing of power that, I think, is leading the whole world into chaos. Pain is felt in the South as well as in the North and gigantic restructuring efforts are already under way but one should be aware of the fact that the coming future restructurings will go far, far deeper. It will mostly not be a question of political vision of how societies should evolve, it will be the the world awakening to the princip of reality, awakening to changes that have already taken place. I firmly believe indeed that changes are already taking place faster than our ideas can adapt to and the distance between the reality of changes and our capacity to perceive them is bound to continue to grow. This indicates the depth of the chaos that has been unleashed.

I believe that this expanded post-modernist shock is bound to surpass in importance the European Reanaissance in our history. Many factors lead me to think so but I'll come back on that later on. I want now to dwell on what renders this idea of a final outcome to be absolutely out of sink with what is going on around the world at the start of the 21st century.
Looking at the visual arts productions, I can't miss to see an extreme variety of productions and there are some works of extremely good quality out there that's for sure. This does not mean that the art market has already discovered those present day pearls and their creators. Art merchants and critics have still to stick their heads out the confusion that reigned master in the late 20th century. But let me be very clear. What I discern is a profusion of approaches as we never have seen in all our history.
Looking at what's going on in the scientific world I see the same variety and richness as in the visual arts. I'am particularly trilled at the discoveries made in terms of the sciences of complexity for exemple. The sciences that study the emergence and transformations of life itself. What I see is in reality a convergence of modern scientific knowledge with the ancient Chinese phylosophy of change that is bound to revolutionalize our ways of thinking, our ways of understanding ourselves and our cosmos.

"Questioned on the future of time, the Belgian Nobel Prize of chemistry Ilya Prigogine tries to introduce the idea of uncertainty into the idea of time. This idea of uncertainty will perhaps be the marking fact of 21st century. Ilya Prigogine shows that the reversible laws of Newton relate to only one weak fraction of the world in which we live. (...) Do we measure enough the revolution which these discoveries introduce into the notion of time? Here comes the end of certainties: time does not have a future, but futures. Because nature is from now on unforeseeable: it is history".(5)

The future is the result of what we'll be making out of it. I mean that our inputs are making what we will harvest in the future. But what will be our inputs? Surely not only the inputs of the western world. 10% of the world population will not indefinitedly be at the steering wheel. The remaining 90% are knocking on the doors and making more and more vociferous noises. What I want to show is that the future can't be simply a projection of what is going on today in the West. It's a lot more complex than that and it definitely involves all the world, that means all the other cultures: Indu, Chinese, arabic, ...


(1) Codeword Modernity. Christopher Prendergast. New Left Review/24. 2003/11-12
(2) A l'heure du capitalisme total. Servitude de l'homme libéré. Dany-Robert DUFOUR. Le Monde Diplomatique. Octobre 2003.
(3) Codeword Modernity. Christopher Prendergast. New Left Review/24. 2003/11-12
(4) Gramscian: from Gramsci, the Italian marxist thinker from pre 20th century 2nd world war who coined the concept of hegemony. He was saying that taking the political power would ultimately only succeed if this power was founded upon a culture shared almost unanimously by the population and thus he thought that cultural hegemony was to be built before taking the political power.
(5) Jalons pour une ethique du futur. L'avenir du temps. Le Monde Diplomatique. Jerome BINDE. 03/ 2002

2004/02/05

Levels of development.

I was in China, Beijing, for the whole of last month./ The country is figuratively sprinting towards market economic build-up. In reality it is more like it is jumping over 5-6 centuries of economic development within the very short time span of half a century.

Reading what the pundits have to say about what's going on in China today, I can't but disagree with their conclusions. They would like us to believe that this economic build-up is the most extraordinary achievement of the Chinese Nation. This is far from the reality. What happens today in China is only the walking of one step further on the road of its civilization. What happens today in China is but a cultural snaphot added on top of the past build-up of this civilization. In other words I do not believe for a second that the present Chinese economic feat is advancing their level of civilizational development by as much as what is written and told. It seems to me that such assertions reflect Western centrist views that are kind of spinning the predominance of economics above everything else but this is very short sighted and does not reflect upon what founds the long term march of a civilization.

We can say today that it makes no doubt that the Chinese civilization is the most advanced among all that survived to this very day. They left their gods sometime 1000-500 Bc for building a most refined philosophic system that is generally unknown in the West. As a result, their arts were freed from serving the religious authorities as far back as 2500-3000 years earlier while in Europe the same happened only those last 250-300 years ago!

In China, philosophy, arts, medicine, politics, economics, warfare and everything else you can imagine is being driven by the fundamental understanding that is inscribed into the very first building blocs that their forefathers have laid as the foundation of their civilization. One willing to understand China has to start trying to understand those foundational fundamental understandings and values.

All Chinese are sharing that knowledge through family oral transmission and as Ralph D. Sawyer writes in "The art of the Warrior": "The influence originates not merely in the subtle, unconscious assimilation of their subject matter on a daily basis, but also as the consequence of assiduous study, imaginative contemplation, and deliberate application to many spheres of life and activity. Such contemporary vigor no doubt stems from the remarkable scope of the texts, a corpus of writings whose authors pondered and incorporated defining beliefs from Confucianism, Legalism and Taoism to proffer strategic measures and tactical remedies for a wide variety of problems and situations. ... Rather than being idle theory, they are founded and continuously focus upon human nature, for it is peope who create civilization and culture, man who fight and die." Sawyer helps us better understanding the present vigor of the "foundational fundamental understanding" shared by all Chinese but this does not give us a better understanding of what this "foundational fundamental understanding" is all about.

It is not as if the great Chinese philosophies were poles apart. The hundred schools of thought during the "Warring States" period (600-250 Bc) all were focusing on some sort of tactical debates upon a common root of understanding. Confucianism, Taoism and the military strategists were the three only schools that survived untill today and again it is not as if they are so far apart, common ground values and understandings closely knit the corpus of those schools close together. Even Boudhism that entered China in the 3rd century Ad underwent profound changes through integration of those "foundational fundamental understandings". It's as if the Chinese civilization was imposing on the successive cultural snapshots along all of its long history a common logic, a common understanding that is contained in the classics but that is well older than the classics themselves. The 64 short texts of the "YI CHING" or "Book of Transformations" and the commentaries accompanying them contain what seems to best approach this "foundational understanding":
- Reality is change or a kind of natural process of transformations that is called TAO or the WAY.
- The internal coherence of reality is given by the contact between opposites that generates bursts of energy fueling changes and transformations that are as the seconds on the ticking clock of evolution. This is theorized in an abstract contruct based on the idea of a "power" dance between the YIN and YANG acting as extreme poles. When one dominates, for the sake of clarity let's suppose the YIN pole of a situation is dominating presently, the TAO gives that what is dominating presently will age and weaken (OLD YIN) and eventually die out to be replaced by a YOUNG YANG that in turn will gain force and then age (OLD YANG) to be replaced by a YOUNG YIN... and so on ad infinitum.
- From situations, or people, or objects entering in relation results a certain report which is objectively determined and thus appears a tendency directing the process of these relations. Thus reality is given by a certain propensity which derives systematically from the objective relationship between situations, things, people or societies and from this report that is measurable ensues a tendency that is given as absolutely inviolable. This measureable report is based on the objective understanding of the YIN and YANG power dance and what is measured is the report between the forces of those poles, in other words what is the situation, is it YIN, YOUNG YIN, OLD YIN or YANG, YOUNG YANG or OLD YANG. The "BOOK OF CHANGES", the "YI CHING" gives 64 combinations that describe tendancies.
- If the report resulting from relationships is measurable than think the Chinese, it is possible to adapt oneself in such a way that the tendancy of changes to come becomes friendlier. This, I believe, is the central most important idea that the Chinese civilization is transmitting to all Chinese individuals. The Chinese classics about traditional medicine, the Chinese classics about military strategies, the Chinese classics about politics, the Chinese classics about art, all are centered on the maximization of the benefits to be derived by the application of the idea that the tendancy of changes to come can be influenced.
- From my personal and intimate relationship with Chinese dating back not far from 20 years already, I feel that they all to some degree have learned how to adapt themselves in order to weigh on the orientation of the tendancy of changes to come in order that they affect them in an as friendly way as possible. It is not that they develop some sort of surnatural powers, as I feel it, they learn from early childhood how to surf on the waves of reality, they learn how to adapt themselves to the situation. We Westerners are doing the opposite, always trying to change realities, sprinting head on towards the obstacles and repeatedly finding out that it hurts.

Let's now come back to the start of the argument. I was saying "I do not believe for a second that the present Chinese economic feat is advancing their level of civilizational development by as much as what is written and told". It seems to me that what is going on is that the Chinese, after centuries of what they feel have been enduring humiliations upon humiliations at the hands of the Western barbarians, discovered what made the West run faster economically than themselves during that time of humiliation. Through Marxism, they grasped the theoretical power of the "logic of capital" and its economic efficiency and they started to implement this logic based on their own understanding of the princip of reality. After 20 years of implementation they now somehow have reached a level of proficiency that allows them to surf unimpeded.

The Chinese understood that it was a matter of life or death for their civilization to adopt the logic of capital. That has been the crucial turning point in their recent history. The rest was only a question of firmly pursuing in the footsteps of their ancestors in order to gain the maximum effectiveness in their application of the logic of capital. Once they understood the workings of the logic they adapted themselves in such a way as to weigh with a maximum force on the orientation of the tendancy of changes to come in order that they affect them in an as friendly way as possible. At this game they are the masters, they have for thousands of years learned to play far into the future while our Western vision, totally dominated by greed is focused solely on short term gains. Rationality has given us the way to understand history, to understand the present situation but the process towards the future is totally blanked out.

On the surface,what is going on in China nowadays is an economic boom without precedent in the history of humanity but this, in itself ,does not advance in any way their level of civilizational development. In my view, it is exactly the opposite that occurs, it is their very advanced level of civilizational development that helps them to advance their economy so rapidly. It makes also no doubt in my mind that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. The more powerfull the Chinese economy will be, the more it's civilization and it's culture will start to weigh on humanity's future. I'am firmly convinced that this is a blessing for our world. What started out in Europe some 600-800 years ago with such an extreme brutality towards the rest of the world led to a badly hurt village earth. A mechanic application of the logic of capital has also led to the most serious destruction of species that our earth has ever witnessed, more serious according to scientists than the period that saw the extinction of the dinosaurs! We are presently in the most urgent need of wisdom in order to preserve for our children a chance to inherit a world that remains hospitable. What is the sense of economic development if the end game turns out to be a world becoming inhospitable for humans?

What drives humanity over the long haul is not its economy, it is unmistakenly it's culture, it's ways of behaving, it's ways of interacting with the other species, the environment and it is evident that we are doing very poorly on that level. We have more goods than at any time in our history but the more our economies enrich, the more our cultures enpoor and in the process humanity's chances of survival are thinning fast. The coming cultural input of China could not be better timed.

2004/02/04

About function

As I understand it, the history of art and design divides into 4 books:

1. Animism.
The human adventure starts with the mutation of our predecessor specie into the human form, with our present day characteristics, sometime around 100,000 years ago. The human brain as we know it nowadays was indeed completely formed in that period.
Rapidly, humans started glorifying the elements that visually appeared to them as commanding the phenomena that directly impacted their survival: the sun, the moon, the animals and plants. This phase of belief called animism shall be supplanted by the invention of the gods and the development of religions.
Some very fine visual art works of that period have been preserved, mostly in the form of cave paintings and of objects of daily use. On December 24th, the Boston Globe gave an excellent piece, The spark of the artist, showing that from their art works we can deduce that "... Primitives weren't so primitive" after all. "The three tiny ivory carvings - of a bird, a horse's head, and a figure that is part lion and part man - are 30,000 years old, according to archaeologist Nicholas Conrad of the University of Tubingen in Germany, who published his findings in the journal Nature last week. The discovery of what appear to be among the world's oldest figurines reveals craftsmanship and artistic expression comparable to those of the modern-day artist. ... The urge - and skill - to create something beautiful just might be hard-wired into the human psyche. The modern-day notion is that ancient cultures must have been far too focused on survival to have time for art. But maybe the truth is that they had more time, and more quiet, in which to hear the song of the earth."
I follow the conclusion of the article, "... maybe the truth is that they had more time, and more quiet, in which to hear the song of the earth."
As I already stated it, under animist beliefs, art served as production of representations of the elements that humans thought were commanding the phenomena that directly impacted their survival: the sun, the moon, the animals and plants. Survival was indeed central for them and those representations were signs of their profound respect for the elements and of their humble acceptance of the ways of nature.
The legacy of animist societies is a philosophy stressing the understanding of the workings of their natural environment from which they derived a kind of natural respect for all other forms of life. Art in those societies has to be understood as an extension of their philosophical understandings. And yes, perhaps "the urge - and skill - to create something beautiful just might be hard-wired into the human psyche".

2. The Gods of religions.
The transition to the human creation of gods takes place at different times for each center of civilization (*). China and Sumer invent their first gods sometime 5-6000 years ago or earlier. Other centers will follow up later on. Some ethnic groups are even living in animist cultures till today. All that shows us a deep differentiation between the people of this earth in their levels of societal development.
So the historical phase of religious domination of the minds starts sometime 5-6000 years ago for the most advanced societies of that time, China and the Middle East, and reaches its zenith around 500 BC in China, the 18th-20th centuries in Western Europe. Most other societies remain firmly entrenched in their religious beliefs as of today.
In religious times, art and design over time will come to serve as advertisement techniques for the religious power. Visual arts, in societies under religious ideology, are a non stop succession of images illustrating the content of religion. Architecture and music serve to impress the population, that is largely uneducated, in order to instill fear in the small individual for the power of those representing those grandiose architectural constructions and the music served in them. In other words, grandiose religious architecture has to serve the grandeur of the religious authority. The same kind of reasoning is valid equally when applied to the aristocracy.

3. The enlightenment.
From the 18th to 20th centuries, European minds are enlightened by rationalism that develops as an ideological extension of capitalism and industrialism. The function of visual arts is now the decoration of the mansions of the aristocracy and of the new rich. Portraits and landscapes are the subjects of most painters. The size of paintings is reduced to adapt to their new architectural destinations.
The enlightenment goes hand in hand with the generalization of the decorating function of visual arts. The idea of beautifying living spaces has indeed been adopted by ever larger segments of the populations and today is absolutely generalized.
The development of capitalism in its phase of consumerism forces everyone in industrialized nations into deeper and deeper individualism. In other words, the market imposes its offers to every single individual in the form of a creation of new needs adapted to the financial capabilities of all. From being reserved for the aristocracy and the new rich who were the only ones who could afford to pay for paintings, architectural constructions, rich furnishings and accessories; visual arts will gradually be offered in cheaper forms in the market. The conception of those cheaper forms has gradually given rise to specialized jobs: designers, marketers, researchers.
As illustration of this idea, let's look at how the visual arts form painting will be "democratized".
- In a first phase lithographic limited editions prints serving the same function as paintings will expand the market base.
- Then, following the economic development of Western societies, higher incomes will also allow for an expansion of the customer base for paintings.
- The ultimate expansion of the consumer base for prints will be reached with the advent of offset printing presses that could churn out very large quantities of prints for a very low unit cost. Paintings by famous artists will be reproduced in unlimited quantities and the sheer size of this market was calling for specialized answers that will take the form of graphic design.
- Finally, paintings themselves will be chain produced for the same market expansion reason. And today chain production in Western workshops of landscape paintings has been delocalized to cheap wage countries.
It makes no doubt to me that, in this maelstrom of a few centuries of economic and technological changes, painter artists have been in Western societies, the group of individuals that most interiorized the impact of those changes. Through the effect of such a profound interiorization process, though they have been reduced to society's marginality, they also have been recognized as special. Notwithstanding that their visions were not understood, they nevertheless were accepted. Van Gogh and others were surely not understood by many of their contemporaries but they have been accepted, their strangeness has been tolerated, only the market had no place for them. But again, in finale, the market gradually will absorb even that strangeness. Fortunes have been disbursed, for works of contemporary art in the 20th century, that appeared totally incomprehensible to their buyers. In this process, art marketers succeeded in convincing some buyers that pieces of garbage were pieces of art. Art marketers succeeded this extraordinary feet at rendering art absolutely hermetic to normal comprehension by imposing their so called art specialist knowledge and in the process they gained the control over wide financial speculative movements. The acceptance by society at large during the second part of the 20th century that art was hermetic to normal comprehension led to the worse. That's how I could associate myself in my post "Art and art critics." with Roger Kimball's fundamental rejection of art critics' productions in his piece "The rape of the masters" without in any way following him in his ideological conclusions.

4. The great atomization.
Consumerism and the expansion of merchandization towards absolutely everything relating to humans has reduced the individuals in the advanced countries to salary dependents. The competition for salaries makes it indispensable now for humans to develop knowledge and skills adapted to the new needs of the economy. As an irony the subsequent human individualism will transfer the biggest power of all, knowledge, in the hands of the mass of individuals. Entering the realm of knowledge and understanding everyone starts to develop his own idea about everything, ideologies and common beliefs are on the wane.
This great atomization is the story of the 21st century, first and foremost it is the story of artists, thinkers and scientists who are sprinting through the gates towards the world of knowledge and understanding opened by the market.
When it's quest is let free, I believe that knowledge fragments. What I mean is that the totality that is our universe is so large that there is absolutely no way to come up with a single explanation covering everything. Statistically it is an impossibility, indeed we are no gods! It's kind of a supreme irony that in fine the market's radical search for freedom of understanding, of knowledge leads to exactly the opposite of what it was looking for: the end of history or the acceptance of the market as the exclusive human way.
Ideology is the outcome, in terms of ideas, of a society that is force fed a message, a vision by institutions that are imposed upon all by an authority that uses this ideology as a kind of social super glue guaranteeing ultimately its own preservation. The market is the social super glue binding all individuals into acceptance of the logic of capital and rationality that is given as its absolute ideology. The only problem with this kind of rationality is it's bulk system nature that appears more and more being assaulted by the ultimate human fragmentation of knowledge.


Going from one historical reality to the next generates frictions.
The transition times have shorten and the shock of the future is becoming always heavier to assume. At the turn of the 21st century, artists, scientists and thinkers in the US and the EU discover a new road at the periphery of the enlightenment through rationality. The shock is quite severe, we have indeed not been prepared for atomization
In visual arts this shock materialized in the "everything is possible" and led to complete loss of sense. It was marketing that gave its imprimatur to what had to be considered as art. Instantly, garbage became art. In this process, art and thought have been totally devalued. Every time an extreme is reached it is superseded by its opposite. Today, the opposite of "non sense" is "no non sense" but there is no guaranteed road, path to "no non sense". That's what renders the artists and thinkers' roads so much more arduous.


(*) Culture and civilization:
Culture is the representation of the ways of behaving and of doing by societies at a given time. For example, present day culture is our present day ways of life: consumerism, mass market, merchandization of all that touches human live and dependence on salary. This implies that culture is kind of a historic snaphot of the ways of a society.
Civilization is the build up of culture snapshots through history, it is the addition of the successive cultural moments of a society. In that sense, the civilization of a given society can encompass a very large variety of cultural values and behaviors. It can even encompass what appears as opposite values: one extreme pole on the ladder of behavioral possibilities at a given time and the other extreme pole at an other given time.

Technical stuff.

I changed the lay-out of my blog. Wouff the boring code stuff.

2004/02/01

Humans or the earthly bacteria (2)

Astronomy or cosmology give us answers to our fundamental questions. The following article gives an excellent summary of the present status of the scientific knowledge on the formation of our universe: Scientific American: Four Keys to Cosmology [ SPECIAL REPORT ]. From this article I would like to select the following 7 points as a logical extension of my Friday Dec 19th post: "Humans or the earthly bacteria":

1. "The big bang is best thought of not as a singular event but as an ongoing process, a gradual molding of order out of chaos."
2. "From the perspective of life on Earth, cosmic history started with inflation--a celestial reboot that wiped out whatever came before and left the cosmos a featureless place. The universe was without form, and void. Inflation then filled it with an almost completely uniform brew of radiation. The radiation varied from place to place in an utterly random way; mathematically, it was as random as random could be."
3. "Gradually the universe imposed order on itself. The familiar particles of matter, such as electrons and protons, condensed out of the radiation like water droplets in a cloud of steam. Sound waves coursed through the amorphous mix, giving it shape."
4. "Matter steadily wrested control of the cosmos away from radiation. Several hundred thousand years after inflation, matter declared final victory and cut itself loose from radiation. This era and its dramatic coda have now been probed by high-precision observations of the fossil radiation."
5. "Over the ensuing eons, matter organized itself into bodies of increasingly large size: subgalactic scraps, majestic galaxies, galactic clusters, great walls of galaxies. "
6. "The universe we know--a set of distinct bodies separated by vast expanses of essentially empty space--is a fairly recent development, cosmologically speaking. This arrangement has now been systematically mapped."
7. "Starting several billion years ago, matter has been losing control to cosmic acceleration. Evidently the big bang has gotten a second wind, which is good for it but will be bad for us. The ever faster expansion has already arrested the formation of large structures and, if it continues, could rip apart galaxies and even our planet."