Upon further reflection, Greenberg’s (partially) class-based analysis of Kitsch and its originary relationship to mechanical means of production may be a bit premature.
While it is certainly evident that Kitsch is a product of mid/mass-cult, the causal relationship is more likely to be a replacement of all education with a sort of “surface” culture that is concerned only with effect – displacing the cultural formations across all class structures. Mass-production, rise-of-literacy, and class breakdown certainly created the opportunity for mass-culture, but none of them explain in themselves the replacement-culture offered by Kitsch and the consumable effective object which forms its body.
Totalitarian Kitsch and satirical takeoffs of Kitsch are both well-served by this more succinct definition as well. For the dictator, the surface culture of Kitsch is a mask for underlying violence and for suppressing opposition – a simplified culture replaces the real one with its historical roots. For the immunity of satire to Kitsch-ification, satire, as that which disengages with and self-reflectingly dissembles its parodic culture, pushes one away from the surface by its very nature, thus rendering the genre natively immune.
(Thoughts from Iser’ commentary on Henry James’s The Figure on the Carpet)
While it is only natural to find the idea of endless deferment and displacement of symbols, texts, and meaning as an impetus to despair (the isolation of floating in a Kuhnian scheme surrounded on all sides by an incontrovertible mana), Iser presents a different take borrowed from James that is enlightening to a theology of reading and deferment. If meaning is a thing to be grasped along with an exterior view of its conditioning and a critical analysis of authorial strategies, then meaning is limited. Once meaning has been “grasped” and critically repackaged as an abstraction, meaning is finished as an extraction. If, however, following Derrida and Aquinas, symbol is a process of endless deferment, then meaning is inexhaustible. The attitude of the hierophants is then properly construed as the recipient of a tangible and endless gifting process. Textuality doesn’t inspire dead-ends – the end of a hermeneutical exercise is the expansion of horizons – even of the most “closed” text and interpretation.
Writing is an externality to speech, and there is certainly a “corruption” to the transmission (if that is how it ought to be phrased, which I doubt), but externality is not necessarily excrescence, or if it is excrescence, then it at least contains the possibility of being a happy one. Birthday parties are an “excrescence” to solar rhythms, traditions are an “excrescence” to memory, gold is an “excrescence” to the mental posture of worship, and texts are an “excrescence” to speech.
Texts make texts – they are, as Eco describes it, “lazy machines designed to elicit interpretations” – which is to say, more texts.
The endless progressions of symbols is a sign itself that symbolic activity is tied to an overwhelming and impressing source – the difficulty of circumnavigating our situational reality is not simply a process of finitude and duration, but something in the heart of things that seem to be endless in the source of their being.
Given the modern perspective that reason is a result of the total process of human existence, and that, as such, it is tied to emotion to and the hormonal changes which influence (or possibly are) much of our behavior, it makes more sense to think of Ockham’s statement that “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity” as a psychological observation rather than as a maxim governing thought and/or the universe. In this formulation, rather than “the simplest hypothesis (or the hypothesis which yields the simplest result) is most likely the correct one”, we might say that the simplest answer is sometimes more cognitively attractive.
Kitsch removes the elements of both play and work from interaction with object, symbol and beauty. Play is destroyed as there is a serious coercive motive expressed by the kitsch-object. A very particular and restrained response is expected and coded for. This is particularly clear in totalitarian Kitsch – as opposed to the images of a leader that you might find in a free-press environment, the images of totalitarian Kitsch ensure a particular reading. One may agree or disagree with the reading, but the reading is there. Even in the case of an ironical reading of Stalin With Flowers, a reading of it in its greater historical context which can be carried out with some freedom, openness, and playful ambiguity, one must first encounter the object and its intentionally stilted reading if one is to relate it to context successfully.
You must go where Kitsch wants for you to go – you must feel it as it has expressed itself, you must buy it for what it claims to be. This is not a playful, open environment, it is emotional bullying.
Similarly, the concept of work is destroyed. As anyone who has invested time into art appreciation could well appreciate, understanding takes work. Talking, reading, making, listening – these things have to be done actively and purposefully, building an edifice of connections and links of understanding and tying this edifice back into the non-contemplative world in productive activity. Kitsch, invoking not only interpretive work that has already been done before and is a part of our shared understanding, but also in it’s tendency to push us towards the easiest and most instantly rewarding of sentiments, attempts to keep us from working with symbols; from taking in the knowledge of death which comes from serious pursuit.
Additionally, while play can easily be said to be that which is characterized by openness and freedom, given the state of humanity and it’s always immanent demise, play is marked by an awareness of death. One might say that a person who, aware of danger and death who still remains free and open, has a greater sense of play than even a child who plays unaware. The power of YHWH is manifest in that he makes a feast in the presence of his enemies.
Two very different methods of theology – both are historical and engage critically with historical sources, but Gunton’s bears the marks of a modernist purity even as he rebuffs it. K’s history of theology is ever imperfect, and such imperfection doesn’t seem to be inherently problematic. The picture implicit in his charitability, even when he charitably demands maturity and the ability to converse in a mature fashion of the newer and less-developed eastern theologies of the trinity, the implicit picture is of a living history, rather than of a perfect goal, attained more or less throughout history.
Gunton’s critiques (as exemplified by his assertion that Augustine held an essentially non-trinitarian ontology) tend to be more dogmatic rather than descriptive–if we were to follow his lead, the project of dialogue would become one of fits and starts, of paradigms building, exploding, and being replaced, rather than being a continual process which strains against itself. One is certainly more appealing — it demands less of the reader and provides a feeling of concrete surety, but, as James Jordan is apparently fond of pointing out, the urge to settle, to remain still, is an urge toward death.
Beyond the oddness of Gunton’s contexualization of the trinitarian conversation, placing it as he does as a thing bracketed between Plato and Hegel rather than between Adam, Christ, and Moltmann (and the history of the thought of all believers), there is also an emphasis on the basis for trinitarian community still being based on the otherness of God – on the distance being the foundation of the possibility of closing the distance. While there is certainly much to be gleaned from this, the picture of how this community looks in history remains vague. His closing comments on the church places the community of church at odds with the institutions (while admitting that the institutions are a “human” necessity, the disconnect reveals something possibly modern in the lack of consideration for how the ritual and hierarchy of institutional religion may be essential for creation of any community to overcome the insular individuation which he opposes) and so leaves what community might be to the imagination – left with only a community bounded by otherness. This is not something that is explicit in the text, and I’m sure that Gunton would not find this to be a fair characterization (neither do I) but in context of Karkaainen’s continual emphasis on real dialogue and the demands of discursus by which even I Ching trinitarianism has to relate to, the parallel presents itself unavoidably – Gunton’s trinitarian community is still in a theoretical stage and can have clean definitions – Karkainnen’s is here and now – a community of difference in dialogue, not a dogma or a doctrine to be proscribed, but several doctrines and dogmas – all surrendered to a single telos at every moment, and done in faith that they will resolve without being forever lost in each other.
Children develop in response to experience. Typically, the view of this is of a “conditioning” process (which lends itself to and has been typically interpreted as a metaphor of plasticity and material shaping).
As has been observed, at a certain point, children at some point require new stimuli to remain engaged with the presented objects or else they begin to lose interest. Typically seen, this diminished-engagement-over-time is a loss of an ability, which lends itself to the interpretation that most conditioning happens to us as children, and that we somehow “harden” in our plasticity as we grow.
While this is a useful, and standard way to view development, I would like to propose a different interpretation of this process in line with the idea of the ever-increasing gift and an emulation of Christ’s maturation that we are called to.
To wit, the interpretation I would like to offer is that we have a hunger for newness and innovation which grows as we do – we learn to consume experiences with greater rapidity, much as we do food, and a mature person will be seeking this newness to offer the gift of engagement-towards in increasingly subtle ways throughout a maturing life.
Where is the mass medium? Is it the newspaper advertisement, is it the TV broadcast, is it the polo shirt? Here we have not one but two, three, perhaps more mass media, acting through different channels. The media have multiplied, but some of them act as media of media, or in other words media squared. And at this point who is sending the message? The manufacturer of the polo shirt? its wearer? The person who talks about it on the TV screen? Who is the producer of ideology? Because it’s a question of ideology: You have only to analyze the implications of the phenomenon, what the polo-shirt manufacturer wants to say, and what its wearer wants to say, and the person who talks about it. But according to the channel under consideration, in a certain sense the meaning of the message changes, and perhaps also its ideological weight. There is no longer Authority, all on its own (and how consoling it was!). Shall we perhaps identify with Authority the designer who had the idea of inventing a new polo-shirt design, or the manufacturer (perhaps in the provinces) who decided to sell it, and to sell it on a wide scale, to make money, as is only right, and to avoid having to fire his employees? Or those who legitimately agree to wear it, and to advertise an image of youth and heedlessness, or happiness? Or the TV director, who to characterize a generation has one of his young actors wear the polo shirt? Or the singer, who, to cover his expenses, agrees to sponsor the polo shirt? All are in it, and all are outside it; Power is elusive, and there is no longer any telling where the “plan” comes from. Because there is, of course, a plan, but it is no longer intentional, and therefore it cannot be criticized with the traditional criticism of intentions.
— Umberto Eco, “The Multiplication of the Media,” 1983
“I have no problem with individualness – Individuality is simply a man’s relationship to his self.”
Two keystones of modern views of Magic:
Firstly, that Magic is a “pre-science.” (NOT prescience) This should be taken in both a etymological and conventional way. In the first, that it was man’s way of dealing with the world prior to definition and identity based upon quantity and difference as we do in the post-philosophical world, and in the second, that it is man’s way of dealing with the unknown – with the mana.
Thus, in a split analogous to the Durkheim synchronic/diachronic, it’s diachronic usage defines an age of man – his pre-scientific ages. The more synchronic usage defines the ongoing meaning of the aging of men – his childhood, or introduction – his state of pre-scientia.
Magic is the seen-but-not-understood, the felt-but-not-seen, the known-but-unknown, ultimately – the mana – that which cannot be compared to any other thing nor defined by either proto-aristotelian nor saussurian difference.
Magic is thus, in a positivist or darwinist perspective, that which will go away as our understanding of the object grows. Frogs and warts are only “magic” until we do some closed trial studies of wart-removal with frogs removed from the environment. Rain and lighting is only “magic” until we seed clouds with charged metals and attain predictable results. Sex is only dark and magical until we explain romance with isolating herd behaviors, love with repetitive hormonal imprinting, and disfunction and taboo with social pathology.
From within this Kuhnian/Darwinist framework however, we have to ask – what is outside our positivist structures? Is that the redefinition of mana? Furthermore – in a subjective map of experience (as we find any positivist framework to be) is the known not encircled and defined by difference to the unknown? Is the non-mana only known by it’s definition to it’s opposite? Can the mana be kept to the margins in anything more than an anthropologically synchronic perspective of relativity? Or does the reason which limits and shapes inquiry itself admit the frame of the unknown, and the decontexualizable context of mana which suspends our momentary infractions on mystery?
“My reception occasioned some little comment, including the observation that I and others who make this decision have a “felt need for authority.” This is usually said in a condescending manner by people who believe that they are able to live with ambiguities and tensions that some of us cannot handle. Do I have a felt need for authority, for obedience, for submission? But of course. Obedience is the rightly ordered disposition toward truth, and submission is subordination of the self to that by which the self is claimed. Truth commands, and authority has to do with the authorship, the origins, of commanding truth. By what authority? By whose authority? There are no more important questions for the right ordering of our lives and ministries. Otherwise, in our preaching, teaching, and entire ministry we are just making it up as we go along, and, by acting in God’s name, taking His name in vain.”
How I became the Catholic I was
-Richard John Neuhaus
“Society and culture are a machinery by which other people read for us.”
“there are two ways of approaching a book…in our life we can use a lot of books, but there are few books which we must interpret..dealing with a book you cannot invent it…in your life you must choose few books that you must read completely and interpret faithfully…I want to stress that important difference…for the books that we use, we are sometimes reading ourselves more than we are reading the book.”
To these themes we should add a footnote. On the eve of the upcoming September Fashion Weeks that mark the true beginning of the year, it’s worth remembering this: perhaps the most invisible but lasting contribution of St. Laurent’s to the intersections between design, architecture, and fashion, was his adoption, along with other designers in the mid-1970s, of the raised runway. Elevating the display of clothes a meter or so above the floor is a gesture we now take for granted, but that redirecting of our gaze changed fashion by changing the way we look at fashion. This slight spatial isolation made it all the more photographable, spectacular, theatrical and visible. And has something to do with the way that the word, “fashion”, now hovers like an elegant ghost, always already before the word “designer.”
Thomas de Monchaux: Remembering Yves St. Laurent
Citing children as an example of need-love seems a little objectivist. Children don’t know that they need. And if they are loved by unselfish parents, they won’t come to that realization until they grow to the point of learning to love others.
Need-love seems to me to be a love born of understanding, reflection, resignation – not just need.
The prophetic mood seems to me to be one that must be rooted in its past. It is not the voice of a man breaking into the story from another dimension – ignorantly entering the discourse mid-stream. The offering a prophet makes is not a different past, but a different future. But, of course, to offer a future is to offer to save the past – to offer to save a people and not just to create a utopia of his own invention. The Prophet reads a different imperative from the past, he doesn’t simply change the indicatives of this and previous presents outright. The prophet must be a part of his people, not simply a critic who wishes he saw something different than he does.