As night falls on London, the urban landscape becomes a no-woman’s land. To go out alone after dark is to take a journey through my own nervous system, assessing at every street corner the hospitability of the streets ahead of me. I do it all the time – I have to – but every journey from bar to bar, from workplace to the train or from home to the shops comes with a mild sense of risk, which increases tenfold whenever I pass a particularly sinister lone lurker or a group of men congregating together.
Imagine it is 2016. Clinton is still ahead in the polls, she has every hope of gaining the White House. One night she dreams she has won, and, just as she steps into the Oval Office she glances in a mirror to find, glaring back at her, none other than Trump.
Trump’s presence in the White House is the eruption of what I shall go on to explore as the uncanny; a rupture of form; an intrusion of something monstrous into the heart of the body politic.
“Polysemy (from Greek: πολυ-, poly-, "many" and σῆμα, sêma, "sign"), the capacity for a sign, such as a word, phrase, or symbol, to have multiple meanings, usually related by contiguity of meaning within a semantic field.” – definition adapted from Wikipedia
“If you cannot convince a fascist, acquaint his head with the pavement.” – Gritty (probably)
Now is the time of monsters, the well-worn phrase tells us. But monsters, if they are interesting, are unpredictable. They come out of nowhere and evince their nowhere-ness, their improbability creating fascination, fear, revulsion, sympathy.
The dream of utopia is difficult to find. Not always a “good dream”, it can just as well be a nightmare. More properly, the dream of utopia is a dream we cannot categorize according to the binary of nightmare and “sunshine daydream”. Yet, like a mole burrowing away, utopia can be found in the strangest of places, which once apparent become obvious. Like the hidden erotica on a Camel cigarette pack, utopian impulses cannot be unseen – or unheard, its mark indelible like ink that will never wash away.
In the first part of this article I discussed Lukács and his theory of Realism. I now want to turn to Clement Greenberg, “the major theoretical figure of the late modern age and indeed that theoretician who more than any other can be credited as having invented the ideology of modernism full-blown and out of whole cloth.” At his best, Greenberg deserved his reputation as a critic quite as much as Lukács for his clarity of description, refusal of jargon and, above all, focus on the materiality of the work of art. The most productive phase in his career spanned the 20 years between his first major article, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939) and the codification of his mature views in “Modernist Painting” (1960).
Tom Wolfe is dead. He lived long enough to be a celebrated icon, emulated across the political spectrum. Wolfe affected the old-fashioned American pose of a chronicler, an H.L. Mencken or Horace Greeley, yet Mencken was a sincere Nietzchean misanthropist while Greeley, a friend of Marx, was a sincere liberal. Wolfe, on the other hand, was a reactionary poseur who dressed up in slave-owner’s garb nearly every day. While readable in the way one chortles at an Alex Jones video, Wolfe contributed more to the American intelligentsia’s self-mystification than just about any other writer of the last hundred years.
Paris based cultural theorist Boris Groys exerts a strange pull on the minds of many who seem predisposed to accept what he has written about everything except the Soviet experience. When it comes to his writings about the relationship between art, curation and the internet, he is listened to and his ideas are formative of our contemporary discourse on modern art.
When it comes to his varied works on philosophers, we engage with his iconoclasm. There is something attractive about a way of looking at philosophy that draws its model from Duchamp’s (or R. Mutt’s) expo of an upside-down urinal.
A specter is haunting the American liberal public: the spectre of Vladimir Putin busting a move.
Accused by a range of liberal public figures of masterminding a plot to elect Donald Trump to the presidency, Putin looks and acts the part, like a “bad guy” in an eighties Hollywood film – all the while cultivating friendships with “good guy,” Steven Segal. Perhaps reflective of his days as an intelligence officer based in East Germany between the rise of Gorbachev and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Putin is enamored with the action aesthetic of the Reagan years.
Today’s generation is raised under a dark shadow of intellectual pessimism. To be sure, it is a pessimism entirely justified by the entire experience of the 20th century as well as the 21st century up to now. But the function of a revolutionary in this is to fight, to rekindle the socialist imaginary, not because the outlook is good but because there is no other option. Our choices are to resist or be consumed. Revolt can be a joyous festival, a celebration of a future yet to be birthed. This is what Vladimir Mayakovsky[i] meant when he said, well before he shot himself, that “joy must be ripped from the days yet to come.”
The English translation of Richard Wright’s address to the Revolutionary Democratic Assembly in Paris in December 1948 seems to have escaped the notice of the biographers and literary scholars who have otherwise been extremely thorough in documenting the author’s life and work. And that neglect is all the more remarkable given the speech’s substance. A major defense of radical political and cultural principles at a moment when the Cold War was turning downright arctic, it is also a credo, a statement of personal values, by the preeminent African-American literary artist of his era.