David Foster Wallace On Irony.

Make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us.

Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up above them so we can see the flaws and hypocrisies and duplicates. The virtuous always triumph? Ward Cleaver is the prototypical fifties father? “Sure.” Sarcasm, parody, absurdism and irony are great ways to strip off stuff’s mask and show the unpleasant reality behind it. The problem is that once the rules of art are debunked, and once the unpleasant realities the irony diagnoses are revealed and diagnosed, “then” what do we do?

Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone. Once everybody knows that equality of opportunity is bunk and Mike Brady’s bunk and Just Say No is bunk, now what do we do? All we seem to want to do is keep ridiculing the stuff. Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.

The problem is that, however misprised it’s been, what’s been passed down from the postmodern heyday is sarcasm, cynicism, a manic ennui, suspicion of all authority, suspicion of all constraints on conduct, and a terrible penchant for ironic diagnosis of unpleasantness instead of an ambition not just to diagnose and ridicule but to redeem. You’ve got to understand that this stuff has permeated the culture. It’s become our language; we’re so in it we don’t even see that it’s one perspective, one among many possible ways of seeing. Postmodern irony’s become our environment.

All U.S. irony is based on an implicit “I don’t really mean what I say.” So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: “How very banal to ask what I mean.” Anyone with the heretical gall to ask an ironist what he actually stands for ends up looking like a hysteric or a prig. And herein lies the oppressiveness of institutionalized irony, the too-successful rebel: the ability to interdict the question without attending to its content is tyranny. It is the new junta, using the very tool that exposed its enemy to insulate itself.

The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels.

Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.

Destroying Art Pt. 1 (Installations)

Note: This is the first of a three part series on the act of destroying art, which are inspired by my experience working as summer-help for a university art department/gallery.

Installations are hard to destroy. I believe the primary function of installations is, not just to occupy a space, but to redefine it. Over the summer, I destroyed two installations, and it was immediately obvious that their mark on space/time is hard to erase.

Actually, unlike destroying other kinds of work, the act of destroying an installation is closely related to the act of creating one. When an installation is taken down, the space reverts from what it had been back to what it was. The effect is jarring (just like walking into a familiar gallery, only to find it has been transformed by an installation).

I think this can be contrasted with removing a painting from a wall. Hung art has some sense of portability in its nature (even big paintings; we’ve all seen a huge painting and thought “how are they going to get this thing out of here?”) Hung art has something of decoration built in its nature, which is clear from the fact that we all use paintings/prints/sculptures as art in our houses. When you take a painting out of a room, the room is still the same. Maybe it’s emptier, but it is still the same room. Likewise, even the most over-bearing of paintings/photographs don’t change the essential nature or function of a room. An installation does.

So, how does destroying an installation help our understanding of the function of the work? By destroying an installation, you are actually participating in a transformative act. This transformation is returning the space to its original state. It is completing a cycle. The existence of an installation cannot be completely understood until it is gone. Only then will its effect be fully and completely evident. The destruction of an installation opens the door to is creation.

Signs Speak, Pictures Show.

My Life Is Really Evil.

My life is really evil. Like, there are people who are starving in the world, and I drive an “Infinity.” That’s really evil! There are people who just starve to death! That’s all they ever did. There’s people who were born, and they go “oh…I’m hungry,” and then they just die. And that’s all they ever got to do. And meanwhile I’m in my car like “boom, boom bam!” like having a great time, and I sleep like a baby!

It’s totally my fault. Because I could trade my “Infinity” for like a really good car, for like a nice Ford “Focus” with no miles on it. And I would get back like twenty thousand dollars. And I could save hundreds of people from dying of starvation with that money. And every day I don’t do it. Every day I make them die with my car.

Louis C.K.

Patriotism.

I love the United States of America.

My heart stirs every time I hear the “Star-Spangled Banner” sung at a sporting event.

Maybe it’s silly. But I really do love my country. Some people are pretty surprised at this. I think that is stereotyping. No, I’m not pro-war or pro-military (as their current definitions stand), but I want to say that I support the things they are fighting for.

And if you aren’t patriotic, I might take a moment to at least explain why I am. See, I understand why you would be jaded on the topic of America. In 234 years we have become arguably the most selfish nation on the face of the globe. We consume most of the Earth’s resources, and we do our darndest to ruin as much of it as possible. Our clothes, our oil, our electronics, and much of the food we eat come to us via some of the world’s the poorest populations. We could literally feed every hungry mouth in every country with the money we spend on ice-cream. Our institutions (no matter how we try and deny it) still manage to be sexist and racist. We do not respect the rights of Gays, Lesbians, Bi-Sexuals and Transgendered people as humans. We are an empire.

It’s easy not to be patriotic.

The phrase “The American Dream” is most popularly uttered these days with extreme cynicism. But my currently life is due precisely to that dream. My family hasn’t been in America too long to forget where we came from, and how we got here. America is where we learned to read. Where we got work. Where we owned property for the first time. Where we got our first cars and met the loves of our lives.

My ancestors came to these shores because of a promise. It’s a promise that has been abused since it was penned-down onto paper for the first time, even by those that wrote it. It’s the promise that all mankind was created equal, and endowed with certain unalienable rights, like life, liberty and the right to pursue happiness. This promise is different from those in other places. Because the founding documents of many republics around the world share a similar sentiment.

The thing that makes America different, is that we have seen it as our duty as citizens to make sure that promise is fulfilled. While the people of foreign nations try to blame their governments and their authorities, Americans are forced to acknowledge that when our country commits an injustice, it is our own fault.

But with that responsibility comes a great hope. Because while we share the blame, we also have the power to right those wrongs. Maybe I am naive, but I believe that within us as a people we have the ability to make this world a far better place then the mess we inherited from our parents.

So that’s why I love America. Because I still believe in her.

Happy Independence day.

Reflections on “The Good Man Jesus, And The Scoundrel Christ”

I was a little skeptical going into The Good Man Jesus And The Scoudrel Christ. I really like Phillip Pullman’s more well known work the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, but I wasn’t exactly sure how his take on Jesus was going to be. Pullman (in case you didn’t know), hates religion. He’s very vocal about his distaste for Christianity in particular, and wrote a trilogy of kids books that are for humanism what “The Chronicles of Narnia” is for Christianity.

“Scoundrel” is Pullman’s revisionist take on the life of Jesus Christ. In the book, Jesus Christ is two people. Jesus is a simple carpenter spreading what he believes is the common-sense truth, and Christ is his power hungry brother who hopes to turn Jesus’ message into a church that will span the globe. It’s not meant to be taken seriously like a Dan Brown story, it is more of a thought experiment to exam both the good and evil in the Christian religion.

It’s a conceit that is admittedly a little cheesy. Sometimes Pullman gets caught up in his story, but the thing about this book is that it completely surprised me. The most beautiful passages, the ones that I have found myself coming back to, are those sermons of Jesus Pullman has re-written in more modern language. One would think, with Pullman’s animosity towards religion, he would neuter or weaken the words of Jesus. But on the contrary, he seems to imbue them with almost more power. Take this passage from the sermon on the mount

You know the commandment against adultery: it says don’t do it. It doesn’t say “You must not commit adultery, but it’s alright to think about it.” It isn’t. Every time you look at woman with lustful thoughts, you’re already committing adultery with her in your heart. Don’t do it. And if your eyes keep look that way, pluck them out.

But Pullman’s Jesus doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his distaste for religion. He sees it as a mechanism for control, where others take advantage of those under them. These parts actually resonated with me as much as the sermons. Jesus says: “As soon as men who believe they’re doing God’s will get ahold of power…the devil enters them.”My distaste for religion these days really found footing in Pullman’s book.

What this book turns out to be, is on one hand a very tender love-letter to the words and deeds of Jesus, and on the other a scathing dismissal of organized religion. For me, the best part was towards the end, in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus imagines what his ideal vision for his followers would be.

Lord, if I thought you were listening, I’d pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn but only forgive. That it should not be like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow up in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow “Get out, you don’t belong here?” Does the tree say to the hungry man “This fruit is not for you?” Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?

A Few Images I’ve Taken So Far This Summer