27 December 2022

Rebel Voices

Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology
ed. Joyce Kornbluh

William Trautman
pp. 17-23
[orig. "published in Chicago, about 1911"]

[19] ...
What Is Craft Autonomy?

It is a term used to lay down restrictive rules for each organization which adheres to the policy of allowing only a certain portion of workers in a given industry to become members of a given trade union. Formerly, as a rule, a craft was determined by the tool which a group of workers used in the manufacturing process. But as the simple tool of yore gave way to the large machine, the distinction was changed to designate the part of a manufacturing process on a given article by a part of the workers engaged in the making of the same.


Evil Effects of Craft Autonomy?

Now, as observed in the beginning, a body of workers, only recently brought together, may walk out on strike, before they have learned to know what craft autonomy implies. In such cases they usually win. As soon as they begin to settle down to do some constructive or educational work, to keep the members interested in the affairs of the organization and prepare for future conflicts with the employers, they learn to their chagrin that they have done wrong in allowing all to be together.

They are told that they had no right to organize all working at one place into one organization. The splitting-up process is enforced, trade autonomy rules are applied, and what was once a united body of workers without knowledge of the intricate meaning of "autonomy" is finally divided into a number of craft organizations.

The result is that no concerted action is possible in the conflicts following. Many a time the achievements of one strike, won only because workers stood and fought together, are lost in the next skirmish. One portion of workers, members of one craft union, remain at work, while others, members of another trade union, are fighting either for improved working conditions, or in resistance against wrongs or injustice done them by the employing class.

Well hello there, Movie Industry.

pp. 61-63

[61] ...

I explained that sabotage did not mean destruction of property. Sabotage meant the withdrawal of efficiency, industrial efficiency, and told the workers that they practiced sabotage
in the interest of their bosses, and illustrated the thing this way:

I said, for instance, down here in California, there is a little colony, what they call Little Landers Colony. It was located at the base of a hill, and at the top of this hill there was an extensive water supply, but in order to conserve that water it was necessary to build a dam. Now the privilege of building the dam was under the competitive system and the dam was known as the Ottay dam. Men went down on that job and it was a slave job right. They kept them on the jump all the time. Naturally, under the competition condition, contractors have to cheat on materials. They have to get the contracts, they have got to live, they cheat on materials, they squeeze and pinch here and there as the circumstances permit, so no one questions the fact but what a concrete dam could be built so solidly that nothing could take it out. I illustrate, by the Chinese wall as it stands today. We could duplicate that; we have the materials, but it is not done, and the reason it is not done is because of this competitive program, and the conditions under which it is operated, but it is the slaves themselves who actually practice the sabotage. Here is a fellow wheeling cement. At the instruction of his foreman he cheats a little on the cement; his gravel is not clean cut and clear. The sand is of a poor or inferior grade and the concrete, when it is poured in there is not what it should be. The consequence is that after a time, as in the case of this Ottay dam, the dam bursts—a storm came along, an unusual storm, that is granted—a storm came along and it burst this dam and the water flowed down off this mountain and drowned out all of these settlers in the low land at the base of the hill, their little one acre farms were ruined; their stock was gone; their homes scattered to the desert in every direction.

Now I explained that the workers had practiced sabotage in the interest of the bosses profits, but that the I.W.W. said, "Go on that job and put so much cement in there, put so much clean stone in there, put so much stuff in there that they can have all the storms that it is possible to brew in southern California and that dam will still stand and there will be no loss of life or property.

On the other hand, I spoke of an incident that occurred in Jersey; I was doing some electrical work in a building one day, one of these little bungalows out in the suburbs, and a fellow was spending some time on the door sill, a carpenter, and he was making a pretty close fit of things, as is necessary if you want protection against the weather in that country, and the boss came along, the real estate man came along and he said, "Holy smoke, man, you are putting in an awful lot of time on that doorsill; you have got to get a wiggle on." This carpenter turned to him, and he said, "Why, man alive, I am only trying to make a good job out of this thing; I am putting in a door sill here as it should be put in; I want to make a house fit to live in." The real estate man said, "Fit to live in! What are you talking about, I am not building this house to live in, I am building it to sell."

And so the same way with my work as an electrical worker. I get a job in competition with other workers, and speed, efficiency,—speed-efficiency, profit-efficiency was the gauge.

I went in to do my work. I had to eat; I had to shoot her in just as I was told to shoot her in. Of course, there were rules and regulations supposedly governing the installation, but nevertheless, I had to pinch and squeeze everywhere, and the consequence was, as a result of speed work and conditions, I had to do the best I could to get done. The idea was to get done. Electrical fires are reported all over the United States; millions of dollars worth of property destroyed because some man has practiced sabotage in the interest of the masters. We I.W.W.s say, we electrical workers can do a good job; you muckers can do a good job. Do it. Practice sabotage in the interest of the safety and security of society. It was along those lines that I spoke of sabotage.

Well hello there, Recording Industry.

Chapter 3

Riding the Rails: I.W.W. Itinerants

(pp. 65-71)

[67, quoting Dr. Ben Reitman] "The hobo works and wanders, the tramp dreams and wanders, and the bum drinks and wanders."


[71] Hobo songs and poems seldom talked about love or beauty, yet curiously enough, Dick Brazier, author of so many of the verses in the little red songbook, told labor folklorist Archie Green:

. . . the West was a wide open country, the open spaces really existed. There was plenty of room to move around in, and there were scenes of great grandeur and beauty, and there were journeys to be made that took you to all kinds of interesting sections of the country. That's the feeling we all had. I think that's one of the reasons we kept on moving as much as we did. In addition to searching for the job, we were also searching for something to satisfy our emotional desire for grandeur and beauty. After all, we have a concept of beauty too, although we were only migratory workers.

Joe Hill
(pp. 141-143)
[International Socialist Review, December 1914]

[142] What the working class needs today is an inexpensive method by which to fight the powerful capitalist class and they have just such a weapon in their own hands.

This weapon is without expense to the working class and if intelligently and systematically used, it will not only reduce the profits of the exploiters, but also create more work for the wage earners. If thoroughly understood and used more extensively it may entirely eliminate the unemployed army, the army used by the employing class to keep the workers in submission and slavery.

In order to illustrate the efficacy of this new method of warfare, I will cite a little incident. Some time ago the writer was working in a big lumber yard on the west coast. On the coast nearly all the work around the water fronts and lumber yards is temporary.

When a boat comes in a large number of men are hired and when the boat is unloaded these men are "laid off." Consequently it is to the interest of the workers "to make a job last" as long as possible.

The writer and three others got orders to load up five box cars with shingles. When we commenced the work we found, to our surprise, that nearly every shingle bundle had been cut open. That is, the little strip of sheet iron that holds the shingles tightly together in a bundle, had been cut with a knife or a pair of shears, on every bundle in the pile—about three thousand bundles in all.

When the boss came around we notified him about the accident and, after exhausting his supply of profanity, he ordered us to get the shingle press and re-bundle the whole batch it took the four of us ten whole days to put that shingle pile into shape again. And our wages for that time, at the rate of 32c per hour, amounted to $134.00. By adding the loss on account of delay in shipment, the "holding money" for the five box cars, etc., we found that the company's profit for that day had been reduced about $300.

So there you are. In less than half an hour's time somebody had created ten days' work for four men who would have been otherwise unemployed, and at the same time cut a big chunk off the boss's profit. No lives were lost, no property was destroyed, there were no law suits, nothing that would drain the resources of the organized workers. But there WERE results. That's all.

If every worker would devote ten or fifteen minutes every day to the interests of himself and his class, after devoting eight hours or more to the interests of his employer, it would not be long before the unemployed army would be a thing of the past and the profit of the bosses would melt away so fast that they would not be able to afford to hire professional man-killers to murder the workers and their families in a case of strike.

Well hello again, Recording Industry! We've got to stop meeting this way!

Somewhere, Frank Zappa said/wrote:

Get your fiddle, get your bow
Play some footballs on your hole
Watch your watch, play a little flat
Make the session go overtime, that's where it's at

Hey, saxophone, clarinet
How many doubles can you get
Special rules provide the way
To help you maximize your pay

Whatever his other shortcomings, Frank certainly seems to have understood craft autonomy, sabotage, and détournement as well and as deeply as these early unionists did. What's more, his critique of professionalism did not entail (how could it?) dispensing with craft or technique. (See below the final excerpt of this post for the converse, baby-with-bathwater version, which is the sort of nonsense that forbids us taking such things for granted.)

For those of us so inclined, this new method of warfare isn't going to cut it, because it railroads us (pun intended) into doing a bad job. This must be, I assume, part of the Wobblies' contempt not merely for craft autonomy per se but for the craft ethic writ large. And this, for me personally I would say, presents quite a dilemma of which I certainly can "see both sides."

I should add that I absolutely have seen Culture Industry workers (they happen to be conservative ones who hate unions and activists broadly) make work for each other in a similar-though-not-identical way as above. And I should not say any more about this for the time being.

(pp. 150-152)


I am glad to hear that you manage to make both ends meet, in spite of the industrial deal, but there is no use in being pessimistic in this glorious land of plenty. Self preservation is, or should be, the first law of nature. The animals, when in a natural state, are showing us the way. When they are hungry they will always try to get something to eat or else they will die in the attempt. That's natural; to starve to death is unnatural.

Poignant as this is, ultimately it's just a backdoor rationale for violence, and more insidious than the frontdoor versions precisely for its poignant, intellectual qualities. Cloaked in rhetoric that is literally communistic, beneath the surface it cedes a decisive point to the paleocon right: that because humans are animals we should assume ourselves incapable of anything beyond the scattershot altruism and cooperation found in "nature." Is there any argument for any left-of-center program once this point is conceded? Yet somehow this is the version of "Darwinism" that has become acceptable (been made acceptable?) for certain left-wing voices (and not others!) to articulate.

(Or does die in the attempt just mean falling into a crevass while the other animals cackle Darwin-award style?)

(pp. 212-214)
(review of the pageant from Current Opinion, July 1913??)

[212] In the revival of one of the earliest forms of drama, the pageant, has been found one of the most "picturesquely vivid means of teaching a lesson or winning devotion to some particular cause." So says Katharine Lord, writing on "The Pageant of the Idea" in the New York Evening Post. Altho this form of drama, Miss Lord points out, is supposed to be nothing but a vivid record of history, the tendency in America has been toward its use for propaganda purposes. The suffrage pageant, recently given in the Metropolitan Opera, was a symbolic pantomime rather than a pageant. The pantomime was weak, says Miss Lord, "in that it is too exlusively symbolic, and has no substructure or human action to carry the idea." On the other hand, she continues, "it is suggestive of a strong, dramatic, forceful, vivid pageant, which would have the inculcation of an idea or the advancing of a cause for its distinct purpose."

A pageant of this type was produced shortly after these words were written. So successful in depicting the cause of the striking silk workers of Paterson, N.J., was the "Pageant of the Paterson Strike," presented in Madison Square Garden on the night of June 7, by one thousand of the strikers and their leaders, that the New York Times found in the performance a veritable menace to existing society. ...

On the other hand, the New York World found in the strike pageant something more poetic and less menacing. Speaking editorially it said: "It was not a drama, and hardly a pageant as the word is understood. It was little more than a repetition of a single scene. But need can speak without elocutionists, and unison of thought in a great mass of highly wrought-up people may well swell emotion to the point of tears. Probably few witnessed the exhibition without sympathy with the sacrifices that made it possible and satisfaction in its material success."

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
(pp. 214-226)
[speech before the New York Civic Club Forum
January 31, 1914]

[216] We had the difficulty that silk is not an actual necessity. In the strike among coal miners you reached the point eventually where you had the public by the throat, and through the public you were able to bring pressure on the employers. Not so in the silk industry.

Entrepreneurial musicians and above-named Industries take note.


(pp. 286-289)
[unsigned article, October 1922]

The Workers' Welcome

[287] Have you ever thought of how we, the workers in the woods, mines, construction camps or agricultural fields, are really approached and "entertained" when we visit our present centers of "civilization" and "culture"? What is the first thing we
meet? The cheap lodging house, the dark and dirty restaurant, the saloon or the blind pig, the prostitutes operating in all the hotels, the moving picture and cheap vaudeville shows with their still cheaper, sensational programs, the freaks of all descriptions who operate on the street corners, from the ones selling "corn removers" and shoestrings to the various religious fanatics and freaks. Did you ever see a sign in the working class district pointing the way to the public library? I have not. Did you ever meet a sign in any one of the rooming houses where we are forced to live, advertising a concert or a real play of any of our great writers...? Never.

I mention this because I, like all others, have certain desires I want to satisfy. We want a break in the monotony of camp life. That's why we go to the cities. We want to see and partake in all those manifestations of civilized society, we want amusements, comfort, leisure. We also want a clean and healthy environment composed of both sexes, we want a home, family, children. We want to see ourselves and our ideals in life perpetuated in our own offspring. And may I say that I hold this to be a blessing for humanity. Whoever does not strive and fight for the good things of life is, in my opinion, dangerous to society. But due to our perverse social system we are prevented from satisfying our desires and the majority of our class accepts whatever is offered as a substitute.

Merely the more extensive and eloquent of several declarations to this effect which appear throughout this collection.

Clifford B. Ellis
Editor of The Industrial Worker
(pp. 365-369)
[from the I.W.W. pamphlet Twenty-Five Years of Industrial Unionism, Chicago (1930)]

[366] If education is to prepare one to perform the duties of life, as Webster says, it is apparent that it should be specialized to suit the needs of the individual. It is assumed by our educators that all members of society have certain duties in common, such as duties to the State, a common moral code and the amenities of social intercourse. If all the members of society were of approximately equal economic condition, the assumption might be accepted as a practical working proposition; but in a society divided by class lines, it is an absurdity. The most important material fact of modern social organization is completely and deliberately ignored in education; namely, that society is divided into two fairly well-defined classes consisting of those who work for wages and those who exploit the wage workers for profit and live by a species of gambling in the wealth produced by the other class.

Even technical education is divided quite unnaturally and unnecessarily into two branches along class lines. These are the mechanical arts on the one hand and the so-called professions on the other. No one can tell just where the line of division between the two branches should be drawn. No one knows just at what point a carpenter becomes an architect or a building engineer; or at what point a reporter becomes a "journalist" or when a real estate huckster becomes a "realtor." Obviously, the line of division lies outside of the technical factors involved and concerns itself with something else. Roughly, it depends on whether you are going to use the technical knowledge gained by study to do useful and practical things—to produce wealth—or whether you are going to use it in the exploitation of those who do the useful things. ...

And now, formalized credentialing has since rushed in to shade in the line of division. But this has exacerbated rather than alleviated the problem: still no one can tell, but everyone thinks they can.

[367] [The bourgeoisie] soon acquired class consciousness and awareness of the property distinctions that separated it by an immeasurable gulf from the wage workers who created the commodities in which it trafficked. But the ideas and ideology of its origins persisted in its educational system and education was founded on the fallacy that bourgeois society has established its ideal—equality of opportunity.

A Short Treatise on Wobbly Cartoons

Franklin Rosemont
(pp. 425-444)

[440] Underground comics had a lasting impact on the course of cartooning. Paradoxical as it might seem, one of their most important contributions was their defiant anti-professionalism. Thanks to these sometimes crudely drawn but most always energetic and provocative effusions, many thousands of young recalcitrants were encouraged to try cartooning themselves ("Geez, I could draw as good as that!"), just as years earlier many wage-earners had been inspired to take up the art by seeing cartoons drawn by their fellow workers in the IWW press.

The author lets the professionalist terrorists win here by attacking craftsmanship rather than careerism. He clearly knows more about the latter than the former, having talked someone or other into appending twenty Black Pages of bellicose puffery to this already-sprawling reissue.

This essay's appearance after the notes and bibliographies (plural), formatted for maximum efficiency rather than for the reader's eyes, seems like a good indication that professional considerations got the better of craft considerations here. Let's hope no one's union dues went towards the extra paper and ink.

Linda Nochlin—The Paterson Strike Pageant

Linda Nochlin
"The Paterson Strike Pageant"
(orig. 1974)


Making It Modern: Essays on the Art of the Now
ed. Aruna D'Souza
pp. 368-376

[372] A combination of visual spectacle and dramatic performance, the pageant can weld together two seemingly disparate forces, the subject and object of the dramatic metaphor. In reenactments like the Paterson Strike Pageant, the "actors" remain themselves yet at the same time play their roles as symbols of broader issues. In the same way, the farm laborers in Hitler's Nuremburg Rally of 1934 played—and were—themselves but at the same time stood for the masses of agricultural workers throughout the country. In like manner, the vast crowds that reenacted in Moscow in 1919 the storming of the Winter Palace were revolutionaries themselves yet also played the role of vaster revolutionary Russian forces.

For leaders of revolutionary movements, as well as for ideologues consciously or unconsciously intent on maintaining the status quo, the pageant was a potent weapon in forging a sense of communal identity for the hitherto inarticulate and unselfconscious lower classes. A pageant could function in the realm of participatory dramatic action rather in the way Diego Rivera's Mexican murals did in the realm of public visual art: to
forge a sense of contemporary purpose, self-identity and social cohesion out of a vivid recapitulation of historical fact heightened by symbolism.

But the pageant was also a unique political instrument in another way: the effects it had on the performers were as important as those it had on the audience. This can be said of no other performance art form.

I know not which esoteric usages are appealed to by effects, important, and performance art form, but this appears on its surface to be an absurd statement. Some effect is all but assured by most any performance. The question is not one of evidence or absence of effect; rather it is a question of control, of what in admin-speak has come to be known as Measurable Outcomes, without which not even another Paterson Pageant could get the attention of either the institutional art world or the "radicals" who ostensibly aim to countervail its power.

In the case of the Paterson Strike Pageant, the choice of significant incidents—...and the dramatic simplification and compression of events which may have been unclear when experienced in actuality—all made the striking workers conscious of the meaning of what they had lived through.

Later, Golin would emphasize this point even more forcefully. But he insists with equal vehemence that events were hardly unclear to the workers as these events were experienced in actuality.

At such a distance, now, from these events, and thus relying on "secondary" sources to form a yet more tenuous "tertiary" account, the distinction between general morale boosting and making people conscious of the meaning of what they had lived through could be meaningless. It may be lost to history. That much being granted, Intellectual history is both more amenable to continual revision and closer to my own concerns here anyway. And so as a matter of nothing more or less than Intellectual History, this drift from morale-boosting to consciousness-raising does seem worth noting.

This is above all an epistemological concern: often we realize only too late what we should have said or done; but also, we distort memories beyond any semblance of truth pretty much from the moment they are formed. Literary thought elevates the clarifying potential of hindsight to the status of an unquestioned and unquestionable virtue, of an assured result (think control again); but it fails to reckon (quite willfully, I think) with the distortive streak. It is often unclear, at least to me, just what it is that distinguishes the quotidian distortion of memory (surely a "motivated" distortion) from the production of "literature," aside from the packaging.

This is how activist litterateurs make their own beds and then become reluctant to lie in them. It is less literature itself than the activist imperative overlaid on it, here and elsewhere, which forces the epistemological issue; this because the concrete purpose of the activist demands concrete methods rather than experimental ones. And it is the dissonance between the thesis that workers were the strike leaders, on one hand, and the thesis that events may have been unclear to workers as they were unfolding in real time, on the other, which indicates, in fact, a substantial difference in interpretation even where the later author has exalted the earlier author and turned to her for support.

The fact that Nochlin is utterly unafraid of inviting comparison with Nazi and Soviet productions is at least a welcome preemption of the most tenuous, puritanical, animistic objections that might be raised against certain performing arts. But it also railroads us into judging these "participatory" artworks by our agreement or disagreement with their political orientation, and by little else. This is indeed a new kind of art, though there has been political art before. And it is only now, I think, with the long-awaited penetration of the mainstream entertainment industry by an activist ethic that is self-conscious, totalizing, and surface-oriented, with a supersession of unspoken ideology by loudly proclaimed ideological stances, it is only now that we can have an informed rather than merely speculative conversation, beyond the thick walls of academia or the paper-thin ones of industry, as to whether this is something that we really need or want; of whether we are better or worse off (or perhaps merely the same!) this way. I expect that "epistemology" will continue to play no role whatsoever in these discussions, and that this will be the reason why they continue to go nowhere helpful. But epistemology is the question here, and unlike history's lost secrets it will not disappear simply for not being spoken of.

Martin Green—New York 1913

Martin Green
New York 1913: The Armory Show and the Paterson Strike Pageant

[4] ...I derive some terms from Susan Sontag's essay on "The Aesthetics of Silence." She there discusses modernist art primarily, but she uses a vocabulary alien to ordinary
aesthetics. Her terms belong more to religion than to anything else. She says that, "Every era has to reinvent the project of 'spirituality' for itself." She defines spirituality in various ways which converge on the idea of ultimate value, or a religious transcendence of "the world," and continues, "In the modern era, one of the most active metaphors for the spiritual project is 'art.' The activities of the painter, the musician, the poet, the dancer, once they were grouped together under that generic name (a relatively recent move) have proved a particularly adaptable site on which to stage the formal dramas besetting consciousness . . .":

Well, I loves me some Susan but based on this retelling I'm quite confused as to just how a religious transcendence of "the world" follows quite so directly from any staging of those pesky formal dramas which are always besetting consciousness and sowing general mischief about the psyche.

these are, I take it, the dramas or crises of protest which express our need to transcend the ordinary conditions of life, the limited expectations and temperate temperatures with which we ordinarily pursue even artistic and intellectual concerns.

It would be simpler to say that we create what we need, but then there would be no transcendence and no spirituality to bandy about; and there would be formal dramas prominently involved only where we have either too much or not enough of them.

Steve Golin—The Fragile Bridge

Steve Golin
The Fragile Bridge: Paterson Silk Strike, 1913

[18] Paterson manufacturers suffered the cost of hiring experienced, skilled help, with all its attendant labor problems, because they had no good alternative. As the advertisement of a bankrupt manufacturer put it tactfully in 1913, "While this labor is more or less of an agitative character and at times unruly, yet this is due to the fact of its skilled character." ...the cost of training unskilled workers to weave even the plainer silks was very high because damage to the material was both frequent and expensive.

Lasch—Theatrical Possibilites

Christopher Lasch
The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics

The social conditions that generated the syndicalist explosion in Europe—the imposition of industrialism on economies still dominated by small workshops, a highly combustible mixture—had their nearest American equivalent in the West, where the traditions of the mining camp, the logging camp, and the bankhouse came face to face with corporate capitalism in its most ruthless, predatory form. The IWW was the direct descendant of the Western Federation of Miners, a union that ap-
pealed to the same sense of manly independence and the same love of combat to which syndicalism appealed in France and Italy. Here too, workers experienced industrialism and the wage system not only as a decline in their standard of living but above all as a drastic infringement of their control of the workplace, of their very status as free men. The company towns that sprang up in the mining states seemed to make "wage slavery" a literal description of the new order, not just a rhetorical analogy. The company controlled not only the workplace but housing, credit, and all the other necessaries. The worker who could remember life as a prospector or cowboy now found that he owed his soul to the company store. He felt literally sold into slavery, and he embraced the philosophy of "direct action" as the only way out.

While social conditions in the West bore some resemblance to those created by the early stages of industrialism elsewhere, the cultural tradition that workers were trying to defend obviously differed from those that underlay European syndicalism. In the American West, the ideal of independence was associated not with the small proprietor's control over his household, his land or shop, and his tools but with the wandering life of the unattached male. It was not surprising that the IWW glorified the hobo, the drifter, the "nomadic worker of the West," in the words of its newspaper, Solidarity. The West was still a "man's country," according to Charles Ashleigh, an English radical who emigrated to the Pacific Northwest and became a "hobo and a Wobbly," like the hero of his novel, Rambling Kid. Ashleigh admired the "reckless rambling boys who despised the soft security and comfort of a dull city-paced existence." Ralph Chaplin, the Wobbly poet and songwriter, was attracted to the movement by its "glamorous courage and adventure," which he too associated with the West. Those who admired the Wobblies from a distance likewise emphasized its western origins. The Lawrence strike was a "western strike in the East," Lincoln Steffens wrote; "a strike conducted in New England by western miners, who have brought here the methods and the spirit employed by them in Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada.

European syndicalism was informed by an austere ethic of thrift and self-denial. In America, the syndicalist movement came to be associated with an ethic of self-expression and defiant irresponsibility—the new "paganism" of Greenwich Village. Literary intellectuals saw the Wobblies as cultural outcasts like themselves, free spirits, rebels against re-
spectability. They sensed the affinity between their own ideal of the emancipated individual, unburdened by the cultural baggage of the past, and the hoboes and migratory workers glorified by the IWW. Having absorbed from modern literature an image of the "beauty of the essentially homeless and childless and migratory life," as Floyd Dell put it, they recognized the Wobblies as soul mates. "Anarchism and art," said Margaret Anderson, editor of the Little Review, "are in the world for exactly the same kind of reason." Hutchins Hapgood, the personification of the bohemian intellectual, called anarchism the fine art of the proletariat. He compared the Armory Show, which brought modern art to New York in 1913, to a "great fire, an earthquake, or a political revolution."

The Wobblies did not object to this assimilation of art and revolution. They too saw themselves as artists. "I have lived like an artist, and I shall die like an artist," said Joe Hill before his execution for murder. Bill Haywood allowed himself to be lionized by Mabel Dodge and other members of her famous salon. He regarded the Paterson Strike Pageant of 1913—the fruit of his rapprochement between the IWW and Greenwich Village—as the high point of his career. Conceived by Mabel Dodge, the pageant was intended to dramatize the workers' exploitation by capitalism, but it exposed them to a more insidious kind of exploitation by turning radical politics into entertainment. "Life passed over insensibly into a certain, simple form of art," said Hapgood. ". . . That is the great thing about it, the almost unpredecented thing." Papers opposed to the IWW gave the pageant enthusiastic reviews: what was condemned as politics could be savored as theater. Both Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the IWW's most flamboyant orator, had earlier turned down invitations to put themselves on the lecture circuit or stage. In her case, the offer came from no less an impressario than David Belasco, who could see the theatrical possibilities of revolutionary activism as clearly as John Reed. At the pageant, Reed led the Paterson strikers in a song he had written for the occasion, "The Haywood Thrill." Haywood thus resisted the lecture agents only to fall into the clutches of the avant-garde, leaving Flynn to wonder whether the distractions of the pageant had not contributed to the defeat of the strike itself.

03 July 2022

Kenneth Anderson—The Therapeutic as Rights Talk

Kenneth Anderson
"A New Class of Lawyers: The Therapeutic as Rights Talk"
[1072] ..."social trustee professionalism"... Professional life was guided not only by technical expertise, but additionally it "promised to be guided by an appreciation of the important social ends it served. ...
... a marriage of technical expertise and social purpose... Morally, it was based on authority and not merely on efficiency...

Over the last thirty years, Brint notes, this idea of the professions "has become increasingly disconnected from functions perceived to be central to the public welfare and more exclusively connected to the idea of 'expert knowledge'". ...
... From a sociological perspective, expertise is now a resource sold to bidders in the market for skilled labor. ...
The shift in attitudes of the professional classes, or at least those holding market-ready knowledge, has resulted in what Brint calls a "separation of community orientation and expert authority." It goes far, he believes and I agree, towards explaining the increasing gap between the (ever-remoter but evermore powerful) expert and the (increasingly resentful) mass of others, who are themselves in the grip, rather than control, of the market.

Both Brint and Kronman emphasize the instrumentalist, transactional, mobile ethos of the contemporary professional, and both stress that these characteristics are consistent with creatures who do not believe themselves to have any grip on "ends," such as the public welfare espoused by the older social trustee professionalism, except as temporarily and contingently defined by bidders in the market for expert services. Brint goes even further, based upon his empirical research into the attitudes of professionals, and notes that today:
even people in the original fee-for-service professions rarely point to the social importance of their work as justification for social distinction. Instead, they justify differences between themselves and other people by discussing the kinds of skills involved in their work . . . 'I see no reason to think that our
work is more important to society than the work of an electrician or an auto mechanic,' said one life scientist, expressing the views of many. There is an appealing note of democratic egalitarianism in this statement, but in the background there is, more importantly, the triumph of expertise as a basis of distinction that requires no moral vaulting.

Well, that is a darn good point, and it darn well ought to apply to artists too, who tend, IMHO, to find ourselves wildly both under- and over-valued in relation to electricians and auto mechanics, depending on who is doing the (mis-)valuing.

One might therefore think...that the moral condition of the contemporary professional is essentially relativist, a refusal to take stands on the ends of social policy. Expertise, as Brint puts it in his well-wrought phrase, is its own vaulting; it needs no other, and indeed is capable of recognizing no other—except the bidding of the market.

If there is to be any legitimate basis for own-vaulting, it would be found, I think, in the particular manners and processes of acquiring the expertise, less so (perhaps paradoxically) in how it is dispensed. Surely these formal processes of education and training have changed as drastically as, and concurrently with, those other, broader social processes which have delivered the separation of community orientation and expert authority and are ever further stratifying the matter of being in the grip, rather than control, of the market.

Perhaps this makes it very difficult (and meaningless too) to sort out the effects of one from the other; I cannot help but think regardless that becoming a musican and becoming a doctor actually were more similar processes in times past than they are now, even though the rhetoric of the contemporary Cultural Entrepreneur by which this comparison has been colloquialized is of quite recent vintage.

Brint notes this simulataneous relativistic refusal to take stands on the moral ends of social policy coupled with the contemporary professional's assertion that expertise is its own authority and source of legitimacy in observing that on social issues
many professionals now have views that are better described as libertarian than liberal. Professionals very frequently want government to stay out of issues involving moral choices, and they even tend to take a stance in favor of community self-determination when it comes to the purposes of education and other socializing institutions. This tells more than is immediately apparent about the character of contemporary professionalism. Very little could be as distant from the spirit of the old professionalism—with its emphasis on community stewardship and cultural authority—as this shift toward libertarian views on issues related to cultural choice and social relations. It is the political hallmark of a new "expert" stratum with strong interests in marketable knowledge and weaker concerns about the relationship between community and authority.
Yet Brint's does not seem to me to be the only interpretation of this data.

I sure hope not


equating a



community self-determination





concerns about the relationship between community and authority






From my own experience, I would suggest...that the apprently modest instrumentalist claim that professionals
do not privilege ends masks, for many lawyers and perhaps a wider range of professionals, not a deficit of ends, but instead an excess of them. Many professionals, especially lawyers, in my experience, in fact have such a deep attachment to ends that any discussion of them with those who might disagree is quite literally pointless.
I think he is on to something very important here.
The silence of expert elites about ends can wrongly appear to betoken indifference or a modesty about an attachment to ends. Whereas, I would suggest it may actually stem from a belief that there is no point and no moral need to convince anyone, especially those who might disagree with you, of the virtue of one's ends. The diffidence may be strategic. It is better to be silent as to ends in any form of discourse that would require you to acknowledge other views as equal in stature to your own; it is better to present your own as the fait accompli...
... In my own experience, the professional world is filled not with people who have no fixed beliefs, but with people who have so very, very many—but are unwilling to admit to them as such because that would require arguing their merits without the crutch of reporting them as expert opinion. If there is anything to this observation, then contemporary professionalism consists of considerably more than the auction of skilled services in a market. Such strong attachments to social ends lead to a hierarchical and anti-
democratic division between the experts and everyone who lacks the credentials and language to challenge the pronouncements of the experts.

Well, color me simplistic, but if the very idea of expertise is so much permitted to exist, then there cannot be any real basis on which non-experts might challenge experts in their own practices. It seems to me the real question is how a community produces its experts and how their mandate is bestowed. And at that point the reclamation of expertise from the relativist refusal to take stands on the ends of social policy would seem not merely to suggest but to require a localist (which is NOT the same thing as a libertarian!) orientation.

It is not implausible to characterize this division as a class divide between professionals and the rest of society. But this observation brings us to consideration of a theory that can account for it in class terms, the so-called theory of the New Class.
Tell me more.

[1090] When lawyering becomes the means to infuse therapeutic ends into the public and private by privileged access to the dividing line between them, then notwithstanding all its talk of rights, it becomes a profoundly illiberal profession. In one of my own very few conversations with Lasch, in 1991, I put this to him. He responded that he saw lawyers as an essentially New Class conduit for the authoritarianism of the regime of public therapy. This Essay has, therefore, sought to set out at least the form of argument...for what that might mean, in order to ask what happens to lawyers and the law when the dominant paradigm of social control becomes therapeutic but its language remains the language of rights.

Beyond that, Lasch said, the issue really was the transformation of rights talk from a liberal discourse...into a therapeutic discourse. Yet, he went on, the specification of that transformation was something that needed to be examined from within the law
and the legal profession; it was a task, he thought, peculiarly appropriate to lawyers and peculiarly difficult for intellectual historians like himself.

So perhaps Kronman ought to look further afield than he does for an answer to the unhappiness of lawyers; perhaps he ought to take a frankly class, and not just market, view of lawyers, and consider their place in a specifically therapeutic society. If he were to do so, he might well conclude that today's lawyers are, if anything, over-professionalized, and unhappy in part because they sense, as others sense, the brittleness of professional identity and its inability alone to sustain the human spirit... Brint too, having demolished one version of the New Class thesis, perhaps ought to consider the continued relevance of another, that of the New Class in service to monopoly capital maintaining its grip upon a culture of several narcissisms.

As for Lasch, the issue of the New Class and its lawyers is authoritarianism. In an age when the therapeutic has appropriated rights talk, and with it lawyers, turning it and them into agents of New Class authoritarianism and social control, the real question that needs to be answered is why there exists the continued "hegemony within the public culture of an essentially indeterminate and at the same time absolutist discourse of rights." The answer Lasch gave by the end of his life was that it predominates because, far from being merely a language of individual liberty or even unbridled individual license...it is today a language of state authority, a language of therapeutic paternalism; those who actually dream of being "liberals," in Morris' sense, will not reclaim rights talk any time soon. ...

Lawyers are deeply complicit in this colonization of the language of rights by the culture of therapy. They participate because it serves the agenda of a class that, unfamiliar with democracy except as an impediment to its social engineering, is incapable of any form of discourse that is not directed from the top to the bottom. Expertise, particularly in the social sciences, is a language of hierarchy and social control, and lawyers today, as a professional formation within the New Class, deploy the language of rights to the end of making the therapeutic coercive in the public sphere.

It is not a glorious profession because it is not a glorious class, and lawyers are right to be unhappy.

[emailed to self, 9 December, 2021]

02 July 2022

Garry Chick—Games and Their Rhetorics

Garry Chick
"Games and Their Rhetorics: An Idiosyncratic Appreciation of The Contributions of Brian Sutton-Smith"
[13] In a 1964 study, Sutton-Smith and Roberts showed that 8 to 12 year old children were able to attribute playing style-like characteristics to others. They created a categorization of players wherein those who “act (a) like players in games of chance and try to succeed by relying on luck, i.e., are fortunists; (b) like players in games of physical skill who try to succeed by applying physical power, i.e., are potents; or (c) like players in games of strategy who try to succeed by making wise decisions, i.e., are strategists” (15). Children who either lacked followers or gave up in the face of difficulties were regarded as failures. In addition to the children’s sociometric ratings of others, teachers rated the children in terms of their success in the classroom and on the playground. Sutton-Smith and Roberts (1964) found that 76% of the children named as classroom successes were in the top quarter of the distribution of strategists as perceived by other children. Fifty per cent indicated by teachers as successful on the playground were in the top quarter attributed as being potents. Fifty-nine strategists, but only four potents were regarded as classroom successes by teachers while 34 potents, but only 17 strategists, were classified as playground successes. Teachers classified 65% of the children regarded by their peers as either fortunists or failures as failures either in the classroom or on the playground. Sutton-Smith and Roberts (1964) extended their study by further examining the children who were in the top quarters of the distributions in each of the categories. As some children were in the top quarters of more than one category, Sutton-Smith and Roberts created the additional categories of potent-strategists, potent-fortunists, and fortunist-failures. They reported:
Our results show that boys make distinctions among children who succeed by strategy, children who succeed by power, and children who succeed by using a combination of these two types. Boys do not, however, appear to distinguish clearly between children who succeed by good fortune and those who simply fail. To succeed by luck is apparently tantamount to failure.
Girls, on the other hand, distinguish between children who succeed by fortune and those who simply fail. The largest difference between the two groups is to be found in the girls’ game preferences in which the fortunist-failures are not unlike the success groups in their responses, whereas the pure failure group is atypical and immature. The distinction made by girls between potent-strategists, strategists, and potent [sic] seems not to be a distinction in type as it is with boys so much as a distinction in degree. Potent-strategists have most of the desirable characteristics, strategists somewhat less, and potents even less; but all three groups are superior to fortunists and failures. (31)
Sutton-Smith and Roberts (1964) concluded that children can consistently place each other into categories based on games and that boys, in particular, play games that are analogous to their success styles. Girls tend not distinguish among success styles but do so among failure groups.

p. 16 subject heading:
Games as Ambiguous Agents of Socialization

My note says:
emphasizes that coaches can usurp decision making and encourage bending the rules...but it seems fair to speculate that the games themselves (more specifically, perhaps, the stakes) could have the same effect.

Lasch, in his chapter on sport, makes reference (pregnant reference I would say, especially if you are both a sports fan and a musician) to a certain irreducable "autonomy of cultural traditions," and he quotes approvingly an ex-pro athlete who holds that "Money" in pro sports "has nothing to do with capitalism." For Lasch, this stands as a "Reject[ion of] the simple-minded radicalism according to which "commercialization" has corrupted sports."

Neither Lasch nor his source, evidently, foresaw the latter career of LeBron James, e.g., wherein the "corrupt[ion]" of sport by "commercialization" can in fact be noncontroversially pinned to quite specific statements and actions. Hence the managerial turn remarked upon above, while it certainly is in evidence in the NBA, is superfluous to the diagnosis of "corruption;" a strong word no doubt, but the only accurate word for a sport where the top points-per-game scorers, per Ryen Russillo (7 June, 2022, ca. 3:35), on average play no more than 60 of 82 regular season games, and often many fewer than that. Per Russillo, in the last five years the number of missed games among the top 25 ppg scorers has gone from 6 to 23 (of 82). He points out that this past season many legitimate injuries contributed to the spike, but ultimately concludes that, "Until the money [i.e. esp. from live television rights] is screwed up, nothing happens," i.e. there is no urgency to shorten the season or legislate participation. Really it makes no difference whether the league is running the players harder than their bodies can take or whether the players are "resting" preventatively at the expense of competitive integrity. The diagnosis of "corruption" follows easily enough from either factor.

The obvious explanation for why this "corruption" is further advanced in basketball than in baseball or football is simple, and also very simply a function of that narrow but undeniable "autonomy" of the sport which follows ineluctably from its structure: a single great player has by far the most impact on team success (and therefore power over team management, coaches, and other players) in a 5-on-5 sport (or at least in this one) as against 9-on-9 or 11-on-11. It has also been ventured by more than a few talking heads that the NFL, in contrast to the NBA, is a "helmet league" which conceals players' faces and hence limits their off-the-field recognizability as powerful celebrities. Unfortunate as all of this is, the onus is on the detractors (can I just say opponents?) of "autonomy" for the West's more decadent "cultural traditions" to show that the structure of the game is at fault rather than the influence of money and careerism. It is, conversely, not nearly so difficult to show that the autonomy is real, since money and careerism have a way of bringing it into higher relief, as here, even in spite of the overall spectacular quality which all major-league American sports (and big-money performing arts endeavors) necessarily share. In other words, money's influence could not vary even so widely as in the above example if the "autonomy" was not real; and so, at least under the present circumstances, given the ability of autonomous factors to serve not just as vulnerabilities but also as defenses, there are ample grounds for rejecting the loudmouth cries of self-referentiality and decadence which are the customary response to assertions of the "autonomy" of any particular "cultural tradition."

Lasch also makes much of the managerial turn, evidently visible already in the late 1970s, which "makes every effort to eliminate the risk and uncertainty that contribute so centrally to the ritual and dramatic success of any contest." That this factor renders sports Ambiguous Agents of Socialization rather than outright positive or negative ones is a point near and dear to my heart, and also, I must add, fully consonant with my own youth sport experiences from Peewee through Babe Ruth. (Later I was fortunate to have an exceptional high school coach, Dave Wicker, who was a calculus teacher and, formerly, an accomplished baseball player, though there were, let's say, ambiguities to spare emanating from just about every other direction.) Lasch certainly understands this ambiguity, yet one of the few unperceptive aspects of his account is that he, as far as I can tell, treats the money issue and the managerial issue separately. It is a bit odd that he finds only "simple-minded radicalism" in the thesis that money corrupts sport; or at least it seems odd in hindsight, since much else in his account is characteristically on point, and because the conceit to "eliminat[ion of] risk and uncertainty" via bureaucratic means is (and it is fair here to also say was) a highly visible trait of the world he lived in, a major area of overlap between the "captialist" and "communist" leviathans.

[16] In the cross-cultural data, they found evidence that, in societies where all three game types [physical skill/strategy/chance??] are present, obedience was emphasized over self-reliance or honesty. In contemporary American sports, for example, coaches have all but completely usurped decision-making. Hence, there is little need for players to be self-reliant. However, coaches value obedience and self-restraint. And, as for honesty, coaches teach how to shade the rules without getting caught. At both the University of Illinois and Penn State University, I have
had offensive and defensive linemen from the football teams in class. When asked how often offensive linemen are guilty of “holding,” defensive linemen respond “on every play” while offensive linemen answer, “never.” Obviously, there is a difference in perspective but also in training. Offensive linemen are coached in how to hold and not get caught. Roberts and Barry (1976) concluded, “If games build character, that character may be less than ideal” (59). As Sutton-Smith so often emphasized, ambiguities exist not only in how we study play but in play itself.
[18] Sutton-Smith went on to critique [certain] studies and their conclusions based on post-1970 research and theorizing. More important, however, is that he recognized that the studies themselves were grounded in the then-extant view that play is an ideal activity for children rather than one that is to be maligned and avoided as in previous times and other cultures (see Sutton-Smith and Kelly-Byrne 1984). Thus, with respect to games, “When Roberts and I called them models of power, we were becoming victims of our own and other males’ macho rhetoric […]” (SuttonSmith 1989, 13). Further, with respect to games, he claimed that
In their own strange ways, they embody tenderness in their affairs as well as toughness. They make players love each other, or love their coaches, or love their supporters, as much as they make them hate each other. What shall we call them: the games as models of toughness and tenderness? Perhaps games as models of Power and Pusillanimity? (13)

My note says:
I would suggest that part of what BSS is groping for here is captured by the universalistic-particularistic distinction. We hate the opponent, but “it’s not personal,” and “game recognizes game.” Sorry, but this does seem to be a guy thing. Time for us to work on our emotions, and also time for the ladies to work on this.

The year I attended his (in)famous Interim class at CalArts, Art Lande related stories of reffing "high level" basketball, wherein the truly "great" players "love the other team."

[notes emailed to self, 26 April 2021]

Garry Chick
Games in Culture Revisited: A Replication and Extension of Roberts, Arth, and Bush

[188] Glassford (1976) enumerated several criteria that characterize good systems of classification. These include:

1. Exclusiveness. Members of one class should be excluded from all other classes that are at the same level of analysis. With respect to games, any individual game should be a member of only one class.

2. Exhaustiveness. The classification system applied to any particular concept should include all instances of that concept. A game classification system should be such that any game will fall into one of its categories.

3. Usefulness. A categorization system should be useful in description, analysis, or comparison (or all three) of the objects or events that it classifies. To be useful, a game categorization system must permit cross-cultural or other kinds of comparisons of games.


[189] The problem with all of these systems [e.g. from Caillois on], though they may have considerable utility in describing and understanding games, is that they are not exclusive and often not exhaustive. That is, many games can fall into two or more classes. Systems such as that of Caillois (1961) are so broad that it is difficult to exclude many activities that are not commonly thought of as games (e.g., skiing, riding a merry-go-round). The game classifications based on informant perceptions lack utility for cross-cultural comparisons, though it might be possible to construct some composite system based on several emic categorizations. On the other hand, any activity that fits their definition of games can always be categorized into one of the three classes given by Roberts et al. (1959). Though their categorization scheme has been criticized (e.g., Royce, 1972; von Glascoe, 1976), it has the advantage of being both inclusive and exclusive, unlike the alternatives developed by others. For this reason, it is useful in comparative research.

My note says:
Fair criticism of Caillois’ taxonomy. Still, “comparative research” is just one application. A taxonomy which is not useful for “comparative research” could still, imaginably, be useful elsewhere. And, admittedly, I just like the Caillois version. Will have to think about why that really is.

[193] Tables 3 and 4 indicate that the degree of political integration and social stratification have strong positive relationships with the presence of games of strategy. Hence, these results clearly support


Roberts et al.’s (1959) conclusions about games of strategy and the complexity of the social system. It is worth noting that Table 3 shows that no societies that lack multicommunity organization have games of strategy. In both his writings and in personal interactions after the publication of "Games in Culture," Roberts maintained that games of strategy model hierarchical social organizations, that such models function as socialization devices, and that for each specific society, there is a fit between the array of games present and the more general culture.

My note says:
...this leap straight to “modeling” is actually rather drastic! What if societies “create what they need” or “reproduce something absent”? This is not just a different explanation, it’s the OPPOSITE explanation.

[emailed to self, 26 April, 2021]

The Degradation of Sport

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism


The Degradation of Sport

[100] Like sex, drugs, and drink, they [sports] obliterate awareness of everyday reality, but they do this not by dimming awareness but by raising it to a new level of concentration.
A crucial distinction which deserves to be taken seriously.

The uselessness of games makes them offensive to social reformers, improvers of public morals, or functionalist critics of society like Veblen, who saw in the futility of upper-class sports anachronistic survivals of militarism and prowess. Yet the "futility" of play, and nothing else, explains its appeal... Games quickly lose their charm when forced into the service of education, character development, or social improvement.

And if so, then the distinction between
dimming awareness
raising it to a new level of concentration,
this distinction becomes quite important. It's easiest for play to get forced into service based on what it does well. Failing that, the forcers have to start off by lying about what it does well, which is not too difficult but is at least more difficult than the first way.

01 July 2022

The Selective Exaltation of Norms

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism
[49] The normative concept of developmental stages promotes a view of life as an obstacle course: the aim is simply to get through the course with a minimum of trouble and pain.

Sure. But is this ever such a cut-and-dried case of promot[ing] a very specific view of life? Or, mustn't it be granted that individuals will process/respond differently even to such a supposedly rigid normative concept as the developmental schedule? Isn't there always something like rugged instrumentalism available as a rejoinder to such assertions as this one?

30 June 2022

John Berger—The Success and Failure of Picasso

John Berger
The Success and Failure of Picasso

My note says:
p. 6—"the man, the personality, has put his art in the shade"
p. 9—"For Picasso, what he is is far more important than what he does."
p. 13—"Picasso's historical ambiguity...his fame rests upon his modernity... And yet in his attitude to art...there is a bias which is not in the least modern..."
It could not have been obvious in 1965 just how post-modern this outlook is, though in drawing a connection between the "what he is" outlook and Picasso's great fame JB clearly grasps the underlying mechanism. It is but a short step from the focus on self and the hostility to learning and reason and experimentation to the phenomenon of Famous for being Famous. The Picasso herein described would have made a near ideal instagram user...and instagram (the company and the user community) would have loved having him. The nineteenth- and twenty-first-century provenance of this ethos suggests a cyclical rather than linear history.

Fleshing out these passages:

[5] His name is known to those who could not name their own Prime Minister. ...
...certainly no painter has ever been known to so many people.

The mass media are the technical explanation of this. When a man has, for some reason or other, been selected, it is they who transform his public from thousands into millions. In the case of Picasso this transformation has also changed the emphasis of his fame. Picasso is not famous as Millet in France or Millais in England were famous eighty years ago. They were famous because two or three of their paintings were made popular and reproductions of these pictures hung in millions of homes. The titles of the paintings...were far better known than the name of the painter. Today, if you take a world view, not more than one out of every hundred who know the name of Picasso would be able to recognize a single picture by him.

The only other artist the extent of whose fame is comparable with Picasso's is Charlie Chaplin. But Chaplin, like the nineteenth-century painter, became famous because of the popularity of his work. Indeed there are many stories of how his public were disappointed when they saw the real Chaplin because they expected to see Charlie, complete with moustache and walking stick. In Chaplin's case, the artist — or rather his art — has counted for more than the man. In Picasso's case the man, the personality, has put his art in the shade.

In other words, as long as reproductions traveled more easily and widely than men, the titles of the paintings could be far better known than the name of the painter; whereas now, with all of the above reduced to the same flickering images and available anytime forever, the people unwittingly reveal over and over again their deepest desire that no artwork dare count for more than the man. The man is the medium, therefore also the message.

Those naive-but-archetypal postmodernists the Cultural Entrepreneurs and the Digital Rights Manage-ers, who would happily send Pinkertons to millions of homes if the licensing fees thus collected could so much as break even with the cost of enforcement, these parasites wrap themselves in every righteous cliche available to them, yet they are every bit as instrumental in the above-outlined changes as are the mass media. Paintings cannot levy, extract, or remit statutory tithes; only men can.

[8] I, more than most, appreciate the difficulty of writing about painting in words and the need for images and metaphors. But the images which Picasso's friends use all tend
to disparage the mere art of painting. ... [e.g.] ‘For Picasso, you see, painting is a side-issue.’

This would make better sense if Picasso had many other interests, and divided his energies between painting and other activities. It would even make sense if Picasso was an excessively social man who primarily expressed himself in his relationships with other people. But none of this is the case. He is single-minded; he works like a man possessed; and all his relationships are more or less subservient to the needs of his art.

What then is the explanation? Picasso is fascinated by and devoted to his own creativity. What he creates — the finished product — is almost incidental. To some degree this is of course true of all artists: their interest in a work diminishes when it is finished. But in Picasso's case it is very much more pronounced. It even affects the way he works. He denies that there is such a thing as progress in the creation of a painting: each change, each step, each metamorphosis — as he calls it — is merely a reflection of a new state in him. For Picasso, what he is is far more important than what he does.


[13] The important artists of Picasso's generation shared the attitude of their predecessors. Indeed part of their admiration for Van Gogh or Cézanne was due to their sense of having inherited their work, which it was now their duty to continue and develop further. All the emphasis was on what had been and had to be done. As they became highly successful...they may have needed to believe in their justification by working less urgently. But one has only to read those who...died before such success came, to realize how fundamental to this generation was their conviction that it is what the artist does that counts. ...

... Picasso is the exception. ‘It's not what the artist does that counts but what he is.’

We have here the first indication of Picasso's historical ambiguity. He is the most famous painter in the world and his fame rests upon his modernity. ... And yet in his attitude to art and to his own destiny as an artist there is a bias which is not in the least modern and which belongs more properly to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Note, p. 30:

"to search means nothing in painting, to find is the thing"
This remark "has perplexed people ever since he made it." Clearly Galenson thought he understood and made this central to his theory of the two artistic life cycles. So, when Picasso also says "I have never made trials or experiments," he is specifically referring to the macro-conceptual scale, for this statement is, per Arnheim's study of the preparatory work for Guernica, patently untrue. (The statement here is not dated; things could have changed.) The remark is, furthermore, quite in synchrony with the unsightly but compelling case JB makes for the imprint of Spain on Picasso. It commits the same gross evasion-by-oversimplification as do so many Rugged Individualist political commentators, who would have the underclasses "find" what they lack via force of will, without considering whether it is out there to be found at all.

[88] As for the social content of Gris's paintings, at the time they had almost none. Gris was extremely poor during the war, and had the greatest difficulty in selling or exhibitng any of his pictures. In the long-term sense, their function was to express and preserve a way of seeing, based upon an order which accepted all the positive possibilities of modern knowledge. In other words Gris painted these pictures as if the war had not happened. You can say: he chose to fiddle whilst rome burned. But, unlike Nero, he was not ultimately responsible for the fire and he was not in public. It was Gris's loneliness that made it possible for him to ignore the war without a loss of integrity. Even today there are still liable to be pockets of exemption anywhere and if an artist finds himself in one of these, the result can, paradoxically and in the fullness of time, be of considerable social value. ... But one must always remember that success, by qualifying the loneliness, also destroys the genuineness of the exemption. Success turns an artist who continues to claim exemption into an escapist...

note, pp. 83 & 89:
"The age of essential politics had begun.
Perhaps the realization that Everything Is Political stands as the (most) rational defense of what Bryman and others call Dedifferentiation.

p. 89:
"Stupid people often accuse marxists of welcoming the intrusion of politics into art. On the contrary, we protest against the intrustion."

p. 114:
"An attitude, once consciously held, has become a cast of mind. Thus...[in] Massacre in Korea, the effect is almost the opposite of what he intended."
Indeed, perhaps political art is possible when it is genuine, spontaneous, necessary; whereas gainful, self-conscious, "cast of mind" thinking is what dooms it.




is now free to paint anything he chooses. There are scarcely any forbidden subjects, and today everybody is prepared to admit that a painting of some fruit can be as important as a painting of a hero dying.

If only.

I mean, if only anybody (not to say Everybody, which is actually scary) was prepared to admit this today.

The impressionists did as much as anybody to win this previously unheard-of freedom for the artist.

Yet, by the next generation, painters began to abandon the subject altogether, and to paint abstract pictures. Today the majority of pictures are painted in the abstract.


Is there a connection between these two developments? Has art gone abstract because the artist is embarrassed by his freedom?

Maybe he is just exercising his freedom? Otherwise what's the sense in having it?

Is it that, because he is free to paint anything, he doesn't know what to paint?

Well, if the majority of pictures exhibit the same tendency, then it would seem that people know exactly what to paint.

Apologists for abstract art often talk of it as the art of maximum freedom.

I suppose this rhetoric comes in handy when an apology urgently needs to be issued. The statement isn't true at all, though.

But could this be the freedom of the desert island?

Point taken. But don't come crying to us tomorrow when mass media becomes social media.

It would take too long to answer these questions properly.
I believe there is a connection. Many things have encouraged the development of abstract art. Among them has been the artists' wish to avoid the difficulties of finding subjects when all subjects are equally possible.

Sure, because painting abstracts is easy. Similarly, choosing subjects is hard but avoiding them is easy. Anyone could do it.

Seriously, like the painters are all sitting around thinking, "Gee, what should I paint? There are too many choices! How I wish my society would issue stronger prescriptions on this matter. As it is, the range of choice is so dauntingly broad that I had better not make a choice at all. Instead I will paint abstracts. These have no subject and therefore permit me to avoid the difficulties of choosing what I would like to paint."

I raise the matter now because I want to draw attention to the fact that the painter's choice of a subject is a far more complicated question than it would at first seem.

After what has just been said, I would sure hope so.

A subject does not start with what is put in front of the easel or with something which the painter happens to remember. A subject starts with the painter deciding he would like to paint such-and-such because for some reason
or other he finds it meaningful. A subject begins when the artist selects something for special mention. (What makes it special or meaningful may seem to the artist to be purely visual — its colours or its form.) When the subject has been selected, the function of the painting itself is to communicate and justify the significance of that selection.

Okay, so if the purely visual qualities of colours and/or form, after all this, can indeed be special or meaningful to the artist even if what the subject is is not too important, then why dicker with the more circuitous reasoning of the wish to avoid and the the freedom of the desert island?

I would agree, actually, that it is quite difficult to justify the significance of the purely perceptual or contemplative, as against the representational; no less from the artist to themselves as to their audience. But this is as it should be. I think this is precisely the point, or one of them, of the abstract orientation. The failure to justify spells total failure for an artwork only when justification is its total mandate. Subject art is more susceptible to this kind of "total failure" than is abstract art.

It is often said today that subject matter is unimportant. But this is only a reaction against the excessively literary and moralistic interpretation of subject matter in the nineteenth century.

Right on.

In truth the subject is literally the beginning and end of a painting. The painting begins with a selection (I will paint this and not everything else in the world); it is finished when that selection is justified (now you can see all that I saw and felt in this and how it is more than merely itself).

Thus, for a painting to succeed it is essential that the painter and his public can agree about what is significant.

Well, if success means agreeing with the public at large about what is significant, and also Success turns the artist who continues to claim exemption into an escapist, then it seems this success business isn't all its cracked up to be. It would seem, actually, that Success is merely the hard way to Fail.

The subject may have a personal meaning for the painter or individual spectator; but there must also be the possibility of their agreement on its general meaning. It is at this point that the culture of the society and period in question precedes the artist and his art. Renaissance art would have meant nothing to the Aztecs — and vice versa. ...

When a culture is secure and certain of its values, it presents its artists with subjects. The general agreement about what is significant is so well established that the significance of a particular subject accrues and becomes traditional. This is true, for instance, of reeds and water in China, of the nude body during the Renaissance, of the animal head in Africa. Furthermore, in such cultures the artist is unlikely to be a free agent: he will be employed for the sake of particular subjects, and the problem, as we have just described it, will not occur to him.

When a culture is in a state of disintegration or transition the freedom of the artist increases — but the question of subject matter becomes problematic for him: he, himself, has to choose for society. This was at the basis of all the
increasing crises in European art during the nineteenth century. It is too often forgotten how many of the art scandals of that time were provoked by the choice of subject...

By the end of the nineteenth century there were, roughly speaking, two ways in which the painter could meet this challenge of deciding what to paint and so choosing for society. Either he identified himself with the people and so allowed their lives to dictate his subjects to him; or he had to find his subjects within himself as a painter. By people I mean everybody except the bourgeoisie. Many painters did of course work for the bourgeoisie according to their copy-book of approved subjects, but all of them, filling the Salon and the Royal Academy year after year, are now forgotten, buried under the hypocrisy of those they served too sincerely.

Those who identified themselves with the people...found new subjects and renewed, in the light of the lives of those for whom they saw, old subjects. A landscape by Van Gogh has a totally different meaning (and reason for being selected) from a landscape by Poussin.

Those who found their subjects within themselves as painters...strove to make their method of seeing the new subject of their pictures. In so far as they succeeded in doing this, as we saw in the case of Cézanne, they changed the whole relationship between art and nature, and made it possible for every spectator to identify himself with the vision of the painter.

Those who took the first solution were mostly driven on by the terrible pressures of loneliness. Because they wanted to ‘belong’ they became socially conscious. Having become socially conscious, they wanted to change society. It is in this sense only that one can say that they were political, and that they chose their subjects by the standards of a future society.

Cool idealism everybody. But if you only became socially conscious because you wanted to ‘belong’ then I don't trust you or your idealism. (See also Lasch on the 1960s.)

Those who took this first solution were more reconciled to being isolated. Their devotion was to the logic of their vocation. Their aim was not to submit their imagination to the demands of the lives of others, but on the contrary to use their imagination to gain ever-increasing control
of their art. They chose their recurring subject — which was their method of seeing — to create the standards of a future art.

No artist will fit neatly into either of these categories. I am deliberately being diagrammatic so as to shed some light on a very complex problem. The important artists of this century can also be approximately divided into the same categories: those whose method of seeing transcends their subjects..., and those whose choice of subject insists upon the existence of another (tragic or glorious) way of life, distinct from that of the bourgeoisie...

To which does Picasso belong? He has answered for himself:
I see for others. That is to say I put down on the canvas the sudden visions which force themselves on me. I don't know beforehand what I shall put on the canvas, even less can I decide what colours to use. Whilst I'm working I'm not aware of what I'm painting on the canvas. Each time I begin a picture, I have the feeling of throwing myself into space. I never know whether I'll land on my feet. It's only later that I begin to assess the effect of what I've done.

[177] It was as though Picasso could do no wrong, because whatever he did was never examined. Because he was the most famous artist in the world and a communist, he was exempt. Exemption is very like exile. One faction called this exemption ‘decadence’: the other ‘eternal hope’. As we have seen, Picasso needed subjects. Yet what the communist movement offered him back was only the exhausted subject of himself. Picasso as Picasso as Picasso.

Could it have been otherwise? It is usually a waste of time to play historical ‘if onlys’. But in this case the alternative is perhaps relevant because similar mistakes are still being made. Official Soviet art policy is so dangerously wrong-headed not because it has enshrined within the Soviet Union a style of naturalism which originated with the bourgeois nouveaux riches of the nineteenth century

...Though there is that!...

(its only appeal is the desire for owning the subject) — this could right itself; the disastrous part is to believe that such a style is exclusively and universally the style of socialist art, for this allows provincial predjudice to oust reason and forces the very special limitations of Russian art history on art everywhere. It shrinks the whole vast subject, and with half an answer begs every question.

The French attitude to art would seem to be very different from the Russian. Yet today there is one characteristic in common: a provincial complacency. Because Paris was for so long the art centre of the world and because the art trade in Paris has grown until it is now one of the ‘industries’ of the city, it has become an accepted idea amongst nearly all French intellectuals, including communists, that art is the natural blessing of France.
They are not so naïve as to believe that all good art is French, but they do believe that all good art finds its way to Paris and there receives its honours. ... In France it is believed that there are no questions about art which have not already been fully answered here.

Thus Picasso found himself confined within the prejudices of his new comrades — in France in one way, and in the socialist countries in another. Endless debates were carried on about how art could serve the needs of the workers of the world, and with each debate the range of the argument became narrower, the diversity of the world more forgotten.

note, p. 180:
Picasso in the 1950s as (child-)king at court
This is funny and sad yet totally unsurprising, really. Without denying the trenchance of JB's psychohistory, it is hard to see this child-king episode as exceptional, either for Picasso's role in it or that of his courtiers and courtesans. This is what happens when people get rich, fat and happy. The rich who remain driven are the exceptions.