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.

Stephen Spender—On Guernica

Russell Martin
Picasso's War

Quoting Stephen Spender:
[138] Guernica affects one as an explosion, partly no doubt because it is a picture of an explosion. ... So long as a work of art has this explosive quality of newness, it is impossible to relate it to the past.
People who say that it is eccentric, or that it falls between two stools, or that it is too horrible, and so on, are only making the gasping noises they might make if they were blown off their feet by a high-explosive bomb.... Guernica is in no sense reportage; it is not a picture of horror which Picasso has seen and been through himself. It is a picture of a horror reported in the newspapers, of which he has read accounts and perhaps seen photographs. This kind of second-hand experience, from the newspapers, the news-reel, the wireless, is one of the dominating realities of our time. The many people who are not in direct contact with the disasters falling on civilization live in a waking nightmare of second-hand experiences which in a way are more terrible than real experience because the person overtaken by disaster has at least a more limited vision than the camera's wide, cold, recording eye, and at least has no opportunity to imagine horrors worse than what he is seeing and experiencing.... The impression made on me by the picture is one that I might equally get from a great masterpiece, or some very vivid experience. That, of course, does not mean that it is a masterpiece. I shall be content to wait some years before knowing that.

Elizabeth Cowling—Picasso

Elizabeth Cowling
Picasso: Style and Meaning

[56] Like Matisse—but unlike many other innovative twentieth-century artists—Picasso never forgot, or wanted to forget, the achievements of the 'great masters' and he habitually made reference to them. ...his general approach perfectly fits Michael Baxendall's definition of the active, not passive, relationship which exists between a truly creative artist and the works of art which are his inspiration:
'Influence' is a curse of art criticism primarily because of its wrong-headed grammatical prejudice about who is the agent and who is the patient ... If one
says that X influenced Y it does seem that one is saying that X did something to Y rather than that Y did something to X. But in the consideration of good pictures and painters the second is always the more lively reality.


[95] Picasso's concentration on the sufferings of the dispossessed [ca. 1902] testifies to his identification with the workers' desperate struggle. But he was in no sense a political activist, and like most painters of his and his father's generation he was not prepared to put his art at the service of a political agenda, believing that painting should aspire to timelessness and that the appropriate forum for commenting on ephemeral socio-political events or expressing ideological convictions was the illustration, the cartoon and suchlike. Even artists like Picasso who were genuinely engagé made this fundamental distinction between painting and the graphic media. Assessing the relative importance of socio-political realities to the content of the Blue period work remains problematic because, having rejected naturalism, Picasso used an abstracted style as a way of universalizing or masking the strictly local and specific issues which may have provided his initial motivation.


The Lessons of the Artisan
In using popular codes of representation and imitating the typography of newspapers, posters, sheet music, and so on, Braque and Picasso signalled their intention to identify with nameless artisans rather than 'fine' artists. Throughout the Cubist years they lived in what were then cheap and unfashionable districts of Paris...where bohemian artists rubbed shoulders with the working classes. ... They took up boxing and affected the working man's uniform of overalls and canvas jacket. ...[as Kahnweiler once "reminisced":] They arrived, imitating labourers, turning their caps up in their hands: 'Boss, we've come for our pay!'

My note says:
Hipsters! Though it seems that ever fewer of today's hipsters are specifically "affecting" proletarianism. ...

Well, it might just be that I moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. The agro or lumbersexual of the Twin Cities was/is definitionally proletarian; not actually a lumberjack but certainly descended from one. And I suspect that more of the agros actually work for a living, in all kinds of jobs, whereas I find this ever harder to believe about most of the LA cohort with each passing year.

[336] For the three composers, for Cocteau, Massine, and Diaghilev himself, the discrepancies of style in Picasso's designs for Parade, and his virtuouso shifts between naturalism and Cubism in his easel paintings, were not anomalous: they were the norm, and
awakened in them no mistrust or incomprehension. All shared an essentially dramatic concept of the role of style, and all found the theater congenial because it required them to exercise their gift for composing in different voices and provided a focus for their commitment to the principle of change. In such company the question 'Which is the true Picasso?' did not arise. The contrast with the art world, where consistency was expected and inconsistency mistrusted and feared, could hardly have been greater.

an essentially dramatic concept of the role of style

After the heartwarming remark about stylistic inconsistency awakening no mistrust or incomprehension, this seemingly matter-of-fact observation is really not so flattering. What does essentially dramatic even mean? How can commitment to the principle of change be inherently a good (or bad) thing? It ought to depend on the change in question. And it certainly ought not depend on any old change merely to create dramatic-ness as an end in itself.

The later contemporary/millennial sense of drama seems apt as a corollary here. Perhaps millennial drama is actually a fair conjecture in Picasso's case (see J. Berger's book); but it's equally clear that he was simply a new kind of artist, and that even if he stands as exceptional in stature, the purported drama of his stylistic transitions would eventually become commonplace even among the mediocre, this owing not to anyone's mediocrity or greatness but to changes in the wider world. (Freed thus to reason transhistorically, Ligeti then becomes a much more logical comparison than Stravinsky, whose diversity of style either at any given time or viewed after the fact really was nowhere close either to Picasso's or to Ligeti's.)

[638] The fact that he had remained in Paris throughout the Occupation enhanced his reputation for defiance. But he was in his sixties and by the end of the decade it began to look as if he had been left standing by the rising avant-garde of abstract painters and sculptors. He remained stubbornly hostile to pure abstraction, which he sweepingly dismissed as undemanding, undramatic and, as he told Françoise Gilot, 'never subversive': 'It's always a kind of bag into which the viewer can throw anything he wants to get rid of. You can't impose your thought on people if there's no relation between your painting and their visual habits.'

Quite revealing, perfectly accurate, and meeting no objection whatsoever from these quarters. We're quite comfortable abdicating the imperative to impose, all the same in art as in life.

27 June 2022

Chomsky—Politics of Accommodation

Noam Chomsky
American Power and the New Mandarins
[9] By entering into the arena of argument and counterargument, of technical feasibility and tactics, of footnotes and citations, by accepting the presumption of legitimacy of debate on certain issues, one has already lost one's humanity. This is the feeling I find almost impossible to repress when going through the motions of building a case against the American war in Vietnam. Anyone who puts a fraction of his mind to the task can construct a case that is overwhelming... In an important way, by doing so he degrades himself, and insults beyond measure the victims of our violence and our moral blindness. There may have been a time when American policy in Vietnam was a debatable matter. This time is long past. It is no more debatable than the Italian war in Abyssinia or the Russian suppression of Hungarian freedom. The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us, who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction—all of us who would have remained silent had stability and order been secured.


[10] I suppose this is the first time in history that a nation has so openly and publicly exhibited its own war crimes. Perhaps this shows how well our free institutions function. Or does it simply show how immune we have become to suffering? Probably the latter. So at least it would seem, when we observe how opposition to the war has grown in recent months. There is no doubt that the primary cause for this opposition is that the cost of the war is too great, unacceptable. It is deplorable, but nonetheless true, that what has changed American public opinion and the domestic political picture is not the efforts of the "peace movement"—still less the declarations of any political spokesmen—but rather the Vietnamese resistance, which simply will not yield to American force. What is more, the "responsible" attitude is that opposition to the war on grounds of cost is not, as I have said, deplorable, but rather admirable, in keeping with the genius of American politics. American politics is a politics of accommodation that successfully excludes moral considerations. Therefore it is quite proper—a further demonstration of our superior acuity—that only pragmatic considerations of cost and utility guide our actions.

26 June 2022

Blogspot Bingo—Lasch's The Revolt of the Elites and The Minimal Self

Some worthy bloggerel returned by the google searches
"lasch elites site:blogspot.com"
"lasch minimal self site:blogspot.com"

20 June 2022

Sniderman and Tetlock—Symbolic Racism: Problems of Motive Attribution in Political Analysis

Sniderman and Tetlock
"Symbolic Racism: Problems of Motive Attribution in Political Analysis"

[144] Only a minority of Americans favor strict racial segregation, but they exaggerate how many other Americans favor it, often by a factor of two or more. ...

The point is not merely that many white Americans misperceive the racial attitudes of their fellow whites. It is rather that their misperceptions are asymmetrical, in two respects. First, they overestimate the number who are racially intolerant while underestimating the number who are racially tolerant... Second, the kind of mistake people make—whether they over- or underestimate how many people agree with them—hinges on their own racial attitudes. Thus, the racially intolerant overestimate—while the racially tolerant underestimate—how many people agree with them.

The asymmetry in preference estimation—pluralistic ignorance, as it is commonly called—suggests how the American dilemma is enduring. Not only does racial intolerance resist change, but even when it does diminish, the change often goes unnoticed, especially by the racially intolerant, with the result that they continue to believe they are in the majority while the tolerant continue to labor under the belief that they are in the minority.

Research on pluralistic ignorance undercuts the presupposition of symbolic racism researchers that social pressure against overt expression of anti-black affect is now widely effective in American society. Many bigots are not ashamed of their bigotry. It is not, from their point of view, bigotry at all; it merely a [sic] factual description of the world, and of certain kinds of people as they really are—indeed, as any open-minded person would acknowledge they are. Of course, some will feel inhibited from open expression of racial hostility. But many will not. If racists were as quick to dive for cover as symbolic racism theory suggests, racism would be a less serious problem than it is in fact.

Symbolic racism researchers also may have been too optimistic in their analysis of values. Race is the American dilemma, as it seems to us, in part because resistance to assuring equality for blacks (in addition to being rooted in racism) may still more fundamentally be grounded in the American ethos itself.

Symbolic racism researchers have pointed to the importance of such traditional values as self-reliance and the work ethic. But these values come into importance, on a symbolic racism analysis, only insofar as they are allied or conjoined with racial prejudice. But there is another, more sobering possibility: values such as individualism may undercut support for efforts to achieve racial equality, even when these values have nothing whatever to do with racism. For
example, suppose a woman opposes government assistance for blacks. Then she confronts a request for assistance for women similar to that requested for blacks. If she opposes assistance for women, just as she opposes it for blacks, should she be described as a racist?

There are many Americans like the hypothetical woman. They oppose government assistance for blacks, not out of aversion to blacks, but rather out of a set of normative beliefs defining the propriety both of asking for, and providing, public assistance. And these normative beliefs, a growing body of research suggests, tap values central in the American ethos, especially individualism.

Just how does this analysis suggest that a symbolic racism analysis may be overoptimistic? Quite simply, even supposing prejudice were to disappear completely, there would in all probability remain substantial popular opposition to government efforts to achieve racial equality. From this perspective, the American dilemma may involve a deep paradox: resistance to efforts to achieve racial equality may be rooted precisely in a commitment to a distinctively American conception of equality.

[emailed to self, 26 April 2021]

Matravers—Representational vs. Expressive Qualities

Matravers and Levinson
"Aesthetic Properties"

[196] Many terms that have an aesthetic use, also have a use in what I shall call 'central cases'. For example, in the central cases 'sad' refers to a particular mental state, or objects and events reasonably connected to such a state. There is an aesthetic use in which it refers to representations of situations which, if the situations were actual, the term would be appropriate... However, there is also an aesthetic use where it does not refer to the propositional content of objects (broadly construed), but to their expressive quality. Most
familiar from the literature, some pieces of purely instrumental music...are sad. Although this case is the most familiar a little reflection shows that a vast range of predicates have both central and aesthetic uses. The overwhelming aesthetic feature of Liverpool Cathedral, after all, is that it is big. Here is [Roger] Scruton's argument.

Consider the application of an emotion term —such as 'sad' — to a work of art (or, for that matter, to an event, or a letter, or anything that cannot literally be in the emotional state of sadness). To understand the word 'sad' is to know how to apply it to people in order to describe their emotional state. The criteria for the application of the term 'sad' concern the gestures, expressions and utterances of people on the basis of which I describe them as sad, and to grasp the concept of sadness is to know how to apply it on the basis of these criteria. When we apply the concept to art, however, it is arguable that these criteria are not, or need not be present. Does this mean that the term 'sad' is ambiguous?
Scruton points out that if the term were ambiguous, it would follow that someone could grasp fully what was meant in applying 'sad' to a work of art, whilst having no grasp at all of what it meant in the central case. This he rightly takes to be impossible. Hence, any view which entailed such ambiguity would be in trouble.

[emailed to self, 26 April 2021]

Salganik, Dodds, and Watts—Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market

Salganik, Dodds, and Watts
"Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market"

The abstract:
Hit songs, books, and movies are many times more successful than average, suggesting that ‘‘the best’’ alternatives are qualitatively different from ‘‘the rest’’; yet experts routinely fail to predict which products will succeed. We investigated this paradox experimentally, by creating an artificial ‘‘music market’’ in which 14,341 participants downloaded previously unknown songs either with or without knowledge of previous participants’ choices. Increasing the strength of social influence increased both inequality and unpredictability of success. Success was also only partly determined by quality: The best songs rarely did poorly, and the worst rarely did well, but any other result was possible.

The gist:
our results suggest not only that social influence contributes to inequality of outcomes in cultural markets, but that as individuals are subject to stronger forms of social influence, the collective outcomes will become increasingly unequal.

[emailed to self, 6 April 2021]

Insights From Animals

Peter Marler
"Origins of Music and Speech: Insights from Animals"
in Wallin, Merker and Brown, eds.,
The Origins of Music (2000)

[32] Some fifteen years or so ago, the thinking of zoologists about the semantics of calls of animals, especially the vocalizations of monkeys and apes, underwent something of a revolution. Not long ago, speculations about how best to interpret animal calls were all based on what Donald Griffin (1992) aptly described as the "groans of pain" (GOP) concept of animal communication. This approach assumed that vocalizations of monkeys and other animals are displays of emotion or affect, much like our own facial expressions. Only humans are thought to have progressed beyond this condition and to have achieved symbolic signaling. Premack (1975) stated the prevailing view clearly and succinctly: "Man has both affective and symbolic communication. All other species, except when tutored by man, have only the affective form." Symbolic signals are taken to be those that have identifiable referents that the signal can be said to connote in an abstract, noniconic fashion. For an animal communication system to qualify as symbolic, information about one or more referents has to be both encoded noniconically by signalers and decoded in equivalent form by receivers.

Note that this is not a discussion about whether animal signals are meaningful or meaningless. Both affective and symbolic animal signals are meaningful and are often rich in information content; both serve important and diverse functions, some communicative to other individuals, some with repercussions for the physiological and mental states of the signaler. At issue here is not the presence of meaning but the kind of meaning that affective and symbolic signals convey. This is a complex subject with many dimensions. Some view the contrasts as differences in degree rather than kind. In some circumstances signals traditionally thought of as affective, such as human facial expressions, can assume a symbolic function. Complex signals may contain within them intimately blended components in which the balance between affective and symbolic content can vary dramatically from one the another. Speech is an obvious case. Anonymous computerized speech, lacking individual iden-
tity, gender, and emotion, is a sadly impoverished vehicle for social communication. We must not fall into the trap of assuming that signal systems that are not languagelike are necessarily impoverished as vehicles for social communication.
If you say so. But to apply the encoding-decoding criterion outside the realm of language seems merely to establish quite the impoverished conception of social communication.

p. 36:
Phonological Syntax
Recombinations of sound components (e.g. phonemes) in different sequences (e.g. words), where the components themselves are not meaningful. I call this "phonocoding."

Lexical Syntax
Recombinations of component sequences (e.g. words in the lexicon) into different strings (sentences). Here there is meaning at two levels, the word and the sentence. The meaning of the string is a product of the assembled meanings of its components. I call this "lexicoding."

Peter Cariani
"Life’s journey through the semiosphere"
Hoffmeyer follows the contemporary tendency to think of sensory systems as being highly specialized for particular ecological niches, and hence to interpret Uexküll’s umwelts as mostly incommensurable perspectives. However, despite the spectacular adaptations that are sometimes observed (e.g. the sonar of the bat), these particular sensory enhancements are invariably built out of ancient body-designs that have been conserved over huge phylogenetic spans. The same evolutionary conservatism may hold for the neural coding strategies that are used in representing and processing sensory information. While the particular experiential textures of things, their qualia, undoubtedly vary across different vertebrates, the basic body-plans, sensory organs and neural representations are roughly similar. We may see in different colors, hear in different frequency registers, and smell different odors, but the basic relational organizations of our percept-spaces in the end may not be so radically different. Birdcalls are almost certainly interpreted by other birds in a manner that is very different from how we interpret them, but there is enough commonality to what we hear to enable us to imitate birdcalls well enough to fool the birds themselves. The same goes for birds listening to and imitating human speech. Such cross-species invariants are not possible without general-purpose sensory and effector mechanisms for both analyzing and producing wide ranges of sounds. It is thus possible for more generalist evolutionary solutions to prevail, especially in the realm of the senses, where appearances change rapidly. For predator and prey alike, one needs general purpose sensory systems that reliably recognize other animals under widely varying conditions.

John Wertheimer—Mutual Film Reviewed

John Wertheimer
" Mutual Film Reviewed: The Movies, Censorship, and Free Speech in Progressive America"
[160] the nation's highest tribunal brushed aside the Mutual's claim to freedom of speech and of the press on the grounds that films did not qualify for such protection: "It cannot be put out of view," Justice McKenna wrote, "that the exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit." As such, movies were "not to be regarded, nor [were they] intended to be regarded by the Ohio Constitution, we think, as part of the press of the country." The bald fact that most newspapers, books, and other "part[s] of the press of the country" were also "originated and conducted for profit" seemed not to matter to the judges. ...

At the time, the Court's decision in the Mutual Film case met with general if not universal approval from the legal community. ...[e.g.] The Central Law Journal, which also endorsed the Court's decision, pointed out that because moving pictures appealed to "the other senses than the intellectual sense," they had no legitimate claim to freedom of the press.

But as the years passed, and as American opinion makers grew increasingly fond of both films and the First Amendment, support for the Mutual Film decision dried up and gave way to criticism.
[161] In English law, from which American law derived, advance censorship of theaters and shows was both widely practiced and widely accepted for centuries prior to 1915. The history of the censorship of public amusements in England extends at least as far back as the sixteenth century. ...

[162] One may wonder at the widespread acquiescence of the English people in this state of affairs more easily than one may doubt it. Through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as Sir William Blackstone and others condemned prior restraints on the press as unacceptable infringements on English liberties, neither Blackstone nor any other notable English commentator applied similar logic to works of the theater. Owing perhaps to the popular belief that the stage possessed an extraordinary power to influence morals, "nearly everyone" in England accepted as legitimate the system of advance censorship established by statute in 1737. ...

It remains possible, however, that the United States, with its written constitutions, its Bills of Rights, and its free-speech traditions walked a freer path than did England... The lawyers for the Mutual Film Corporation certainly thought so. ... A glance at the past, however, reveals that although the stage may have been freer in America than it was in contemporary England or Europe, the Mutual's lawyers' faith in the American heritage of liberty was blind. The American past was replete with prior restraints on theatrical expression. Moreover, and just as significantly, prior to the Mutual Film Corporation's lawyers themselves, scarcely anyone in America had thought to argue that the governmental control of public amusements raised constitutional free-speech issues.
[163] Although theatrical bans passed through cycles of passage, expiration or repeal, and reinstatement, and although enforcement of such measures was inconsistent, the fact remains that prior constraints on theatrical exhibitions had long roots in American soil.


Some level of official control over the content of theatrical amusements persisted through the nineteenth centure and into the twentieth. A few states continued the colonial practice of banning all theatrical performances outright. ... More common than complete proscription, however, were two-tiered regulation mechanisms in which some sorts of shows were banned entirely while all other sorts had to be licensed in advance.
[165] Did these nineteenth-century laws licensing and prohibiting theatrical shows in advance violate American constitutional speech and press guarantees? More important than any answer is the observation that this was a question that nobody at the time thought to ask...

[emailed to self, 26 March 2021]

Wendy Brown—Wounded Attachments

Wendy Brown
"Wounded Attachments"
The point is not that these privations [profiling, etc.] are trivial but that without recourse to a white masculine middle class ideal, politicized identities would forfeit a good deal of their claims to injury and exclusion, their claims to the political significance of their difference.
politicized identities generated out of liberal, disciplinary societies, insofar as they are premised on exclusion from a universal ideal, require that ideal, as well as their exclusion from it, for their own perpetuity as identities.

[emailed to self, 18 March 2021]

Hanson and Kysar—Market Manipulation

Hanson and Kysar
"Taking Behavioralism Seriously: Some Evidence of the Problem of Market Manipulation"
[1426] Rather than simply
asking how a particular anomaly will influence the typical consumer, the more probative question is how the presence of cognitive anomalies will influence all actors in the market. With that distinction in mind, we explained that manufacturers have every incentive to utilize cognitive biases to lower consumer appreciation of product risks. Such manipulation, we argued, is simply another form of cost externalization, a practice that manufacturers naturally pursue in an effort to avoid costs and increase profit margins. We noted also that this manipulation of consumer perceptions should occur whether or not manufacturers are cognizant of it. That is, the competitive forces of the market should drive manufacturers to act as if they are utilizing behavioral findings to exploit consumer perceptions, regardless of manufacturers’ awareness of the processes. Thus, we argued that the relative indeterminacy of the behavioral research is irrelevant to products liability theory because manufacturers operating under the evolutionary influence of the market will untangle the various cognitive forces at play in the consumer’s mind even if behavioral researchers and legal scholars cannot.

[emphasis in original]
[1434] After a cleaner, more efficient alternative to cockroach spray sold well below expectations in rural areas of the Southern United States, researchers assigned to the problem asked a focus group of representative women to draw pictures of cockroaches and describe their feelings about them. To the researchers’ surprise, all the insects were drawn as males and the stories accompanying the drawings clearly revealed feelings about the men in the subject women’s lives. Researchers learned that for these women, “killing the roaches with a bug spray and watching them squirm and die allowed [them] to express their hostility toward men.
[1481] There is growing evidence that cigarette warnings may actually give the product an enhanced gloss in the eyes of young consumers. Several studies have demonstrated a forbidden fruit appeal from television parental advisory warnings for violent shows. Similar studies on the labeling effects of alcoholic versus nonalcoholic drinks also suggest
that the warning itself may enhance the attractiveness of the product. Tobacco industry executives seem to have been well aware of that possibility. As early as 1973, Dr. Claude Teague of RJR noted that a new brand aimed at the young group “should not in any way be promoted as a ‘health’ brand” and perhaps should carry some implied risk. To the contrary, “the warning label on the package may be a plus.” Thus, just as tobacco manufacturers were able to devise seemingly safer cigarettes to appease risk-conscious adult smokers, they also seem able to take advantage of government-mandated product warnings as an appeal to children in their constant efforts to recruit new smokers.

[emailed to self, 16 March 2021]

Galpin—Rural Social Problems

Charles Josiah Galpin
Rural Social Problems
[240] And there was George Bull, farmer, financier, musician, hunter, trusted citizen. Can a man farm the land, soil his clothes, be weary with labor, and maintain a refinement of mind like that of the artist? George Bull did. Shall I ever forget the long room in his farmhouse dedicated to music, where on occasions neighbors and friends would gather and listen to the musical re-
cital given by the Bull family, each member taught to play some instrument of music.

Do you say, "This is a freak?"

No, not a freak, for you must remember that for sixty years the Academy had provided a music department. Music was a commonplace among the thousand farm homes. Again you will note the likeness to the folk schools of Scandanavia. How can I entertain, after this deep experience in community life, the idea that culture cannot step over the farm threshold?


[22] The farmer is...our original naïve teleologist; and the worker in iron is our original untutored materialist.

[emailed to self, 21 October 2020]

14 June 2022

Lasch—The Trouble With Professionalism

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism

[228] Bureaucratic Dependence and Narcissism Recent studies of professionalization show that professionalism did not emerge, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in response to clearly defined social needs. Instead, the new professions themselves invented many of the needs they claimed to satisfy. They played on public fears of disorder and disease, adopted a deliberately mystifying jargon, ridiculed popular traditions of self-help as backward and unscientific, and in this way created or intensified (not without opposition) a demand for their own services.
footnote to above:
[228] my argument must not be misunderstood as an unqualified condemnation of professionalism. Obviously professions uphold important values. ... But it is not true...that "professionals are autonomous individuals beholden to the nature of things and the judgment of their peers, and bound by an explicit or implicit oath to benefit their clients and the community." [P. Goodman, "The New Reformation"] The way in which professionals construe and discharge these responsibilities naturally reflects the social surroundings in which they operate. American professionalism has been corrupted by the man-
[229, footnote cont.]
agerial capitalism with which it is so closely allied...

[Thomas] Haskell writes: "Membership in a truly professional community [cannot] be based on charm, social standing, personal connection, good character, or perhaps even decency, but on demonstrated intellectual merit alone." Haskell does not appreciate how easily "intellectual merit" can be confused with the mere acquisition of professional credentials or, worse, with loyalty to an unspoken ideological consensus...
Great points. So professionalism is an ideal that can never quite be realized?

I wonder also if the internal technical contours of a field have at least as much to do with just how professional it can ever become as do any social and political contexts? Also whether these surrounding contexts invade a profession precisely to the degree that said profession is unable to objectively define merit?

Lasch—Domination Without Authority

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism

p. 180, quoting Jules Henry, Culture Against Man:
It is startling for people in a permissive culture to learn that not to be given pain can be felt as a deprivation. Yet it is more painful for some children to bear guilt unpunished than to get a spanking.

Now Lasch:
[182] The appearance of permissiveness conceals a stringent system of controls, all the more effective because it avoids direct confrontations between authorities and the people on whom they seek to impose their will. Because confrontations provoke arguments about principle, the authorities whenever possible delegate discipline to someone else so that they themselves can pose as advisers, "resource persons," and friends. Thus parents rely on doctors, psychiatrists, and the child's own peers to impose rules on the child and to see that he conforms to them. ... In this way, parents make their own problem—insubordination—the child's. Similarly at school, the child finds himself surrounded by authorities who wish only to help. ... The students themselves, according to Edgar Friedenberg's study of the American high school, reject both authoritarian and libertarian measures and regard social control as "a technical problem, to be referred to the right expert for solution."
[184] when everyone speaks his mind; when people listen as well as speak; when disagreements surface without causing "obvious tensions"; when the "chairman of the board" does not try to dominate his subordinates; and when decisions rest on consensus. These precepts, which by this time had be-
come the common coin of the social sciences, summarize the therapeutic view of authority. The growing acceptance of that view, at all levels of American society, makes it possible to preserve hierarchical forms of organization in the guise of "participation." It provides a society dominated by elites with an antielitist ideology. The popularization of therapeutic modes of thought discredits authority...while leaving domination untouched.

Lasch—Educating the Whole Child

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism
[128] The decline of intellectual competence cannot be accounted for, as some observers would have it, on the reactionary assumption that more students from minority- and low-income groups are taking tests, going to college, and thus dragging down the scores. The proportion of these students has remained unchanged over the last ten years; meanwhile the decline of academic achievement has extended to elite schools.
[132] Beginning with the Irish in the 1840s, the immigration of politically backward elements, as they were commonly regarded, sharpened the fear...that the United States would regress to a hated old-world pattern of class conflict, hereditary poverty, and political despotism. ... From this time on, the problem of acculturating the immigrant population never wandered far from the center of the American educational enterprise. ...[hence] the American school, in contrast to the European, placed heavy emphasis on the nonacademic side of the curriculum. The democratic aim of bringing the fruits of modern culture to the masses gave way in practice to a concern with education as a form of social control. ...

[133] The differences between American and European systems of public education [however] should not be exaggerated. ... Both systems from the beginning thus combined democratic and undemocratic features; as the political objectives of public education gave way to a growing preoccupation with industrial objectives, the undemocratic features became more and more pronounced.
[134] Manpower training bore the same relation to "industrial discipline" in Veblen's sense that political indoctrination—"training for citizenship," as it now came to be called—bore to political "initiation." Both innovations represented debased versions of democratic practice, attractive to those who resented what they regarded as the school's overemphasis on "culture." Both reforms belonged to a broader movement to make the school more "efficient." [e.g. especially] In response to a public outcry about the high rate of academic failure in the schools, an outcry that swelled to a chorus around 1910...

[135] Protests against genteel culture, overemphasis on academic subjects, "gentleman's education," and the "cultured ease in the classroom, of drawing room quiet and refinement," frequently coincided with an insistence that higher education and "culture" should not in any case be "desired by the mob."
[135] Under favorable conditions, the school's emphasis on "Americanism" and its promotion of universal norms had a liberating effect, helping individuals to make a fruitful break with parochial ethnic traditions. Recent criticism of the school [which]...partakes of the prevailing sentimentality about ethnicity...deplores the disintegration of folk culture and pays no attention to the degree to which disintegration was often the price paid for intellectual emancipation. When Randolph Bourne...extolled cultural pluralism, he had in mind as a model not the intact immigrant cultures of the ghettos but the culture of the twice-uprooted immigrant intellectuals he met at Columbia.
[136] As educators convinced themselves, with the help of intelligence tests, that most of the students could never master an academic curriculum, they found it necessary to devise other ways of keeping them busy. The introduction of courses in homemaking, health, citizenship, and other nonacademic subjects, together with the proliferation of athletic programs and extracurricular activities, reflected the dogma that schools had to educate the "whole child"; but it also reflected the practical need to fill up the students' time and to keep them reasonably contented. ...

Educational reformers brought the family's work into the school in the hope of making the school an instrument not merely of education but of socialization as well. Dimly recognizing that
in many areas—precisely those that lie outside the formal curriculum—experience teaches more than books, educators then proceeded to do away with books; to import experience into the academic setting, to re-create the modes of learning formerly associated with the family, to encourage students to "learn by doing." Having imposed a deadening academic curriculum on every phase of the child's experience, they demanded, too late, that education be brought into contact with "life."
[142] Conflicts over educational policy in the fifties had made it clear that the country faced a choice between basic education for all and a complicated educational bureaucracy that functioned as an agency of manpower selection. The same issue, often clouded by overheated rhetoric, underlay the more bitter struggles of the sixties and seventies. For black people, especially for upwardly
mobile blacks in whom the passion for education burns as brightly as it ever did in descendants of the Puritans or in Jewish immigrants, desegregation represented the promise of equal education in the basic subjects indispensible to economic survival even in an otherwise illiterate modern society: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Black parents, it would seem, clung to what seems today an old-fashioned—from the point of view of educational "innovators," a hopelessly reactionary—conception of education. According to this supposedly traditional view, the school functions best when it transmits the basic skills on which literate societies depend, upholds high standards of academic excellence, and sees to it that students make these standards their own. The struggle for desegregated schooling implied an attack not only on racial discrimination but on the proposition, long embedded in the practice of the schools, that academic standards are inherently elitist and that universal education therefore requires the dilution of standards—the downward adjustment of standards to class origins and social expectations. The demand for desegregation entailed more than a renewed committment to equal opportunity; it also entailed a repudiation of cultural separatism and a belief that access to common cultural traditions remained the precondition of advancement for dispossessed groups.

Thouroughly middle-class in its ideological derivation, the movement for equal education nevertheless embodied demands that could not be met without a radical overhaul of the entire educational system—and of much else besides. It flew in the face of long-established educational practice. It contained implications unpalatable not merely to entrenched educational bureaucrats but to progressives, who believed that education had to be tailored to the "needs" of the young, that overemphasis on academic subjects inhibited "creativity," and that too much stress on academic competition encouraged individualism at the expense of cooperation. The attempt to revive basic education, on the part of blacks and other minorities, cut across the grain of educational experimentation...
[145] In the long run, it does not matter to the victims whether bad teaching justifies itself on the reactionary grounds [of racism]...or whether, on the other hand, pseudoradicals condemn academic standards as part of the apparatus of white cultural control... The whole problem of American education comes down to this: in American society, almost everyone identifies intellectual excellence with elitism. This attitude not only guarantees the monopolization of educational advantages by the few; it lowers the quality of elite education itself and threatens to bring about a reign of universal ignorance.
It's awfully tough to track down the real reasons why almost everyone feels a certain way, but this does seem to be true, and so one can't help but wonder if it itself cannot be traced to some lower-order, isolable phenomena. Organic resentment at individual achievement seems a strong candidate! That kind of resentment is very much a product of individualism per se; one of individualism's unintended consequences, perhaps. So, while I'm hardly ready to dispense with individualism or with democracy, there is even so, I think, a very curious case study waiting to be made as to whether this antielite resentment, if that's what it is, is inflamed by equal opportunity (as opposed to a true caste system or something) even as a certain justice is better served thereby.

Failing all of that (and I guess let's hope so?), perhaps our abiding antielitism is just a longstanding cultural trait/tendency that needs to be gently but firmly countervailed by sensitive "elites" such as Lasch. Good luck impressing the above points upon your local pseudoradicals.

[148] the student movement [which sought, in the 1960s, an "accounting" of the university for itself] embodied a militant anti-intellectualism of its own, which corrupted and eventually absorbed it. Demand for the abolition of grades, although defended on grounds of high pedagogical principle, turned out in practice...to reflect a desire for less work and a wish to avoid judgment on its quality. The demand for more "relevant" courses often boiled down to a desire for an intellectually un-
demanding curriculum, in which students could win academic credits for political activism, self-expression, [etc.]...
In other words,
The liberal principle that everyone is the best judge of his own interests makes it impossible to ask what people need, as opposed to what they say they want.

(The True and Only Heaven, p. 209)

All the same with radicals, evidently, as with liberals.
Even when seriously advanced in opposition to sterile academic pedantry, the slogan of relevance embodied an underlying antagonism to education itself—an inability to take an interest in anything beyond immediate experience. Its popularity testified to the growing belief that education should be painless, free of tension and conflict. Those who interpreted "relevance" as a concerted academic assault on racism and imperialism, moreover, merely inverted the expansionism of university administrators. When they proposed to enlist the university on the side of social reform, they echoed the service ideal that justified the imperial expansion of the multiversity in the first place. Instead of trying to hold the university to a more modest set of objectives, radical critics of higher education accepted the premise that education could solve every sort of social problem.

Lasch—Truth, Credibility, Propaganda, Advertising

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism
[74] Truth and Credibility  The role of the mass media in the manipulation of public opinion has received a great deal of anguished attention. Much of this commentary assumes that the problem is to prevent the circulation of obvious untruths; whereas it is evident, as the more penetrating critics of mass culture have pointed out, that the rise of mass media makes the categories of truth and falsehood irrelevant to an evaluation of their influence. Truth has given way to credibility, facts to statements that sound authoritative without conveying any authoritative information.


[76] In propaganda as in advertising, the important consideration is not whether information accurately describes an objective situation but whether it sounds true. It sometimes becomes necessary to suppress information even when it reflects credit on the government, for no other reason than that the facts sound implausible. ... Truth has to be suppressed if it sounds like propaganda. "The only reason to suppress a piece of news," says an Allied handbook used in World War II, "is if it is unbelievable."

It is true that propaganda subtly appeals to the emotions.
Ellul notes that propaganda uses facts not to support an argument but to exert emotional pressure. The same thing is true of advertising, however. In both cases, the emotional appeal remains muted and indirect; it inheres in the facts themselves; nor is it inconsistent with the "honest desire to be informed." Knowing that an educated public craves facts and cherishes nothing so much as being well informed, the modern propagandist avoids using high-sounding slogans; he rarely appeals to a higher destiny; he seldom calls for heroism and sacrifice or reminds his audience of the glorious past. He sticks to the "facts." Propaganda thus merges with "information."
[78] the substitution of symbolically mediated information for immediate experience—of pseudo-events for real events—has not made government more rational and efficient, as both the technocrats and their critics assume. On the contrary, it has given rise to a pervasive air of unreality, which ultimately befuddles the decision makers themselves.

Lasch—The Progress-Consumption Nexus

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism

[74] The logic of demand creation requires that women smoke and drink in public, move about freely, and assert their right to happiness instead of living for others. The advertising industry thus encourages the pseudo-emancipation of women, flattering them with its insinuating reminder, "You've come a long way, baby," and disguising the freedom to consume as genuine autonomy. ... The "education" of the masses...emancipates women and children from patriarchal authority...only to subject them to a new paternalism of the advertising industry, the industrial corporation, and the state.
If the first part seems harsh on women, perhaps consider that Lasch, in such matters as above, does not really favor the emancipation of anyone in particular from certain communitarian strictures. In any case, the synchrony between emancipation and consumerism is undeniable, whether or not either the patriarchs or the admen have conspired to make it so, and whether or not any lesser evil can be reasonably proposed.

Related, from Lasch on Paul Nystrom, Economics of Fashion (1928):
[74, footnote to above] Family life according to Nystrom, inherently tends to promote custom, the antithesis of fashion. ... On the other hand, "the conflict of youth with convention" encourages rapid changes in dress and styles of consumption. In general, Nystrom argues, rural life, illiteracy, social hierarchy, and inertia support custom, whereas fashion—the culture of consumption—derives from the progressive forces at work in modern society: public education, free speech, circulation of ideas and information, the "philosophy of progress."

Lasch—Confession and Anticonfession

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism
Confession and Anticonfession  The popularity of the confessional mode testifies, of course, to the new narcissism that runs all
through American culture; but the best work in this vein attempts, precisely through self-disclosure, to achieve a critical distance from the self and to gain insight into the historical forces, reproduced in psychological form, that have made the very concept of selfhood increasingly problematic. The mere act of writing already presupposes a certain detachment from the self; and the objectification of one's own experience, as psychiatric studies of narcissism have shown, makes it possible for "the deep sources of grandiosity and exhibitionism—after being appropriately aim-inhibited, tamed, and neutralized—[to] find access" to reality. [Kohut, The Analysis of the Self] Yet the increasing interpenetration of fiction, journalism, and autobiography undeniably indicated that many writers find it more and more difficult to achieve the detachment indispensible to art.

Well, indispensible might be a bit strong even for my tastes, but the point stands that a detached and...attached (?) standpoint have vastly different implications for artist and audience alike. We would do well to try to understand those implications as best we can.

One reason to beat this particular horse as relentlessly as I now do is that, among said implications, there are many properly epistemological ones which don't get the attention or treatment I would like for them. Also important is that these sorts of implications are not, I don't think, usually having anything at all to do with what motivates or, more sentimentally speaking, what inspires either artists or audiences.

Instead of fictionalizing personal material or otherwise reordering it, they have taken to presenting it undigested, leaving the reader to arrive at his own interpretations. Instead of working through their memories, many writers now rely on mere self-disclosure to keep the reader interested, appealing not to his understanding but to his salacious curiosity about the private lives of famous people. In Mailer's works and those of his many imitators, what begins as a critical reflection on the writer's own ambition, frankly acknowledged as a bid for literary immortality, often ends in a garrulous monologue, with the writer trading on his own celebrity and filling page after page with material having no other claim to attention than its association with a famous name. Once having brought himself to public attention, the writer enjoys a ready-made market for true confessions. Thus Erica Jong, after winning an audience by writing about sex with as little feeling as a man, immediately produced another novel about a young woman who becomes a literary celebrity.
[19] The confessional form allows an honest writer like Exley or Zweig to provide a harrowing account of the spiritual desolation of our times, but it also allows lazy writers to indulge in "the kind of immodest self-revelation which ultimately hides more than it admits." The narcissist's pseudo-insight into his own condition, usually expressed in psychiatric clichés, serves as a means of deflecting criticism and disclaiming responsibility for his actions.
[20] When T.S. Eliot appended reference notes to The Waste Land, he became one of the first poets to call attention to his own imaginative transformation of reality, but he did so in order to expand the reader's awareness of allusions and to create a deeper imaginative resonance—not, as in these more recent instances, to demolish the reader's confidence in the author.

When T.S. Eliot appended reference notes...
...he was...a century behind Berlioz, who was at least that far ahead of the aforementioned "confessional" writers. Let's not excuse the early adopters just because they have since become classics.

...to expand the reader's awareness of allusions...

...but it doesn't work that way. Just as he who laughs last doesn't get the joke, so he who must read about the allusions in the reference notes has irrecoverably missed the boat. What confidence can one reasonably have in an author who elevates spoiling the punchline from incidental to conventional?

[20, cont.] The unreliable, partially blinded narrator is another literary device of long standing. In the past, however, novelists often used it in order to achieve an ironic juxtaposition of the narrator's flawed perception of events with the author's own more accurate view. Today, the convention of a fictionalized narrator has been abandoned in most experimental writing. The author now speaks in his own voice but warns the reader that his version of the truth is not to be trusted. ... Having called attention to himself as a performer, the writer undermines the reader's ability to suspend disbelief. By fogging over the distinction between truth and illusion, he asks the reader to believe his story not because it rings true or even because he claims it is true, but simply because he claims it conceivably might be true—at least in part—if the reader chose to believe him. The writer waives the right to be taken seriously, at the same time escaping the responsibilities that go with being taken seriously. He asks the reader not for understanding but for indulgence. In accepting the writer's confession that he lied, the reader in turn waives the right to hold the writer accountable for the truth of his report. The writer thus attempts to charm the reader instead of trying to convince him, counting on the titillation provided by pseudo-revelation to hold the reader's interest.

Undertaken in the evasive mood, confessional writing degenerates into anticonfession. The record of the inner life becomes an unintentional parody of inner life. A literary genre that appears to affirm inwardness actually tells us that inner life is precisely what can no longer be taken seriously. This explains why [Woody] Allen, [Donald] Barthelme, and other satirists so often parody, as a deliberate literary strategy, the confessional style of an earlier time, when the artist
bared his inner struggles in the belief that they represented a microcosm of the larger world. ... The writer no longer sees life reflected in his own mind. Just the opposite: he sees the world, even in its emptiness, as a mirror of himself. In recording his "inner" experiences, he seeks not to provide an objective account of a representative piece of reality but to seduce others into giving him their attention, acclaim, or sympathy and thus to shore up his faltering sense of self.
It occurs here that Lasch is on solider ground in telling us what such work does than where it came from. e.g. Here, whether this is actually a matter of shoring up seems tough to say for sure, although there is no shortage of anecdotal evidence to that effect.

Lasch—The Decadence of Enterprise

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism
[xv] ...a way of life that is dying—the culture of competitive individualism, which in its decadence has carried the logic of individualism to the extreme of a war of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation of the self.
My note says:
So, "decadence" arises not only from the Culture Vulture but also from the Marketeer, whose "self" is ultimately the thing being marketed. Almost totally overlooked today.

Obviously there is at least a conceit to marketeerism which is at root altruistic or at least communitarian rather than self-centered or "narcissistic." Whether this is ever anything more than a conceit is another question.
[xvi] Many radicals still direct their indignation against the authoritarian family, [etc., etc., ...] and other foundations of bourgeois order that have been weakened or destroyed by advanced capitalism itself. These radicals do not see that the "authoritarian personality" no longer represents the prototype of the economic man. Economic man himself has given way to the psychological man of our times—the final product of bourgeois individualism.
[43] The narcissist comes to the attention of psychiatrists for some of the same reasons that he rises to positions of prominence not only in awareness movements and other cults but in business corporations, political organizations, and government bureaucracies. For all his inner suffering, the narcissist has many traits that make for success in
bureaucratic institutions, which put a premium on the manipulation of interpersonal relations, discourage the formation of deep personal attachments, and at the same time provide the narcissist with the approval he needs in order to validate his self-esteem. ... The management of personal impressions comes naturally to him, and his mastery of intricacies serves him well in political and business organizations where performance now counts for less than "visibility," "momentum," and a winning record. As the "organization man" gives way to the bureaucratic "gamesman"—the "loyalty era" of American business to the age of the "executive success game"—the narcissist comes into its own.
[49] Our overorganized society, in which large-scale organizations predominate but have lost the capacity to command allegiance, in some respects more nearly approximates a condition of universal animosity than did the primitive capitalism on which Hobbes modeled his state of nature.
[66] The Apotheosis of Individualism The fear that haunted the social critics and theorists of the fifties—that rugged individualism had succumbed to conformity and "low-pressure socialibility"—appears in retrospect to have been premature. ... It is true that "a present-oriented hedonism" [Riesman]...has replaced the work ethic... But this hedonism is a fraud; the pursuit of pleasure disguises a struggle for power. Americans have not really become more sociable and cooperative...; they have merely become more adept at exploiting the conventions of interpersonal relations for their own benefit. ... It is symptomatic of the underlying tenor of American life that vulgar terms for sexual intercourse also convey the sense of getting the better of someone.

Lasch—To Establish or Submerge?

Christopher Lasch
The Culture of Narcissism

p. 6—my note says:
contrasts the "consciousness movement" with past "millenarian outbreaks"; specifically, in living "only for the moment" and not for some future utopia

[8] Her preoccupation with the state of her psychic health, together with her dependence on others for a sense of selfhood, distinguish Susan Stern [in her memoir of the Weathermen] from the kind of religious seeker who turns to politics to find a secularized salvation. She needed to establish an identity, not to submerge her identity in a larger cause.
A linchpin of the broader narcissism thesis. Certainly it is observable in many areas of life whether or not narcissism per se is involved. The choice of a sixties activist as an illustration is, nonetheless, probably not an innocent/unmotivated choice and probably doesn't do justice to the earnest beliefs of a great many involved in those movements. Another case, I think, of visibility and representativeness being conflated. A more mundane, representative example could be made of the vast majority of eighteen year-olds who show up to college declaring a major in the performing arts, only to eventually graduate or (statistically much more likely) quit having established much but submerged little.
[10] For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped to his own design.


[15] [Jerry] Rubin claims that the "inner revolution of the seventies" grew out of an awareness that the radicalism of the sixties had failed to address itself to the quality of personal life or to cultural questions, in the mistaken belief that questions of "personal growth," in his words, could wait "until after the revolution." This accusation contains a certain amount of truth. ...
Yep. Anytime you're told something indispensible can wait, expect the wait to be interminable.
[16] Yet...in those years, there was a growing recognition [by the New Left and others]...that personal crisis on the scale it has now assumed represents a political issue in its own right, and that a thoroughgoing analysis of modern society and politics has to explain among other things why personal growth and development have become so hard to accomplish...

Also from a note:
pp. 25-27—against understanding "contemporary narcissism" as classbound

[26] The collapse of personal life originates not in the spiritual torments of affluence but in the war of all against all...
[27] the very conditions that created the crisis of personal relations in the first place
now being advocated as solutions.