The Clare Spark Blog

May 8, 2014

Index to blogs on postmodernism and its spawn

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Frank Gehry's Stata Center, MIT

Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, MIT

The following was just distributed by a discussion group involving art historians in academe. It is the latest startling move from the academic counter-culture. Apparently, postmodernism is out. The author seems to conflate postmodernism with “interdisciplinary” cultural studies/multiculturalism, preferring the [sacrificial?] gestures of mystical minimalism, a refutation of all Romantic tendencies in favor of neoclassical Order/simplicity/reductiveness– a value system that George Mosse associated with fascism.
Here is the confused (?) and anonymous call for papers:

“Neomodernism is a term in philosophy that describes the critique of modernism as promoting both universalism and human rights; the relativism of the one is said to contradict the universality assumed in the other. Neomodernism is also a term used by architects to describe sleek, contemporary skyscrapers and office complexes. In sound art, Neomodernism names an emerging generation of musicians committed to “sound-in-itself,” to abstraction, reduction, and self-reference; it makes perceptual links to the visual arts and particularly the minimalism of Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and James Turrell. Literary criticism—which has long recognized the NeoVictorian in contemporary fiction as a nostalgic return to the nineteenth century, its aesthetic principles, and moral sensibilities,—has no complementary understanding of a current fictional return to the early twentieth century. Neomodernism offers a conceptual alternative to the postmodern designation and indicates continuity in aesthetic principles across the twentieth century and into the present. This panel will explore the aesthetic, philosophical, historical, or ethical principles the Neomodern might express.”

The notion that modernists promoted “both universalism and human rights” is peculiar, and refutes Western civilization entirely. I saw modernists as mostly irrationalist, antiwar and primitivist, as theorists of decadence brought about by the feminization of culture as men left the traditional peasant households for white collar or industrial jobs during and after the Industrial Revolution. As for human rights, they are the West’s proudest achievement but the subversiveness of “rights” as a quality inhering in individuals (against arbitrary and tyrannical States), is not acknowledged by these pseudo-radicals.

To be sure, postmodernism rejected the 19th century turn toward realism and naturalism—creations of the despised hypocritical bourgeoisie and their science or technology that had ostensibly mechanized the world. The art historians who wrote this call for papers got the critique of Neo-Victorianism right.

But as for postmodernism promoting universalism, that is just plain wrong. The pomos are radical subjectivists, and insist that all knowledge is local and “historically contingent”—that means we are entirely prisoners of our context and that the past is unknowable. To be anti-bourgeois and anti-intellectual at the same time, is to be populist and entirely petit-bourgeois.

Nicolai Soren Goodich, "Anamnesis & Aporia"

Nicolai Soren Goodich, “Anamnesis & Aporia”

Here are a few of my prior blogs explicating the very hip, yet reactionary, ideas promoted by Michel Foucault and his voluble followers (including Judith Butler):
https://clarespark.com/2010/05/15/foucault-follies-redux/
https://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/
https://clarespark.com/2013/09/08/postmodernism-cultural-pluralism-and-the-will-to-power/ (retitled “Reading between the lines”)
https://clarespark.com/2014/03/02/roy-porter-and-the-anti-psychiatry-movement/

Frank Gehry: Walt Disney Music Hall, Los Angeles

Frank Gehry: Walt Disney Music Hall, Los Angeles

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April 10, 2014

Women and power in the modern world

equalpay2Nothing in this blog is intended to diminish the suffering of males at the hands of more powerful males. Still, the silencing of many women propels me to comment at some length.

The Obama administration has raised the issue of wage inequality between women and men, some aver, to change the subject from ACA, which has met widespread opposition. This blog addresses why many women are blocked from high level jobs in business, technology, engineering, and other male-dominated fields.

First, there are power trade-offs. “Domestic feminists” argue that puritanism (and Protestantism in general) raised the status of women in the home. As medieval agrarian societies were replaced by capitalist industrial societies, men were no longer commanding labor and resources in the home; rather they were now absent fathers and husbands, busy with offices and factories. At the same time, Lockean psychology elevated the role of women, whose maternal duties now included the inculcation of ethics in the infant or growing child, born Locke claimed, with a tabula rasa. The historian Ruth Bloch calls this phenomenon “the rise of the moral mother.”

Understandably, males, faced with the complaint of undeserved subordination raised by both the first and second waves of feminism, were outraged: for them, women already had too much power. Her recently enhanced domestic role, plus her enthusiasm “to make the whole world homelike” in the progressive movement, combined to make the middle-class woman resented by displaced patriarchs or overly-attached “momma’s boys”. “What [more] do women want?” cried Freud, and many agreed with him, and still do.

[Added 4/16/14: a FB comment from Helen Logan Tackett: I work in a profession where my salary based on specific academic achievements, if a man in my profession makes more than me, it is due to him working more hours than me. Here is the truth; most women work two jobs. The real gender inequality is women now struggle to balance career demands and housework, laundry, shopping, meal preparation, nurse to sick children, primary caregiver for aging parents. When my son got sick at school, the school called me,mom, before they called my husband, his father. Where is government’s quick fix for the exhausted working woman due to holding down two jobs? Instead of government painting women as victims of sexist capitalism why doesn’t government provide tax deduction for work performed in the home? Paving the way for Hillary Clinton, in typical fashion, the Democrats use the victim ploy to convince women that if they don’t vote for Hillary, then GOP men will make them second class members of society by impoverishing them. In sum, vote for Hillary if you want money. Pathetic.]

Second, aside from gender differences in physical strength and longevity, heterosexual women are socialized to crave husbands; even many lesbian couples want children. In 1974, Lynda Benglis defined herself in Artforum against the vaginally-oriented feminist art movement with a tough and controversial nude self-portrait, holding what appeared to be an oversized erect penis attached to her body, asserting both androgyny and the cry that women were socialized to please men.

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

It is still a shocking image. [I showed her current work in my 1970s slide show on feminist art, and I recall lots of glitter and non-representational pieces: Here is one that I did not see from 1973, suggesting what might emerge in the advertisement.]

Lecture%209%20-%20Lynda%20Benglis,%20Omega,%201973

As I have written ad nauseum, second wave feminists defined politically correct feminist art as the empowered vagina, confronting [war-making] men and the presumably all-powerful Western patriarchy with aggressive, shocking images. Having emerged from the male left-dominated antiwar and civil rights movements, their feminism was easily co-opted. By the time I entered graduate school in the 1980s, semiotics ruled the day, and feminists were now Foucauldians and postmodernists, railing against the industrializing bourgeoisie that had once raised the status of all women. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/10/14/reality-and-the-left/, partly about Judith Butler, their superstar.)

Today, there are token women in positions of power in government, business, and in our dominant cultural institutions. In academe, they have often settled for low-status Women’s Studies programs that are laughing stocks. And heavies in educational psychology like Howard Gardner may see females as inherently narcissistic and self-absorbed, keeping their journals [and their ageless skin?]. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/arne-duncans-statism-part-two/.)

Yet the token successful women complain of a glass ceiling, wage differentials, and segregation in such maternal occupations as nursing and primary school education. It remains to be seen if today’s feminists can bury their differences with conservative women in order to formulate a new feminist program that allows all women and girls to develop their minds and talents, not only their learned masochism of pandering to the male of the species.

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

October 14, 2012

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