Steve Bell’s ‘If’ strip in the Graun has recently been concerning itself with imagery about Murdoch, Netanyahu and a glove puppet, plus references to a so-called ”Aunty Semitic” “Trope.” Guardian readers who are unaware of the background to this will have been mystified as to the meaning of it all – but then that’s not unusual with a Bell cartoon. Regular readers of Shiraz should be aware of what lies behind it: a Bell cartoon back in November was was widely criticised for reproducing the long-standing antisemitic “trope” (ie: “stereotype”; in this case, that of the puppet-master, as widely used in Nazi and contemporary Middle Eastern propaganda). Eventually, the Guardian‘s reader’s editor agreed (to a very limited degree) with the criticism. Bell refused acknowledge even the possibility that his cartoon was ill-judged and seems to have been smarting ever since.
dropped in and sensitivities are talked up .. the very word
‘antisemitic’ becomes devalued…
“.. they throw it around with such abandon. If there really is
antisemitism it’s actually getting ignored…”
“Blonds make the best victims” – A. Hitchcock
First things first: last night’s BBC 2/HBO film The Girl was absolutely superb – by far the best new work to be seen on Brit TV over the Christmas season. If you missed it, make sure you catch up via iplayer or whatever, asap.
Briefly, this was the story of Alfred Hitchcock’s choice of the previously unknown Tippi Hedren to star in The Birds (his follow-up to Psycho) and his obsession with her, culminating in a campaign of bullying and intimidation when she rejected his blundering advances. Finally, Hitchcock sabotaged her career by refusing to either release her from her contract or to use her in any more films, apart from the rather unpleasant Marnie.
His behaviour, these days, would be considered completely unacceptable and probably place him beyond the pale in the eyes of polite society.*
Once again we are confronted with the old conundrum: to what extent is it possible to separate a great artist from the more unpleasant aspects of his (and, it would seem, it is usually “his” rather than “her”) personality? As an admirer of Philip Larkin I have difficulty coming to terms with evidence of his misogyny and racism, just as admirers of Eliot and Pound have (or should have) difficulty with the fascist sympathies of those two, and Picasso enthusiasts ought to be at least concerned by his Stalin-worship (which lasted into the 1950s). As for unacceptable sexual practices, the superb sculptor and designer Eric Gill probably leads the field, though I’ve no doubt there have been plenty of other major artists with similarly hideous sexual proclivities. Benjamin Britten‘s interest in adolsescent boys has long been the subject of speculation, though in fairness it should be stated that there has never been any evidence that he engaged in paedophilia.
Anyway, The Girl, based as it was upon Tippi Hedren’s own accounts (in interviews) of what happened, pulled no punches and made no effort to excuse or explain-away Hitchcock’s behaviour. But, thanks to a masterful performance by Toby Jones, we feel pity as well as disgust. Hitchcock was, by his own description, a fat, ugly walrus of a man who had only ever had sex with his wife (for whom the term “long suffering” scarcely suffices) and, now in his sixties, was impotent anyway. According to Jones’ portrayal, he appears to have felt that Hedren simply owed him a tumble for having made her a star.
The question that The Girl poses but doesn’t answer, is to what extent Hitchcock’s sexual obessions contributed to the dark, ambiguous power of his best work.
As well as Jones’ extraordinary portrayal, Sienna Miller gives a strong (in every sense of the word) performance as Tippi Hedren and Imelda Staunton deserves a mention for her profoundly sad Alma Hitchcock.
Why is the left quiet about Pussy Riot? Панк-молебен “Богородица, Путина прогони” Pussy Riot в Храме
“It was a sin against God and God is judging it; and all Christians should know this…
“For the Orthodox Church, like for Muslims, of course the authorities and the church are understood as one thing. Our Ideal is the unity of the church and the authorities, and unity of the people and the authorities.
“in this way, we are decidedly different from the west. I think attempts in the west to seperate the spiritual sphere and secular sphere is a historical mistake. Such a division is not characteristic to any civilisation except the west” – Vsevolod Chaplin, Senior Priest, Spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church and advocate of harsh punishment of Pussy Riot.
Above: The three members of the Pussy Riot band — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich — rejected charges of hooliganism for performing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main cathedral against Vladimir Putin’s return as president.
A group of brave, smart, peaceful but militant young women confront a thuggish, authoritarian President and a corrupt church hierachy and have already been jailed without trial for five months: what’s not to like about Pussy Riot?
Yet the “left” has, on the whole, been strangely reticent about supporting them: why?
A number of possible explanations present themselves:
1/ They are anarcho-feminists and conceptual artists, not leftists.
2/ (Following on from #1): they have no clear demands or programme.
3/ They already have celebrity support from the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel and Stephen Fry.
4/ Much of the western “left” is actually rather sympathetic to Putin, because he’s part of the pro-Assad/Iranian axis that they, more or less openly, support. Many of them also seem to have a built-in predisposition to support dictators and to despise any form of democracy.
5/ Pussy Riot are being done not just for “hooliganism” against the Putin regime, but also for “religious hatred” – a concept that much of the western “left”, having discovered the joys of Islamic fundamentalism, now supports (in the sense of agreeing that insulting and/or criticising religion is Bad and should be illegal). The semi-literate SWP blogger Lenny “Seymour” Tombstone, for instance, recently coined the term “theophobia” and meant it as criticism (in his case, of Christopher Hitchens). Pussy Riot are nothing if not “theophobic.”
Objections #1 and #2 don’t really stand up, given that much the same could be said of the “Occupy” movement that most of the far-left had no hesitation in supporting. #3 has also never been a problem for the “left” before now: the so-called Stop The War Coalition, for instance, is very happy to accept ‘celebrity’ endorsement.
Which leaves us with #4 and #5: almost certainly the real reasons. And despicable ones at that.
Support Pussy Riot!
Here’s what they now face seven years in jail for doing (the “punk prayer”):
What’s going on with Pussy Riot, explained, here.
Good(ish) piece by Suzanne Moore in the Graun, here.
The nearest thing there is to an “official” Pussy Riot site, here.
Above: “ugly, insecure and grotesque”
Marx and Engels gave a materialist explanation of the origin of the aesthetic sense itself. They noted that man’s artistic abilities, his capacity for perceiving the world aesthetically, for comprehending its beauty and for creating works of art appeared as a result of the long development of human society and were the product of man’s labour. As early as in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx pointed to the role of labour in the development of man’s capacity to perceive and reproduce the beautiful and to form objects also “in accordance with the laws of beauty” (Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 3, Moscow, 1975, p. 277).
This idea was later developed by Engels in his work Dialectics of Nature, in which he noted that efforts of toil “have given the human hand the high degree of perfection required to conjure into being the pictures of a Raphael, the statues of a Thorwaldsen, the music of a Paganini” (see pp. 128-29 of this book). Thus both Marx and Engels emphasise that man’s aesthetic sense is not an inborn, but a socially-acquired quality.
The founders of Marxism extended their dialectical view of the nature of human thought to analysis of artistic creativity. In examining the development of art together with that of the material world and the history of society, they noted that the content and forms of art were not established firmly once and for all, but that they inevitably developed and changed according to definite laws along with the development of the material world and of human society. Each historical period has inherent aesthetic ideals and produces works of art corresponding to its particular character and unrepeatable under other conditions. Comparing, for example, the works of Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Titian, Marx and Engels emphasised that “Raphael’s works of art depended on the flourishing of Rome at that time, which occurred under Florentine influence, while the works of Leonardo depended on the state of things in Florence, and the works of Titian, at a later period, depended on the totally different development of Venice” (p. 177).
The problem with the Shard is that it is ugly, insecure and grotesque.
The ‘lets build the tallest building’ game is best left to children and the insecure. Dubai is obsessed with having the tallest building because it is not a place which really exists. It is a city literally built on sand, like some wrongheaded parable. It has a great deal to prove. Sydney throws up skyscrapers despite the plentiful space available because Australia is so deeply insecure about its importance. London never needed to. Confident cities build low because they have nothing to prove. And there is no use saying, as Ken Livingstone did on the Today programme this morning, that we have run out of space and need to build up. The building is empty. There is no demand for what it is offering -Ian Dunt
P.S (from JD): I like handsome, well-designed skyscrapers, including some of Piano’s previous work.
Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957 – 2012 – review
Hayward Gallery, London
Jonathan Jones writes on art for the Guardian and was on the jury for the 2009 Turner prize
I accidentally scared a gallery technician witless while exploring the Hayward Gallery’s exhibition of invisible art. I was standing in a room of thick, velvety darkness. A technician pushed through the black curtains and became aware of someone else in the gloom. Apparently spooked, he asked: “Who’s that?”
It was a relief to see someone else scared, because The Ghost of James Lee Byars already had me seriously unnerved. This work of art consists of no more than its six-word title and a darkened room. Yet its atmosphere is palpable. Six words are enough to tell a hell of a ghost story, it turns out.
The American artist James Lee Byars conceived this freak-out in 1969. An enigmatic and morbid storyteller, he imagined his own death, not just in this work but in pieces with the resonant titles This is the Ghost of James Lee Byars Calling, and The Perfect Death of James Lee Byars.
Eventually, in reality, he died in Cairo in 1997. Judging by the terror it can inflict on Hayward contractors, I would guess the invisible image of Byars is creating quite a folklore behind the scenes.
Or perhaps they are dreading the critics. What, eight quid for a gallery full of invisible paintings? This exhibition courts tabloid headlines and bluff empirical sarcasm. It is, like Jerry Seinfeld’s sitcom, a show about nothing. But it succeeds because it is in on the joke, which it makes unexpectedly profound. Quite frankly, there is more art here, despite it being invisible, than in a lot of stuff galleries lure us to see.
There are indeed some invisible paintings in the show, white surfaces marked with materials that include “Brainwaves” by the Swiss artist Bruno Jakob. There is a drawing that fills a huge gallery and yet is almost impossible to find since the Taiwanese artist Lai Chih-Sheng has traced all the lines along floor tiles, corners of walls and fittings to make a drawing that is a near-invisible web-like echo of the place.
Yet the real heart of the exhibition is not so much in works that are barely there as in the thing they allude to, the unseen itself. As you put on a surreal buzzing headpiece to negotiate Jeppe Hein’s invisible maze or speculate on which gallery-goer may be the actor hired by Bethan Huws to behave just like a visitor, the notion of a world beyond appearances takes on a strange and powerful reality.
This exhibition is a seriously brilliant jest. It is a genuine history of an idea in art, a fascination with the immaterial and imperceivable that can be traced back to the audacious claims of Yves Klein in late 1950s Paris to create invisible atmospheres and “air architecture”, most famously in his 1958 exhibition of nothing, The Void. But it is also an absurd story. Carsten Holler exhibits an invisible car, one of a field of futuristic vehicles he designed for a utopian race. There is its starting place, painted on the gallery floor. But the supercar, called The Invisible, is for you to imagine.
The magic of the exhibition, its bizarre inversion of gallery-going, is that you do indeed imagine it. The car seems to be there. You don’t step on its starting block, in case you scratch the unseen paintwork.
Nearby is an empty white plinth. The air above it is cursed. The artist Tom Friedman got a witch to curse a zone hovering above the pedestal. As soon as you know this you do not want to put your hand into that evil space.
Why? Because nothing demands something of us. The human mind fills blanks with images and ideas; that is what a ghost story is, a way of filling darkness. This exhibition reveals that when artists, from Klein to Chris Burden, who hid himself on an elevated shelf in a gallery in 1975, started to deny that art had to be seen, they opened up a theatre for the imagination.
In the Hayward Gallery, the ghost of Byars haunts The Ghost of James Lee Byars. The visible world, as Plato pointed out, is a veil concealing truth.
Remind you of anything?
Amid all the hoopla surrounding the Titanic centennial, I thought I’d just mention what I consider to be by far the best film yet made about the disaster. ‘A Night to Remember’ was made in 1958 , nearly forty years before James Cameron’s saccharine ‘Titanic,’ on a fraction of the budget and with none of the sophisticated special effects. Yet the earlier film, directed by Roy Ward Barker and starring Kenneth Moore (as second officer Herbert Lightoller) is more accurate and exciting. The human interest element is far better written and acted than the overblown Winslet – Di Caprio nonsense in the Cameron film. Lee Randall (a self-confessed ‘Titanic “fan” since childhood’) has written in The Scotsman: “One of the most poignant moments in cinematic history is when an elderly couple retires to a pair of deckchairs to await the end together (a scene much repeated but never bettered). I’m welling up thinking about it now.”
Even the final sinking in ‘A Night to Remember’ was filmed in something close to ‘real time’ (just 37 minutes shorter than the actual event). And the meticulous technical accuracy is so impressive that (unlike a lot of nautical films of the time), you’d never guess that the vessel itself was a model, filmed in a pool (to be precise, an open air swimming pool in Ruislip at 2.00 am!).
I have only just discovered, however, that the film was based upon an eponymous novel by one Walter Lord, and adapted by Eric Ambler. Ambler (author of, amongst other novels, Journey into Fear, The Mask of Demetrios and Epitaph for a Spy) was one of the finest adventure writers of the twentieth century, and a leftist and antifascist who saw through Stalinism before most. He deserves to be better remembered and I’ll probably write about him again sometime. I’m sure his work contributed enormously to the artistic success of the film:
How then do you become Napoleon? There is always one escape: into wickedness. Always do the thing that will shock and wound people. At five, throw a little boy off a bridge, strike an old doctor and break his spectacles — or, anyway, dream about doing these things. Along the lines you can always feel yourself original. After all, it pays! It is much less dangerous than crime…
…One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other – George Orwell Benefit of Clergy: Some notes on Salvadore Dali - 1944.
I think art is the greatest currency in the world. Gold, diamonds, art are equal things and I think its a great thing to invest in. I love art and you can put it on your wall and enjoy it as well — Damien Hirst, in The Independent 03/04/12.
Mannequin Rotting in a Taxi-Cab (Dali), and…
shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of
what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall
in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration
camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book
or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’
Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the
implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human
The AWL’s paper Solidarity recently republished this article from 1991. I’d forgotten all about it, but have to say (with all due modesty) I think it stands up pretty well nearly twenty one years on, and is highly relevant to much of the foolishness of today’s “left” - both “far-left” and “Guardianista“:
Author: Jim Denham
This article from Solidarity’s forerunner, Socialist Organiser (11 June 1991), criticises “political correctness”, focusing on art and culture, from the point of view of the Marxist left, (as opposed to right-wing prejudice). Jim Denham argues here in favour of free speech and objective standards in aesthetics, in a still-pertinent debate.
A number of colleges and universities in the US have begun adopting PC codes, supposedly intended to curb behaviour and/or language that might give offence to racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians.
Some of this is quite reasonable and no-one but a bigot could object. But quite a bit is downright silly, and some of it is an affront to any conception of free speech.
The University of Connecticut, for instance, has prohibited “inappropriately directed laughter”. The New York Times has adopted a “style book” that requires the use of the term “adult male” in place of “man”. The word “burly” is also on the PC banned list.
I tried the “burly” on my boss, a committed feminist and anti-racist. What images and implications did the word conjure up? “Male”, “big”, maybe (but not necessarily) “stupid”. The PC movement has banned “burly” because it supposedly gives a negative image of black men.
As my boss pointed out (when I explained the point of the exercise to her), that argument only makes sense if you are pre-disposed to the assumption that all black men (sorry, males) are big and stupid.
But linguistic Stalinism is only one manifestation of the PC: it comes as part of a package deal that involves extending (or rather, reducing) multi-culturalism to an absolute “relativism”. According to this view, there is no such thing as objective “knowledge”, “facts” do not exist; philosophically “reality” is a complete illusion. One culture, philosophy, scientific theory, concept of history, or whatever, is as good as another. It’s all subjective, a matter of opinion.
But here we come to the central contradiction of PC/relativism: instead of applying their own laissez-faire approach to themselves (as well as everyone else) they proclaim it to be the only acceptable point of view, and set about purging reading lists, limiting free speech and hounding “incorrect” academics.
A special target are “DWEMs” — Dead White European Males. These include Plato, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Newton and (presumably) Marx. The object seems to be the complete repudiation of the entire Western cultural tradition (tainted as it is with racism, sexism, etc) in favour of more “Politically Correct” alternatives.
In particular, mighty efforts are being made to “prove” that Western civilisation has its origin not in the Greeks but in black African sources. Similarly the science of Newton (and Einstein) is rejected in favour of “ethno-mathematics” and “feminist science”.
Now, it is certainly not my intention here to deny that mainstream education and culture has always downplayed the contributions of women and black people. In particular, the superiority of early Asian civilisation over European ones has been consistently ignored by most Western historians. And who knows what unrecorded contributions to culture and science were made in Africa over the centuries?
But that cannot detract from the fact (sorry to have to insist on prosaic old “facts”) that the highest achievements of art, literature, science, history and philosophy that we have on record tend to be the work of “DWEM”s. They are (or should be) everyone’s birthright.
To reject mainstream European culture because of racist, sexist societies that produced it, is to deny the working class and the oppressed their opportunity to arm themselves ideologically for the battle for a new, better society.
Ironically, the chief victims of the PC movement are black students. According to the Marxist historian of slavery, Eugene Genovese, “we have transformed our colleges from places of higher learning into places for the technical training of poorly prepared young men and women who need a degree to get a job in a college-crazy society”.
Meanwhile, young black people are ghettoised into Afro-American studies and their educational achievements devalued accordingly.
The PC relativists no doubt disdain such formal categories as “left” and “right” but my guess is that they would not object too strongly to being called “left wing”. In fact they are profoundly reactionary.
The exiled Iraqi architect Samir al-Khalil recently published a book (The Monument) which examines the role of art and architecture in Saddam’s military dictatorship. Khalil is especially scathing about Robert Venturi, the “post-modern” architect presently in the news because of his National Gallery extension.
Venturi was one of many Western architects who tried to make money from Saddam’s huge programme of grotesque public works, climaxing in the infamous “Victory Arch” based on giant replicas of Saddam’s own arms holding sabres. Khalil accuses Venturi of something more than simple greed and opportunism: his artistic prostitution is the direct result of his relativism.
I didn’t follow this line of argument at first, but then it fell into place. For the likes of Venturi, Saddam’s regime and the requirements it places upon arts and culture is just as acceptable as any other commission. You want grotesque, militaristic kitsch? You’ve got it! For Venturi there are no objective standards, either in aesthetics or in politics.
This is a particularly extreme example of “relativism”, and it would obviously be unfair to bracket all the PC movement adherents together with this particular charlatan.
But they are linked by a common philosophical approach, and it’s one that Marxists should fight tooth and nail.
Britain’s greatest 20th Century cartoonist, Ronald Searle: 3 March 1920 – 30 December 2011.
Above: not just St. Trinian’s: this is the real Ronald Searle.
Martin Rowson, in the Graun:
“It is interesting to note how men of Searle’s generation – Spike Milligan being another notable example – translated the unimaginable trauma of the war into stuff like St Trinian’s or The Goon Show. And how distinctly unsettling it is to when you look at the drawings he produced in secret on the Burma Railway, and then see direct visual quotations of torture and beheadings in his later St Trinian’s cartoons” – The rest here.
“Coming out of the new Tintin film directed by Steven Spielberg, I found myself, for a few seconds, too stunned and sickened to speak; for I had been obliged to watch two hours of literally senseless violence being perpetrated on something I loved dearly. In fact, the sense of violation was so strong that it felt as though I had witnessed a rape. I use this comparison not as a provocation or to cause unnecessary offence: I am using it in honour of a very good joke made by an episode of South Park, in which the cartoon’s children watch the final Indiana Jones film and are so traumatised by what they have seen that they go round to the police station and try to get Spielberg and his colleagues charged with the crime. “What they did to poor Indy. They made him squeal like a pig.” The tragic irony of this is that it was Hergé himself, Tintin‘s creator, who, a few weeks before his death in 1983, anointed Spielberg as his preferred director to make a Tintin film; and this after he had seen, and loved, as we all do and did, the first Indiana Jones film.”
Stephen Spielberg’s film version of Tintin has not gone down well, especially with Nicholas Lezard; they should have hired the late Mr Will Rubbish (a distant relative of Monsieur Jelly) to do the job, Geordie-style: