14 May 2016
In “Bless…” Kramer takes a very risky stance as a film director (who needs a solid financial backing) – he offers to the viewers a choice – either to identify with the characters who are similar with them – with the adults of this world, or betray themselves and identify with… the children in a difficult – adolescent age, when our sons and daughters are prone to target their parents with unjustified, from our, adults’, point of view, criticism.
We inherit human past which is full of unsolvable and nasty contradictions, which is very difficult to accept as inevitable (as between generations – between politico-economic system, created by the elder generation and its offshoots) and which create permanently renewed wound of human civilization. Fathers repressed, manipulated and seduced their sons by (fraudulent) ideologies where religious and secular elements were enriching one another. In the wealthy families the military service was an honorable destiny often culminating in courageous death on the battlefield. Even more disastrous was the destiny of the sons from the poor families – they were sacrificed for the gloriously aggrandized personalities of various super-stars – kings, dukes, emperors, generals etc., for the sake of the glorious images of the “our sacred lands”, “our sacred worldview”, or in the name of our collective narcissism’s sensitivity. Kramer’s film represents today’s version of contradiction between the elder and younger generation as between the American parents and the officials at the summer camp for boys on the one side, and boys at the camp who instead of dreaming about and training themselves for building their personal social and financial power and instead of consuming violent video-games and pop-music want to love nature and human beings and contemplate about and understand better human and societal life in the world.
Kramer’s “Bless…” emphasizes that “democracy”, unfortunately, is not alien to the global tradition of sacrificing young people by the war- and money-making decisions of elder males in charge of life. But Kramer is addressing not so much the physical danger of being a young person in a modern society, but the destruction of their souls through repression of their moral idealism which is a precious feature of the young minds and souls. Of course, youthful idealism of a “diffused” love for humanity and the world is always “childish” – “extreme” and “utopian”. To help it develop into a mature and nuanced moral stance it is necessary to create a sophisticated pedagogy, but, as Kramer depicts the social climate in his film, the very necessity to fight for a place in the social hierarchy and for financial success, the situation of modern family when both parents are busy working and the circumstances of children’s education where teachers are more and more reduced to the role of drill masters preparing the schoolkids for tests, make it practically impossible to address the children and the youth’s need to develop their souls, humanity and ontological (as opposite to social) confidence. We see that the officials of the summer camp are only interested in teaching kids competition, machoism and conformism. There is no place in our education today for developing taste for truth as such, if it’s not a technical-scientific one, but truth in the context of life.
The young heroes of the film resist behavioral and mental standardization, rivalrous posture and common identity. In our concept of education – obsession with calculation of one’s personal success is combined with the absence of emotional – democratic individualism. But the young heroes of the film fight for their idealistic moral utopia – liberation of the buffaloes from being slaughtered for the pleasure of those obsessed with guns and killing. They try to liberate themselves from competitive and fighting orientation, for the sake of friendship and care about the world and people.
The film depicts a permanent uneven psychological fight between kids and adults attempting to make from boys cowboys, and it is in tune with awakening of the American people to the necessity of protecting nature from corporate predatoriness and insensitivity to the world. The acting of adult actors and the children is balanced between the style of documentary and fiction films and, simultaneously, expressive and non-sentimental, and always essential, not situational. Kramer’s film becomes more and more exceptional work of art amidst commercially dedicated movies projecting into the audience the movie-makers’ obsession with shocks provided by violent gimmicks, and stimulating in viewers emotional non-sensitivity and cognitive stagnation.
The children in the film have an internal world while adults just react on circumstances which they then try to use for gaining advantage over the situations.
Posted on 4/18/’16 – Stanley Kramer’s “Bless the Beasts and Children” (1971) – Even Adolescent Idealistic Existential Utopia Is a Moral Dream Which Deserves Pedagogical Nurturing And Forming by Acting-Out Politics
07 May 2016
Concentrated wealth creates concentrated power, which legislates further concentration of wealth, which then concentrates more power…
We’ll focus here on two tools/strategies of subverting democracy in US after WWII without using antidemocratic ideology and more – by using pro-democratic phraseology. It’s, as if, the anti-democratic efforts take place covered with pro-democratic ideological banners. The first tool/strategy deployed against democracy is the ideology and practice of consumerism, and the second is mass culture that deploys machoism, guns/weapons worshipping and militarism with its hate and bravado to cover/handle with its influence youth with conservative sensibility, and, on the other hand, high-tech guitars and sweaty-sentimental signing on the stage – to handle young people with liberal sensibility. Who created these anti-democratic strategies – some evil mind in an evil body? Nobody in particular, but everybody with penchant for consumerist and mass-cultural pleasures. Primitive impulses to accumulate power and wealth got a chance to act through technology with full naiveté about their own nature. Technological manipulation of the people and lands doesn’t seem, at first glance, like manipulation, but as generously providing people unlimited opportunities to improve their lives.
Consumerism and mass culture – the clothes of anti-democracy designed as more democracy are growing inside democracy like neoplasms – consumerism participates in the destruction of democratic prosperity, like mass culture – of the secularly spiritual culture.
What consumerism uses against prosperity and mass culture against culture is an appeal to the psychologically crude layers of human psyche and by the intensification of devaluation and destruction of humanistic education (the main socio-cultural “agency” capable of refining the human psyche through training it how to overcome its megalomaniacal narcissism of implying that “we are by nature smart enough to understand life without humanistic education”.
Culture (as different from mass-culture) and the idea of prosperity (as radically different from consumerism) can function only insofar as a rational and reasonable (humanistically educated) spirituality is made part of the human psyche. This mature spirituality (result of a tormenting experience of permanent intellectual self-overcoming) prevents obsessiveness and naïve self-confidence on part of any need trying to command individual to act out in its name. It is the needs becoming obsessive and ideas becoming absolutized which transform culture into a mass culture and the concept of prosperity into a consumerist vain obsession.
Prosperity is modest and moderate, while consumerism is obsessive and avaricious. Culture is sublime, while mass culture is de-sublimated. Prosperity is noble and generous while consumerism plebeian and blind. Culture is disinterested while mass culture is indulgent. Culture is intellectually demanding while mass culture is intellectually loose and cognitively messy. Cultural images and their perception include humility while the task of mass culture is to provide over-satisfaction to hook us on easy pleasure.
The “mechanism” of destroying prosperity through consumerism and culture by mass culture is providing the “mechanical” and superficial exaggeration of the image of the host by the intruder, for example, of music by (entertaining) pop-music or well-being by luxury – of concentrated refinement by cheerful and sentimental vulgarity. Regular people perceive prosperity as an “underdeveloped” consumerism and the fact of being in poverty as a form of falling from the consumerist heaven. They consider consumerism as prosperity’s higher phase. For the humanistically under- or the uneducated ones gluttony is a result of developed taste for food. The same with culture and mass culture. Mass culture provides more “somatic” and gusto-dense emotions in comparison with culture which includes thinking about the meaning of images and words (hard work for many who operate mainly through intuitive inspirations and instinctive mental agitations). So, people prefer David Bowie to Pierre Boulez, Prince to John Cage and Madonna to Jessi Norman. Culture doesn’t encourage identification by similarity (for example between viewers and movie characters) – psychological mechanism which a totalitarian community and countries are based on, while mass culture exploits this very mechanism because it is based on strong and exceptionally pleasant “we-them” emotions (“morally and intellectually superior-we” and “inferior-them” feelings).
Instead of building their prosperity and expanding their cultural competence people drum-dream about becoming bill-mills (billionaires-millionaires) and indulging in consumption of each other, the world and entertainment, with crude-greed of bill-mills as the ultimate role models. They worship Donald Trumps and Lord Bankfines (Lloyd Blankfeins) who participate in destroying prosperity and in building consumerism for super-consumers like themselves.
Consumerism (as an economic activity) and mass culture have consumerism as a psychological position as shared common denominator. Consumerists imply that the world and technological advantages of human civilization exist in order to be at their disposal – to be a tool for their profit and pleasure. More and more Americans are frustrated not because in the time of austerity they are deprived of what they have the right to enjoy as citizens of a technologically developed democracy – the human prosperity, but because they are not able to be the (maximal) consumerists.
Consumerism and mass culture (both grown from consumerist roots) have debilitated American democracy so effectively, that today financial elites with their sophisticated strategies of manipulating people’s financial behavior and public funds in particular are in absolute charge. Even the poorest people have become more and more corrupted in their feverish dreams of becoming bill-mills. Neocons – saber-toothed conservatives are silently planning mass abandonment of the people (a new – “sublimated” form of mass extermination by withdrawing/cutting the funds from public investment to the helping those who need care because of being chronically unemployed, disabled or elderly. People possess more and more arms to kill one another and leave the financial majesties free to finalize their conquest of the world including US.
01 May 2016
Person died is crossing the famous river separating the kingdom of the alive from that of the dead (separating the very living from deadness which is trying, somehow, to live, light from darkness, hope from the vanity of hope, and fears from the knowledge). A gloomy voyage, stern visage of ultimate traveler and his meek gaze.
The dead eyes of the one who just died, quickly adapt to the darkness, became part of it and are able to see, and even appeal to others. The paddle – the waning moon still gives off light to the human neck and the head-the sail, and only the boat – the human body resists being seen in darkness – tarnished by the dirty-blew splashes of the water. The paddle-moon projects memory of the sunlight to the head-sail and to the mast-neck, but the boat-body is already corpse.
Of course, the protagonist is sad, his eyes, ready to cry, are emptied by death. They are telling us of his nostalgia, as if, it is in our, who are still alive, power to help him – how we can help the one, who is so much ahead of us. His sadness and his resignation join his obedience to his destiny – he is still appealing but has already surrendered. He is in a process of disintegrating – already looks like children’s Lego toy: set of pieces to be put together and taken apart. He fell into pieces. Compassion we may feel for him is compassion for ourselves (in us the tragedy of mortality is not yet muffled by the inevitable). He lost wholeness, he has been disintegrated-shattered by the materiality of dying. He is a trace, not even an echo of the materiality of living.
We follow him – his face is “stern”, but not his soul which still keeps its spiritual equanimity and looks at us with the memories alive by remembering.
For real artist like Paul Klee, who is capable of existentializing (transforming into a spiritual living) everything he is settling in through his imagination, the future is not an exercise in ignoring death – jumping over it to see what is there through something like virtual reality lenses, but alive after-death experience.
18 Apr 2016
The film is about kids who, tragically, didn’t get a chance to meet somebody like a pedagogue and teacher Jonathan Kozol
Management caters to a minority of well-heeled and politically well-connected agriculture interests at the expense of the broader public, who flock to Yellowstone to see these rare and iconic species in flesh. Officials poked and prodded buffalos into pens and a squeeze chute, where the animals bucked, thrashed and bellowed. They bolted between pens along a maze of alleys, goring each other and their babies in panic.
Louisa Willcox, “Blood on the Tracks: Yellowstone Buffalo Atrocities”, Counterpunch, March 25, 2016
The people for whom I feel the greatest sadness are the ones who choke on their beliefs, who never act on their ideals, who never know the state of struggle in a decent cause, and never know the thrill of even partial victories.
Childhood is not merely a basic training for utilitarian adulthood. It should have some claims upon our mercy, not for its future value to the economic interests of competitive societies but for its present value as a perishable piece of life itself.
Instead of seeing these children for the blessings that they are, we are measuring them only by the standard of whether they will be future deficits or assets for our nation’s competitive needs.
Adoration of technique… has opened the gate to interrupted dialogue, mismatching, jump cuts, super-imposures, split screens and the camera as primary weapon in the director’s bag. But technique covers a multitude of sins.
“Your gun is your bread” – from the pedagogical wisdoms proudly proclaimed by the officials of the “Summer Camp for Boys” (“send us a boy, and we’ll return him as a cowboy”)
This shot introduces to the viewers one of the “pedagogues” at the summer camp for boys-future cowboys, who reminds us of NRA members or private militia activists who recently occupied (for a while) a federal building in Oregon
The two spontaneous leaders of the group of boys dreaming of the liberation of the Buffaloes and themselves – Cotton (Barry Robins, on the left) and Theft (Bill Mumy). Theft is instrumental, a practical leader, and Cotton – expressive and the inspirational one (he was “accidentally” killed by the buffalo hunters)
A group of adolescents moves along a dusty or asphalted roads in search for the place where they can be free from the standard and conformist living. They want to be free from machoistic or chameleonic values and ideals which their parents and teachers push on them, and from the dogmatic indifference of their camp instructors – from a living which allows only one position – adaptation to what already is because what already exists is already the best thing in the world.
The heroes of the film – boys from the summer camp rush on horses, on a mini-truck, move ahead on foot. They want to liberate the local buffalos from being slaughtered (excess of buffalos is bad for their well-being). Of course, just to let a herd of buffalos prepared for the slaughter – out of enclosure – to run to freedom would be a utopian project, but how can the moral dreams of the children be not utopian? Where are the humanistic teachers who could admire such dreams in spite of being not realistic – not balanced with adult rationality (with propaganda of flat and dogmatic rationality), and teach kids how to develop their moral imagination instead of dismissing it as absurd and immature? In a land of freedom for seductive and misleading advertisement used to sell in order to make profit, and for greedy consumption for the purpose of feeling ourselves somebodies, children search for freedom to be not rivalrous and pugnacious and hateful, but – contemplative and friendly to the world.
They will never find what they‘re looking for, what their souls need. They will not find freedom in a land of fraudoom embellished by shooting ranges, pop-music and athletic competitions. Self-sacrifice of the one of boys (“Capitan” Cotton – Barry Robins) dreaming about a meaningful life and who could only find it by sacrificing his life for the sake of saving buffalos, didn’t provide an opening to real freedom. And kids’ identification with the slaughtered buffalos – with life locked and doomed, inspired them to risky idealism and didn’t create liberation of nature from being enslaved by technological gluttony and blind consumerism of natural resources which our society inflicted with. These “misfits” became trespassers and transgressors because nobody taught them what it means to become reasonable moral fighters. They were taught only how to fight for social success and monetary rewards.
This movement ahead on endless roads which is repeated throughout the film as endless refrain – to liberate, to help life, to find how to do this, is what at first seen as a visual refrain inside the plot of “Bless the Beasts and Children“. In between the scenes of the kids’ life at the summer camp and in homes of their parents, we identify with their spiritual nomadism towards meaning of life – with scenes of their movement towards somewhere far from being home or in the summer camp. It is like refrains in relation to the verses. Only step by step we start to understand that the scenes of life preceding the camp or at the camp are not the plot at all, but rather the monotonous refrain, that kids’ physical movement towards liberation is the real plot of the film and, simultaneously a commentary about it – the existential and intellectual part of the film, the main heroes’ real moments of life and vitality and their understanding of their life. In other words, in “Bless…” the plot and comment on it both concentrated in what at first seemed to be just a refrain, while the flash-back scenes opening the content of kids’ memories and the negative experiences registered in them are just what was preparing them for their life and understanding. The fundamental structural solidity and stability of the work of art’s plot belongs in Kramer’s film to the young heroes’ constant movement to save the buffalos, not to the scenes of their life without meaning, be it life with their parents or with camp instructors. Children’s sublime desires and understandings became the basic – meaningful part of the film, contradicting the habitual representation of children and their thinking in movies, with condescending albeit compassionate feelings. Kramer identifies and makes the viewers identify rather with children’s awkward idealistic utopia, than with adult’s rotten pragmatism, with immature truth rather than with the adult world’s outworn greasy “wisdoms” tend to end in repression, manipulation and destruction.
It is not surprising that the film was met by critics either with indignant refutation, or with ambiguous reservation which even Roger Ebert, who was one of the most humanistically oriented among American film critics, couldn’t avoid behind his embarrassed self-justifications. Kramer’s film was too much even for the most democratic period in American culture.
Even many college teachers of film expecting from movies formal elegance blurring the political criticism, considered Kramer’s film “not aesthetic enough” and being “issue oriented”. They identified “Bless…” as “aesthetically crude”, in comparison with, for example, James Bond endless re-editions and multiplications.
Posted on 5/14/’16 – “Bless the Beast and Children” by Stanley Kramer (1971) by Acting-Out Politics
13 Apr 2016
“The Testament…” is, semantically, virtuoso interweaving, on the part of a director, of human aspiration for immortality and the human ability to welcome mortality as a more decent and refined position than the ontological bracketing of the existential reality. The poet in the film (played by Jean Cocteau himself) is the incarnated compromise between humanness to the end, on the one side, and the human megalomaniacal pretention (growing from the wild soil of irrational fears) to be superhuman. Going through experiences of his perception of life the poet gets the ability to grasp the spiritual pedagogy of Hibiscus flower. Cocteau’s film is about a specifically poetic talent to resurrect the things of the world (recovering Hibiscus flower as a symbol of all living creatures) while fearlessly asserting his human limitations.
Cocteau depicts the evolution of the poet’s personality from searching for personal immortality in his poetic creativity to supporting the otherness of the world. It is, as if, in his youth and middle age the poet is a believer in his own immortality through his poetic creations, and only later, after his returning to 20th century he changes his creative focus from his own poems as the emanations of his poetic soul to the soul of the world as otherness. The transition from the first to the second phase of the poet’s evolution is even noticeable through the changes in his manners and intonations. As soon as he had “re-incarnated” from being a wanderer through various periods of human history into a human mortal (his historical reincarnations were something like attempts to avoid the mortality trap – his belonging to a concrete epochs) he from a confident narcissist is transformed into a spiritual bum. Before his mannerisms and intonations were not arrogant, of course, but impregnated with the awareness of his exceptional self-worth as a poet and as a result – as a human being, a little condescending towards “regular people”, but after returning to modernity and forgetting the medieval “aristocratic” posture and clothe the poet’s soul became inseparable from humility and disorientation, got a paradoxical grace of existential awkwardness.
The poet’s soul becomes what it was always (beneath the poet’s defensive cover of being “poetically immortal” – the carrier of extreme contrast between the unconscious intuitive abysses and conscious fragmented rationality, or between talking through destiny (the image of the talking mouth of the palm of the hand) instead of indulging in everyday cliché-exchanges, or communicating “through the body that contains us while not knowing us, which lives in us while having lived before”, instead of through socio-morphic rituals of conventionality. Cocteau as an actor personifies this condition with almost supernatural exactitude. His awkward, rigid, absent-minded body moving without confidence through the archetypal spaces – eclipsed schemas of social life, is not another side of the poet’s personality, but its very heart which lives through listening the human environment by its blood‘s currents and its pulsations, accumulations and releases.
From writing poems and living, as if, inside them the poet with years gets the capability of restoring destroyed Hibiscus flower back to life. Cocteau foresees our situation in the 21st century – of the non-postponable necessity to restore the world of nature outside and inside us, which the predators among us have managed to harm and almost wreck. Like the poet in Cocteau’s film recovers the destroyed flower (symbol of life), we today confront the task of saving the planetary nature and must find the way to achieve it.
Jean Marais – Oedipus walking through history – an unforgettable several minutes of the film, Francois Perier (Heurtebise) and Maria Casares (The Princess/Death) are masters of personification of human internal world, actors representing the opposite of Hollywood socio-situational acting. Even Edouard Dermit – a non-professional actor (Segeste/Segestius), acts “metaphysically” – with an emphasis on the psychological internality distanced from (not identical with our acting-out ego) the social situations (social “causes” of human “reactions”). The music of Bach and Vivaldi transposes the internal code of the film’s meaning into the language of tears, but also silent/muffled humor.
Jean Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”
Jean Cocteau, “Villa Santo Sospir”
09 Apr 2016
If some Nazi executioner will start to tell you about his inner experience, his dreams, his deepest fear, desires, his inner story, I will say “No, your truth is outside. Your truth is what you did there, in the camp. I am not interested in your inner story.” This is the basic Lacanian notion of fantasy as a constitutive lie. Our “inner truth” is the lie we construct to be able to live with the misery of our actual lives.
Slavoj Zizek, March, 2016
Oh, all of these guys and chicks on the movie screens from everyday American life, plants from the chemically fertilized soil. They are without a drop of “abstraction”, concrete as their feet, genuine like their jeans, generic like things made to be goods! May be, indeed, they are high-tech plants capable of moving, running, jumping, flying and shooting (in agreement with super-technological nature of American “cool” culture) and with souls of pollen. They are made by downtowns or stark plains. Because they are super-stars they can’t be refused – who would be so foolish to refuse the sky? Fame and wealth are high-tech telescopes for today’s peeping Toms.
One of the reasons Hollywood superstars are popular and excite money circulation between the viewers’ narrowing pockets and the movie producers’ expanding ones, is that they are exactly like the majority of movie fans who identify with them (unconsciously feel that they ARE the characters on the screen and superstars inside them) because of their basic similarity with them. Viewers love these characters/stars… like themselves, and they love themselves as screen heroes, while stars love the viewers whom they imitate for reward of fame and money. As we see, mutuality here is multiple – mutual and perfect.
Viewers do not completely live in an imaginary world, but their real world – their life becomes completely imaginary one – they didn’t have the chance to develop the ability to differentiate themselves from the world. The world that surrounds them is full of shreds (filled by fragments) of their self-projections. Viewers see themselves on the screens idealized/glamorized and cannot resist admiring themselves. And they become happier with themselves when they‘re under the spell of the pop-movies and more and more aggressive towards the remnants of reality (outside the magic box of their Hollywoodized perception). Why to deprive people of the movie-moments of happiness? – Here is the Hollywood’s motto of “humanism” – you have to make art for the people, not for ivory towers where pesky “intellectuals” are nesting. Hollywood populism instead of addressing the people’s real problems is exploiting their factual – educationally deprived condition. Mass-images gradually destroy people’s intellect not less than fast food – human bodies. Hollywood traders of superficial (but felt as natural as random erections) pleasures and illusion that it is possible to understand modern society without humanistic education and intense thinking are indirectly responsible for the popularity of sweaty Frankensteins like Bush Jr. or the neocon majority in US Congress.
Hollywood’s cult of cognitive mediocrity supported by growing technical competence of movie-camera is a result of money-zation of the idea of individualism. Today “the exceptional” means wealthy, and individualism – the thickness of the pocket and the ability to juggle with money. The point is not that the worshippers of Hollywood as a theater of their self-projection are ordinary – but they‘re seduced into being mediocre by the star-shine of Hollywood enterprise itself. With bright-sharp simplistic topics and elaborations commercial movie-making pleases and flatters the consumers of inflated and empty images dressed in pompous pre-scientific clichés.
But, indeed, why the problems of people educated not in technical and applied disciplines but in liberal arts are absent in Hollywood productions, and together with it – intelligent political and world views? But, of course, price for this shameful neglect will be collective and it will be in the future, while the profit from ignoring the serious social, psychological and political problems and creating the illusion that life is as simple as child-like imagination is in the present tense. If almost nobody among the producers and directors will risk losing pockets for the sake of heightening the population’s educational level, democracy is doomed. Instead of demanding from themselves to share the commercial space with educational necessities, with an effort to discuss with the viewers the problems of functioning democracy and aspects of democratic personality and behavior, entertainers despotically occupy ninety-nine percent of population with entertaining media-effects and degrade themselves in the process for the sake of securing/enhancing their profits. Entertainment (making from non-thinking pleasure and encouraging the illusion that thinking is guessing) becomes the strongest leverage of making the public helpless in finding alternatives to the status quo and prone to trust the neocon propagandists, ideological sloganeers and political advertisers/entertainers.
Emotional manipulation of viewers on part of producers and filmmakers, on which viewers respond by identification with stars’ emotions (the reaction without even rudimentary cognitive critical or self-reflective ability) – is the main mechanism Hollywood entertainers use to exploit human nature. They transform cine-viewers into ancient slaves admiring their wealthy and masterful masters, into medieval peasants happy to die in wars for the sake of their kings and dukes, into maids from famous Jean Janet’s play. It is old totalitarian psychology clinging to life, that entertainers exploit (and by this reinforce and perpetuate) by providing people with pleasures of identification with charismatically shining heroes of the screens – the same (in essence) achievement that totalitarian leaders brag about in the area of political ideology and practice.
And we have on the entertainment screens charismatic personifications of authentic mediocrity not deflowered by humanistic education which alone can shock the primordial narcissistic selves bathing in their own megalomania and self-centeredness. Those primitive centers of the world in human form on the movie screens are always absolutizing their needs, desires, ideas and self-importance and continue to be role models for the next generations. And it doesn’t matter, these characters have the “right” or “wrong” ideas, “right” or “wrong” political views, proper or improper political dreams or even “humanistic” or “anti-humanistic” behavior. Everybody thinks that he/she follows a moral principle, even when they kill and torture, even when they do mass extermination. They are not touched by existential spirituality impossible without persistent humanistic education.
There is only one – operational criterion of right and wrong – how we behave towards other human beings, not in what we believe. The truth is behavioral, not idolic. Morality ought to be rooted in behavior, not in beliefs. But behavior is human psychology in action. It is here the Hollywood filmmakers’ efforts dismantle the pre-consumerist human beings – transform viewers into addicts of identification with the artificial glamorous heroism of reaching success over others, of becoming authorities of power and wealth, an identification which through a fake liberation from reality and through uplifting self-glamorization in the midst of consumerist happiness leads people away from achieving any possibility of real liberation.
01 Apr 2016
Judith Zilczer in her book “A Way of Living (the Art of Willem de Kooning)”, Phaidon, was struck by the tension in his “Woman 1” between expression and “grace”. Who is the woman in this controversial painting? Is it his wife? His mother? Eleanor Roosevelt? Gertrude Stein? How meaning is created in this painting… in circulation and over time, as the artist work is absorbed into history?
Martha Schwendener, Sunday Book review, New York Times, Dec. 5, 2014
“Working at ‘Woman 1’, as was his habit, with numerous drawings and collage fragments, de Kooning filled his canvass with image upon image, only to scrap away the figure and repeatedly begin painting anew,“ Zilczer writes. Elaine de Kooning estimates that some two hundreds images preceded what is now the final stage of the painting. This constant reworking prove taxing. “Perhaps, it is no wonder that the painter, dissatisfied with his progress, chose to abandon ‘Woman 1’ in 1952”, Zilczer writes. Indeed, “de Kooning only resumed work in the painting after art historian Meyer Schapiro offered words of encouragement about the abandoned canvas during a visit with the artist…”
Many critics condemned the canvas as being violent and degrading towards women.
De Kooning’s Woman 1 is, it seems, a representation of our infantile irrational fears focused on primordial mother, which are framed and articulated by our fears of natural disasters, planetary nuclear catastrophe or destruction of life because of toxic pollution, global warming, etc. Woman’s body in “Woman 1” signifies the human external environment (and substantial parts of our internal world identifying with it) in a process of blowing up, while her face symbolizes the meaning of this catastrophe: the very menace of the blast communicated by her ogre-like, “cannibalistic” facial expression, and consequences of this destruction for the destiny of human race, which we immediately sense and cathect. The Woman 1’s face, in other words, signifies the prophesy of what is coming, but her body is, as if, a visual “illustration” of the end of life – the radical withdrawal of woman’s fertile body from human race.
Is it really possible for a human being to be in such a strong position in relation to other human beings to be as horrifying as de Kooning’s Woman1? By the terror she creates in us who almost unable to look at her eyes and her grinning grimace, she reminds the faces of mad kings, emperors or monstrous torturers-inquisitors of our historical past. But for a woman to be so magnificently mighty as to to be able to incite, first of all, in males among viewers, such an intense irrational anxiety? She is horrifying because she is mighty, and she is mighty because we need her so much – her presence, warmth, her touch and her condescending compassion. We needed her as a protectress and a source of love and generosity, as a savior, before de Kooning showed her to us through his painting. Without her we didn’t have, we couldn’t have peace of heart. Now we cannot have it as long as she exists.
Female monster always will be much more owe-inspiring than the male monsters are, because little children need the immediacy of mother’s love much more than the “abstraction” of paternal protection. The child inside us is so horrified by Woman 1 because he feels that she betrays him in front of his eyes – he knows that he is nothing without maternal power. And de Kooning shows us the goddess in the very moment of her betrayal, even we are only imagine it, even we are imagine it unconsciously. It is maternal indifference we see as her monstrosity. It is her withdrawal from us we see as her animalistic animosity. Her distancing from us we see as her attack, and her abandonment of us – as being persecuted by her.
Her eyes which we as children saw so many times as currents and waves of tenderness – now irradiate apocalyptic hate just because it’s not love anymore. Her motherly quiet smile is transformed into a sarcastic smirk, no, worse – into her desire to bite, to crush, to chew and to spit us away. Her breasts are still giant as was her fertile generosity, but now they are like metal armor against our gently greedy love. De Kooning’s painting puts us in an unbearable situation of seeing Woman abandoning us forever. In this very moment of total universal betrayal of us she stopped to be the human organism, the center of the world. She and space around her (which was extension and continuation of her in her ability to comfort us) started to fall apart into fragments of flesh and stone. The world in which we existed together – has already began to crumble.
It is only the one whom we love and on whom we depend in our love, can be so terrifying – the only who was desired and needed as being above our life can transform into a giantess with such a monstrous power. It is only the object of love and hope that can be so frightening in the moment of betraying us. Only destroyed love can put us in a primordial chaos which de Kooning forces us to look at in his “Woman 1”. Four innocent and so natural man’s wishes – to have a motherly mother, to have a wifely wife, to meet and keep a beloved woman and to live in a peace are all destroyed in de Kooning’s canvass before our very eyes.
The style of de Kooning’s painting mythologizes, but this is an alive mythologization of reality, not thumbing the old myths. The artist shows us how myths continue to be born. It’s the essence of reality to renew mythological sense of life, life as an essential, as its own mythological substrate, as its own mythological code. The mystery of experiencing primordial chaos when universal woman abandons us – it is the psychodrama that the artist creates in front of the viewers in his “Woman 1”. This mythological mystery doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of our everyday life – but it reflects the eternity of our unconscious irrational fears. We were moved by these fears when we were infants and children. We continue to be motivated by them from our unconscious as adults. We are always worried when we love. Macho men, for example, are shamefully often afraid of strong, emancipated women, and scandalously retreat into militarism and money power because they are not able to confront the emanations of a strong woman’s soul. But in reality it is exactly this soul, inside which we all were conceived and born from.
De Kooning in “Woman 1” shows us the truth of our own perception of a developed/ripe femininity – as a cannibalistic woman, as a storm, earthquake, eruption of volcano. But behind our panic we still feel Woman 1’s magnificence, her irresistible beauty. We have to learn to rely more on the feminine intellect and let women create new reality of planetary life. We have to put our obsessive reliance on military force and manipulative politics into platinum suitcases and send them off to the Jupiter. Where we can see apocalyptic eyes can be patience, moderation and tolerance, there is also the sunrise of inexhaustible hopes and sunset of deserved rest. Where we see a predatory mouth, can be love and care. We have to turn our perception of the reality upside down. We have to overcome reality of our imagination paralyzed by fears. We have to work for women – democratic ones, not those who pretend to be macho men, like many neo-conservative women and some officially democratic ones.
It seems, it is possible to understand why de Kooning makes and erases so many versions of his vision in this work before reaching a satisfactory result – it is very difficult to dig deeply into our unconscious perception – here: of babies, children and macho adolescents and young or eternally childish men (like war-mongering military leaders and super-profit-mongering billionaires) in order to grasp more exactly how they perceive women’s mystique, that the artist so incredibly successfully achieved in his “Woman 1”.
16 Mar 2016
My star is a Hibiscus flower
Jean Cocteau, “Two Screenplays”, A Pelican Book, 1968, p. 144
Of course, works of art create themselves, and dream of killing both father and mother. Of course, they exist before the artist discovers them. But it’s always “Orpheus,” always “Oedipus”. I thought that by changing castle I’d change ghosts and that here a flower could make them flee.
Jean Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”
Princess [Death]: We are the inquiry commission of a tribunal to whom you must account for some of your acts. This tribunal wishes to know if you plead guilty or not guilty. (To Heurtebise) Would you read out the two accusations?
Heurtebise: First: you are accused of innocence – or in other words, of an attack on justice by being capable and guilty of all crimes, instead of just one, and liable to be convicted in a way that our jurisdiction will decide. Second: You are accused of incessantly wanting to penetrate with fraudulence into a world that is not yours. Do you plead guilty or not guilty?
Poet:I plead guilty in both instances. I admit that I am closed in by the thread of mistakes I have not made, and I admit that I have often wanted to jump over the fourth mysterious wall that men write their loves and dreams upon.
Poet: Probably, because I am tired of the world I live in and detest habits. Also because of that disobedience with which audacity defies the rules, and that spirit of creation which is the highest form of the spirit of contradiction – pertaining to human beings.
Princess: If I am not mistaken, you are making a religion out of disobedience?
Poet: Without disobedience what would children do? Or heroes? Or artists?
Jean Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”
Princess: What do you mean by “film”?
Poet: A film is a petrifying source of thought. A film revives dead acts – a film allows one to give a semblance of reality to unreality.
Princess: And what do you call unreality?
Poet: What goes beyond our meager limits.
Jean Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”
Heurtebise: So in your world there are individuals that are like an invalid with no arms or legs, who sleeps, dreaming that he is moving and running.
Poet: You have given an excellent definition of the poet.
Jean Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”
Princess: What do you mean by poet?
Poet: The poet, by composing poems, uses a language that is neither dead nor living, that few people speak, and few people understand.
Princess: And why do these people speak this language?
Poet: To meet their compatriots in a world where, too often, the exhibitionism that consists of revealing one’s naked soul is practiced only among the blind.
Jean Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”
Princess: Did you write:
“This body that contain us does not know us.
What lives in us is lived in.
And these bodies, one inside the other
Form the body of eternity.”
Poet: I wrote that, yes.
Princess: And who told you these things?
Poet: What things?
Princess: The things that you say in that language that is neither dead nor living.
Poet: No one.
Princess: You are lying!
Poet: I agree if, like myself, you believe that we are the servants of an unknown force that lives within us, manipulates us, and dictates this language to us.
J. Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”
Cegestius: You gave me my name…
Poet: I can hardly recognize you. You used to be blonde.
Cegestius: That was for a film. This time it’s no longer a film. It’s life.
J. Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”
Jean Cocteau, “The Testament of Orpheus”
Jean Cocteau, “Villa Santo Sospir”
Jean Cocteau-the poet is trying to reincarnate into mortality
The poet is trying to meet a scientist who would be able to return him from the eternity of his reincarnations back into human mortality, but by mistake he found a professor too early – in his adolescence (Jean-Pierre Leaud).
Oedipus (Jean Marais) travels on foot through history
Cocteauan poet’s social life
Cocteau’s criticism of mass culture
Poet’s voyage to mortality from the poetic heavens
When the poet makes a spiritual transition from his immortality (his self-immortalization in his poetry) to his mortality – when he feels that only his poetry belongs to the (symbolic) immortality while he himself belongs to the mortals, he has to be careful: how not to return to a narcissistic world-view and life style and the most vulgar – socio-morphically megalomaniacal self-perception.
The poet and his conformist double
The existential mission of the poet based on personal humility and his new poetry of otherness
Pedagogy of the Hibiscus flower
Afina Pallada/Aphrodite punishes poet for choosing mortality
The sacred blindness of the poet
What could motivate a poet, personified by Cocteau himself in his “The Testament of Orpheus”, to disappear from the 20th century he felt locked in (“disappearance is not easy”, as he himself complains to destiny), to the 18th century (and wear the costume from Louis XIV and hat from Louis XV’s epochs, while continue to smoke cigarettes (forced to lie to his new acquaintances that he invented it, to be left in peace)? What made him do all of this and other bizarre things (like his tireless appearances and disappearances before everyone’s eyes)? He, probably, couldn’t answer with certainty himself. But, as if, it’s not enough eccentricities, what could make a poet to wish to return to modern world in spite of feeling himself like a solemn somnambulist? The film depicts an existential poet who moves inside our world as a sleepwalker, who looks around like a gentle alien fearful of what can happen with him and what all this could mean?
Why did the poet come back? What has he forgotten here, in our noisy and vain life, amidst our instinctive destructive greed? Whole his life – more exactly, all his numerous lives, the poet was (phoenixologically) hooked on immortality. May be, the ultimate reason for returning home is becoming weary of being doomed to resurrect from one his poem to another, from one amorous reincarnation to the next? May be, the time did come for him to give his immortality away. He was always trying to escape from life to poetic beauty, and now he has to give artistic beauty back to life.
Here is the mystery of the Hibiscus flower which the poet destroys (during the bout of irritation because of his feeling that this flower symbolizes him, again and again himself) and, under the influence of Cegestius, resurrects, making the flower (a life) immortal instead of himself, making life even more flowery and fertile as a part of the greatness of creation. (Eroticized) narcissism is the traditional poets’ spiritual weakness. Only now, after returning to condition of mortal life (becoming mortal through professor’s “magic” super-bullets, which exactly meant to provide immortality for regular people), the poet is cured of his aesthetic narcissism (from writing always like Orpheus, always about Oedipus). But only now he got the ability to “change castles” and start to write about otherness of the world. When he stopped to be immortal, he got the ability to restore and immortalize the flowers of life.
Hibiscus flower as it was given to him by Cegestius is a signifier of poetic immortality (when a poet felt that he is immortal through his work, that his poetic creativity is a vehicle of his personal immortality because an art is his, it is him), but also – a world’s life, independent of poet’s existence. Now the poet is able to return to life his poetic gift (which was never completely his). Before the poet was between himself and his immortality achieved through his poetry. Now when the poet made himself mortal by believing in his mortality, his poetic gift helps life (the flower) be itself. The poet’s new talent is to restore to life the destroyed natural beauty (restoration of the Hibiscus flower – visual metonymy of phoenixological competence of the mortal poet). In other words, poet is mortal but dedicated to the immortality of the world as otherness.
In his old age the poet pays with accepting his mortality for helping the creation to keep the world immortal. Now poetry becomes like life (dedicated to the otherness of the world). Cocteau here is the unexpected prophet of our task in the 21st century to try to restore the nature which the blindly greedy among us have wrecked, robbed, poisoned and almost destroyed. The Cocteauan poet is not projecting into the world his own self-aggrandizing passion, like before when he was vainly trying to identify with his poetic immortality. By accepting death, the poet becomes a poet of life, a creator of life through the poetry of life’s otherness. He learns to restore the Hibiscus flower, as we, humans of 21st century must learn to restore our own humanity and natural environment. Now the poet is capable of making life as poetry.
By returning to his home of modernity, the poet, purely intuitively, achieves the final stage of his life which includes the acceptance of his limitations as a human being in comparison with the world, and only then he is ready to influence it with his spiritually poetic emanations. Before the poet was a great escapist. His poetic gift was invested into his own immortality, while the human world was left to its own triviality, which Cocteau depicts in the film on his way to Minerva, where we, through the poet’s perception, meet various types of philistines innocently consuming the world and their own lives. Mass culture is represented by Cocteau as producing its own language, simultaneously simplistic and pretentious, situational and generic. Human careerist obsessions (including that of the poet’s double) are characterized as vain pursuits of social recognition.
Minerva doesn’t respect the poet (in the second phase of his spiritual evolution) for being a spiritual bum, for not knowing what he wants from life and what he is doing, for always spoiling his own efforts. Her cruel intervention into the poet’s destiny takes away his mortality which he was recently pursuing (although, may be, without the necessary determination). After being radically pierced by Minerva’s spur, the poet becomes like Cegestius – a ghost of himself lost between life and death, ontologically a homeless wanderer. To become ghosts after death is usually the destiny of certain mortals punished for their awkward rebellious efforts against their mortality. But in the poet’s case the punishment is for his “irresponsible and capricious” desire to express “disrespect” for the gods and to return to mortality. The poet is punished by Minerva for the absence of godly monumentality, for betrayal of his eternal identity of his narcissistic phase, which Minerva, in her ignorance of a Goddess, took for the poet’s imitation of Gods’ immortality.
That is, it seems, Cocteauan poet’s testament – to try to be mortal, lost, adrift, spiritually homeless, and in all humility be able to enjoy it. With all ambitiousness, the poet is the one who doesn’t take himself too serious in spite of his seeming appearance of being the one who makes the supreme efforts to be more “sublimely” genuine creature than anybody else. Like the Sphinx in “The Testament…” the poet doesn’t know what awaits for him tomorrow.
Cocteauan poet as a philosopher of poetry – as somebody who needs to reflect about himself as a poet, not only to write poems and who is interested to understand the very human need to do so – tries to grasp how it’s possible to create works of art and why some human beings are destined to do it. Indeed, what is this obsession to add to the world and life the works of art about the world and life? Why do poets wish to be god’s co-creators? Why do they feel that the universe needs their “commentaries” about it in a form of revealing its meaning? Cocteau’s “The Testament of Orpheus” is like a “diary” of the poet’s investigation of his destiny. Poet’s philosophizing about poetry and about his very existence is not only a practice of humility, but, first of all, it is the transference of the poet’s significance to the spirituality of poetic function. “The Testament…” elaborates this very process of the poet’s psychological evolution from proud contemplation on his own poetical gift to self-forgetfulness in front of the spirituality of existential creative labor.
At the end of the film Cocteau’s images describe how immortality of the poet develops into his mortality as a human being (him dissolving into a non-being inside the rocks, while his official ID in the hand of the police officer dissolves/disappears from the world).
Posted on April 13, 2016 – “The Testament of Orpheus” by Jean Cocteau (1959) by Acting-Out Politics