"If I can't have the proletariat as my chosen people any longer, at least capitalism remains my Satan." -- T.J. Clark.
T.J. Clark's Farewell To An Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (Yale University Press, 1999) is announced to be a book about art and politics -- about modernist art and socialist politics, and their relationship to each other -- by someone who is sympathetic to both, er, "parties."
The book was written after the Fall of the Wall [Professor Clark writes in his "Introduction"]. That is, at a moment when there was general agreement, on the part of the masses and elites in most of the world, that the project called socialism had come to an end -- at roughly the same time, it seems, as the project called modernism. Whether those predictions turn out to be true, only time will tell. But clearly something of socialism and modernism has died, in both cases deservedly; and my book is partly written to answer the question: If they died together, does that mean that in some sense they lived together, in century-long co-dependency? Socialism, to remind you, was the idea of "the political, economic and social emancipation of the whole people, men and women, by the establishment of a democratic commonwealth in which the community shall own the land and capital collectively and use them for the good of all" [here Professor Clark -- without a trace of irony -- quotes from the 1906 "Platform of the Church Socialist League"]. Co-dependency, we know to our cost, does not necessarily mean mutual aid or agreement on much. Modernism was regularly outspoken about the barrenness of the working-class movement -- its politics of pity, its dreary materialism, its taste of the masses, the Idea of Progress, etc. But this may have been because it sensed socialism was its shadow -- that it too was engaged in a desperate, and probably futile, struggle to imagine modernity otherwise. And maybe it is true that there could be and can be no modernism without the practical possibility of an end to capitalism existing, in whatever monstrous or pitiful form.
Let me put aside any immediate objection I might have to the implied metaphor of a co-dependent "marriage" between modernist art (husband) and socialist politics (wife) -- Professor Clark is evidently married to and raises three children with Anne Wagner, the author of the recently published book Three Artists (Three Women): Modernism and the Art of Hesse, Krasner and O'Keeffe, which looks to be the "better half" of Professor Clark's Farewell To An Idea (a book that does not trouble itself with any painter who is not a dead, white male) -- and note that Professor Clark's should not and cannot be a politically neutral book. It must take sides, for the stakes are indeed very high.
Since the "Fall of the Wall" -- an expression which is, as the situationist Guy Debord has pointed out, an all-too-facile shorthand for the rather complicated and deceptive events in Central and Eastern Europe (but not China?) beginning in 1989 -- advanced capitalism appears to be, shall we say, the only "super-power" in the world of economics. Like the United States of America, advanced capitalism seems to be able to do what it wants to do on the stage of universal history; it is the only actor of consequence. Our post-1989 world is horrible; it is a horrible intensification of the conditions that have prevailed all century long.
Leaving the word "capitalism" aside [this is Professor Clark in his "Introduction"], is it not the case that the truly new, and disorienting character of modernity is its seemingly being driven by merely material, statistical, tendential "economic" considerations? We know we are living a new form of life, in which all previous notions of belief and sociability have been scrambled. And the true terror of this new order has to do with its being ruled -- and obscurely felt to be ruled -- by sheer concatenation of profit and loss, bids and bargains: that is, by a system without any focusing purpose to it, or any compelling image or ritualization of purpose.
And yet advanced capitalism is (supposedly) uncontested: there is today no alternative to it. Period. The "chosen people" (the proletariat) is gone, exited from the stage of history, leaving Satan to act alone, without opposition. As for modernism, in the after-the-Fall-of-the-Wall world it has been replaced by this infernal thing called "post-modernism," which nobody (even) pretends to like or defend anymore.
(Since I have already made and put aside one small but pertinent objection, let me not avoid adding another: that 1989 is a very late date to start a chronology of post-modernism. As early as 1969, Leslie A. Fiedler was referring to the novels written by William S. Burroughs and others in the 1960s as "Post-Modern"; in the early 1970s Jean-Francois Lyotard was already referring to "the postmodern condition." Professor Clark's dating of the birth of post-modernism -- or, shall we say, his dating of the sudden death of modernism -- at the end of the 1980s is at one, as we shall see, with his book's failure to deal with either the art or the politics of the post-1950 years.)
Professor Clark's book must take sides, and by this I mean that it must take sides in the on-going battle between capitalism and its enemies, which include modernism and socialism. The implication throughout Farewell To An Idea is that the "death" of the husband-and-wife team of modernist art and socialist politics was prematurely announced: in writing about the coincident "births" of modernism and socialism during the French Revolution, for example, Professor Clark writes that "modernism also ended with the revolution, and began again when the revolution began again, and so on. (The cycle continues.)" Surely "the cycle" continues beyond 1989. What would authorize us to say that it doesn't, that the "age of revolutions" came to an end 10 years ago and that we are now living in a permanently post-revolutionary age? Not Professor Clark's book, which ends with these hopeful lines: "The myth will survive its historic defeat. The present is purgatory, not a permanent travesty of heaven." (What's up with these straight-faced references to "the Chosen People," "Satan," "heaven," and the Church Socialist League? I don't know, but they stink of the rotten-egg smell of God.)
As we can see from his intramural and one-sided attack on "the barrenness of the working-class movement -- its politics of pity, its dreary materialism, its taste of the masses, the Idea of Progress, etc." -- Professor Clark is more apt to take sides in the lively battle of the sexes (modernist art versus socialist politics) than he is to take sides in the battle to the death between capitalism and its enemies. He writes in his "Introduction":
Socialism occupied the real ground on which modernity could be described and opposed; but its occupation was already seen at the time (on the whole, rightly) to be compromised -- complicit with what it claimed to hate. This is not meant to be an excuse for the thinness and shrillness of most of modernism's occupation of the unreal ground. There could have been (there ought to have been) an imagining otherwise which had more of the stuff of the world to it. But I am saying that modernism's weightlessness and extremism had causes, and that among the main ones was revulsion from the working-class movement's moderacy, from the way it perfected a rhetoric of extremism that grew the more fire-breathing and standardized the deeper the movement bogged down on the parliamentary road.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, I'd like to note the way in which Professor Clark -- who does not double-up his terms when it comes to modernism -- conflates the terms "socialism" with "the working-class movement": the two appear to be the same for him. "You will see in what follows that I interpret the terms 'socialism' and 'working-class movement' broadly," he writes in his "Introduction," but then immediately goes on to say, without further explanation, "Two of my main cases are Jacobinism and the sans-culottes in 1793, and anarchism in the early 1890s." Quite obviously, using two terms broadly is not the same thing as using two terms interchangeably. It makes no sense to refer to Jacobinism as a "working-class movement," and Professor Clark knows this well (indeed, it is one of the main points of his chapter on David's Marat and the French Revolution). But he fails to apply this basic insight to the conceptual structure of the book as a whole, which ultimately comes crashing down in the chapter on his "third test case, War Communism in Russia in 1919 and 1920" -- that is, during the ultimate and complete betrayal of "the working-class movement" in the name of "socialism." Indeed, helping to rescue the working-class movement from the poisoned legacy of so-called socialism -- which, as Cornelius Castoriadis has clearly shown in "The History of the Working Class Movement," necessarily involves completely abandoning Marxism, something that Professor Clark clearly refuses to do -- is precisely one of the things that Farewell To An Idea should be doing, but alas is not.
The first chapter of Farewell To An Idea, which is the one devoted to David's Marat, keeps to the plan of the book announced in the introduction: that is to say, the chapter keeps both modernist art and socialist politics in its sights. But, by the end of the book, the theme of socialism has completely disappeared, and so has any consideration of the inter-relatedness of socialist politics and modernist art. All that is left of Professor Clark's project is a fragment of what could and should have been a complete and coherent analysis of contemporary class society.
Despite the fact that it can only come full circle if it concludes with the period immediately before, during or after the "Fall of the Wall," Professor Clark's book ends with two chapters about Abstract Expressionism. There is one chapter about Jackson Pollock (previously published, it has its roots in work Clark began back in 1986, that is, the year after the publication of The Painting of Modern Life), and one chapter that offers a new "Defense of Abstract Expressionism," fifty years after its appearance in New York. And why should we give a shit about Abstract Expressionism? Because it appeals to America's petite bourgeoisie; because the petite bourgeois is the class that buys Pollocks and other Abstract Expressionist paintings. Didn't Tom Wolfe already write about this years ago? Yes, but, in his chapters on petite bourgeois Abstract Expressionism, Professor Clark introduces a new wrinkle in the well-worn fabric: the theory of "the vulgar." America's petite bourgeois like and buy Abstract Expressionist paintings because they (the paintings) are vulgar in the very narrow sense of having to do with a "well-to-do or rich person" who "betrays" his or her socio-economic position by behaving in a manner "having a common and offensively mean character; coarsely commonplace; lacking in refinement or good taste; uncultured, ill-bred." The vulgar is the ideological meeting point for the slumming big bourgeois and the upwardly-mobile petite bourgeois.
This fragment -- whatever its relative value as a scheme in which to read certain Abstract Expressionist paintings -- has nothing to do with what the book set out to do. The working-class movement doesn't come up even once in these last two chapters. Rather than opening up or living up to its noisily announced aspirations, Farewell To An Idea closes down and gives up on them. It stops short, way back in 1950, and -- despite Professor Clark's altogether-strange references to the paintings Asger Jorn did in the 1950s and early 1960s -- doesn't even come close to discussing the (post)modernist art of the years since the "Fall of the Wall." The failure here is monumental: complete and indisputable. The edifice of Professor Clark's Marxism isn't in disrepair, nor is it abandoned: it is collapsed, it is a ruin, a pile of broken bricks.
"It is the case that many, maybe most, of my chapters come to a bad end," Professor Clark writes at the end of his introduction. "Trust the beginnings, then; trust the epigraphs." No, Tim, I cannot let you off that easily: others may, but not me.
The quiet but complete ruination or evaporation of (the theme of) socialist politics from Farewell To An Idea has a striking parallel in the complete but quiet disappearance of (the theme of) situationist politics from Professor Clark's discourse as a whole.
Briefly a member of the British section of the Situationist International in 1966-1967 (when he was a 25-year-old grad student), Tim Clark has since then both publicly defended the situationist legacy, and has indicated the strength of his involvement with it, back in the day, in a preface for a recent translation of Anselm Jappe's biography of Guy Debord. Farewell To An Idea is this ex-situationist's fourth book. His first two books, The Absolute Bourgeois and Courbet and the Image of the People, derived from his work as a grad student and were published, by an academic press, as small volumes in the late 1970s. In 1985, Clark published The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers, both his first major book (it was published by a well-known commercial house) and, perhaps not accidentally, his first explicitly situationist one. I have always thought the world of The Painting of Modern Life: it is both an excellent book on Impressionist painting and an excellent exposition and application of the situationist theory of the urban spectacle. And yet The Painting of Modern Life plays no role at all in Farewell To An Idea, despite the fact that the latter book, in Clark's words, "tries to pull together the work and teaching of three decades."
The shocking thing is that, for Professor Clark, the consignment of The Painting of Modern Life to the trashcan of history (or, at the very least, to the status of a supplement or footnote) is simply a matter of not talking about Manet a second time. "Above all," the Professor writes in his introduction to the new book, "there is an ominous leap in what follows from 1793 to 1891 [that is, from the chapter on David's Marat and the French Revolution to the chapter on Pissarro and anarchism]."
Partly this is accident: I have had my say in previous writings on aspects of nineteenth-century art that would connect most vividly to the story I am telling (Courbet's attempt to seize the opportunity of politics in 1850, for example, or the pattern of risk and predictability occurring in paintings of Hausmann's new Paris), and I saw no way to return to them properly here. In any case, I want Pissarro and anarchism to stand for the nineteenth century's best thoughts on such topics. I believe they do stand for them. The true representativeness of 1891 and Pissarro is one of my book's main claims. But I know full well the claim is disputable, and that some readers will see my leap over the nineteenth century as the clue to what my argument as a whole has left out. I cannot bear to face, they will say, the true quiet -- the true orderliness and confidence -- of bourgeois society in its heyday, and the easy nesting of the avant garde in that positivity. I will not look again at Manet because I do not want to recognize in him the enormous distance of modern art from its circumstances, and the avant garde's willingness to seize on the side of secularization -- the cult of expertise and technicality -- that seemed to offer it a consoling myth of its own self-absorption. Of course I bring on this skeptical voice because one side of me recognizes that it points to something real -- how could anyone looking at Manet fail to? But equally, I am sure this view of Manet and the nineteenth century is wrong.
"the true quiet" indeed: Professor Clark says not a fucking word about the situationists' critical theory of the spectacle, that is to say, about the theory that he so brilliantly and productively used to talk about Manet and the nineteenth century in The Painting of Modern Life. There isn't a single word from the famously thorough-going and detail-oriented Professor Clark about there not being a word about the situationists in this three-decades-in-one book! (Note that, when it comes to his decision to distance himself from the explicitly situationist project begun by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space -- a most unfortunate decision, as we shall see -- Professor Clark feels himself compelled to say to his readers, "I want to avoid thinking of modernism in spatial terms, even in terms of conceptual space. I want modernism to emerge as a distinctive patterning of mental and technical possibilities.") The contrast between Professor Clark's current silence on the situationists and all the noise he made in his "Introduction" to his book on Manet -- about his own membership in the SI, about his personal role in the art world's just-beginning recuperation of one of the SI's primary "weapons of combat" and about Debord's "chiliastic serenity" that something like this would eventually happen to the critical theory of the spectacle -- couldn't be more pronounced.
I do not know if the following passage from Farewell To An Idea (Clark is writing about Pissarro) fits the professor himself as well as it seems to.
Such a painter makes problems for himself, of course. He will most likely be a fearsome mixture of hedonist and Puritan, and puritanical above all about the possibility of repeating himself, and leaning on his skills. He will have an infuriating habit of not understanding how good he has been at certain moments; he will not understand that trying to reproduce one's own classic style is no sin [sic], because the attempt will always fail and give rise to further variations.
But I do know this: there is no mystery as to why Professor Clark no longer mentions the situationists in his writing about painting. It doesn't have to do with pressure from editors at Yale University Press or commercial considerations, though Farewell To An Idea is sure to be better reviewed and better received than was The Painting of Modern Life, which got slammed for both its politics and its take on Impressionism.
Speaking about El Lissitzky and UNOVIS -- people he describes a couple dozen pages earlier as "a wild-looking bunch" (they are) -- Professor Clark says, "Anyone who has spent time teaching in art schools will recognize early on that UNOVIS pamphlets and bad behavior have the flavor of any art school putsch." My response : anyone who has spent too much time teaching in art schools will eventually come to say condescending things like this. Phrased another way: Professor Clark no longer mentions the situationists because he no longer has contact with revolutionaries: the only intellectuals he has contact with are other academics. Academics. . . . In France they proclaimed "the end of the age of revolutions" right up until the May 1968 rebellion broke out! And today, at the University of California at Berkeley, they are proclaiming the age ended again. (When will they ever learn?)
Rather than call upon Debord and the situationists, Professor Clark brings on such unfashionable but solid academic stalwarts -- nice words for boring old farts -- as Sigmund Freud, Paul de Man and Noam Chomsky. (I know you are saying, in disbelief: "No Stephen Greenblatt?!") Come to think of it, brothers and sisters, it's a bloody miracle that Goodman Clark managed to resist the ungodly temptation to analyze state propaganda in Bolshevik Russia during the late 1910s, or Trotsky's references in the 1920s to "public spectacles" and "show trials," or Freud's pronouncements in the 1930s that "Everything past is preserved" in terms of the critical theory of the spectacle! For surely the temptation to give in to Debord's devilishly seductive book The Society of the Spectacle was powerful indeed as Professor Clark read over these wooden lines from his horrible chapter on El Lissitzky and UNOVIS:
Noam Chomsky, for instance, has argued over the past several years that the representation of American interests and actions in the media -- both those directly financed and managed by the government and those independently owned -- has a degree of coherence and partiality to it that deserves the description "propaganda system." I think the evidence of flattening and exclusion he presents is overwhelming. But I know this will remain a minority view. Why? Surely because of something in the nature of propaganda itself. One of the main jobs of a propaganda machine is to define the enemy's system of representations as propaganda. That is, it poses the question of propaganda in terms of style. The style of the Other is uniform and monistic. (The Other totalizes all the time.) Our system is different. A good propaganda machine is able to promote and sustain a degree of difference within itself (within limits, of course), plurality of voices, styles, and "viewpoints." For present purposes, the feature of Chomsky's model I want to emphasize is simply the idea that the effective unit of propaganda is what he calls the propaganda system.
But, no, the Puritan Professor successfully resisted temptation -- at the cost of completely impoverishing his analysis of modern capitalist society. All through Farewell To An Idea, Professor Clark attempts to do without the situationist concept of the spectacle, even when it is obviously called for, and put something else (bad political writing of one kind or another) in its place, and the results are, not surprisingly, uniformly disastrous. He might well have tried to re-invent the bloody wheel!
To list some of the book's really serious theoretical deficiencies: 1) it is very confused about anarchism, which it tries to position as the "nineteenth century's best thoughts on such topics" as art, politics and the modern city; 2) it doesn't say a single thing about bureaucratization (which, along with the spectacle, clearly distinguishes modern society from its predecessors), nor does it comment on the bitter historical irony that it was so-called War Communism that invented the modern bureaucracy (cf. Cornelius Castoriadis); 3) it contains not a single reference to either Dada or surrealism, that is to say, to the moments at which the marriage of modernist art and socialist politics was in its hey-day; 4) the book appears to be completely unaware or completely uninterested in any of the strong "post-structuralist" critiques of Freud, especially those made by Deleuze & Guattari, and various feminists; 5) the book points to but fails to express the significance of the widespread use of paper money in modern times; and 6) as I've already noted, the book ignores everything (and it is a great deal) that points to the originality and relevance of Lefebvre's The Production of Space.
It doesn't seem much of a coincidence that, by and large, Professor Clark's writing is flat and uninteresting in his new book, at least, that is, by the standards of The Painting of Modern Life. One of the most striking features of Clark's (situationist) writing about Manet is that it is dramatic: though there are exceptions, by and large the narrative moves from an informative background sketch of the circumstances surrounding the creation of an individual painting, to a detailed and highly evocative description of the painting itself, and then to the characteristic ways in which the critics of the time responded to the painting (i.e., the scandal caused). As a result, The Painting of Modern Life -- especially the chapter on Manet's Olympia -- is both satisfying and compelling. It is in fact great writing, great political writing on painting. Debord and the other situationists -- their unfettered ambitions and their beautiful language -- clearly inspire Tim Clark to write at his very best. It appears that at this stage of his career, without them, he is lost.
It is striking that Clark himself should call attention to the fact that "many, maybe most" of the chapters in his new book begin well but "come to a bad end," precisely because the pattern is set early, indeed, by the book's very first chapter (the one on David's Marat). In the "classic style" of The Painting of Modern Life, Clark first describes the circumstances of the painting's first public showing; then he addresses the painting's subject matter, that is, the cult of the martyred Jacobin revolutionary Marat and the various and conflicting claims made upon it immediately after the murder; and then he concludes with a detailed and highly evocative description of the painting itself. Something is missing, n'est pas? There are no reactions from the critics, nor are there any from the People, the masses whom Marat idolized and who idolized him in return; there is no scandal. There is just the next chapter -- the one that skips 100 years to take up Pissarro and "anarchism." Whatever tension or mood Clark managed to create in the opening pages of the chapter -- and thus of the book itself -- is destroyed. Not surprisingly, none of the remaining chapters takes up the "classic [narrative] style" of The Painting of Modern Life.
This leaves the chapter on Jackson Pollock -- which, at least in its original version, was primarily concerned with Pollock's conscious effort, based on what he knew of the history of the avant-garde since the time of Picasso, to defeat in advance the recuperation that a "scandalous" painting often is subjected to, after the original scandal has died down -- high and dry. Professor Clark was clearly aware of this problem, for he clumsily tried to hide the facts that the both the theoretical underpinnings (the necessity of scandal) as well as the dramatic set-up (the expectation of scandal) for this chapter have been flushed down the pipes, by changing the last phrase in this crucial passage --
It is hard to tell at present whether ideas of resistance and refusal have any sustaining force left in them, or have been hopelessly incorporated into the general spectacle.
-- so that it reads "incorporated into a general spectacle." The difference is small, but consistent with what I've already pointed to: there are spectacles, sure; but there is no such thing as the spectacle, and, consequently, no such thing as the general spectacle or the society of the spectacle. Or, at least, none worth mentioning in a book of modernist art criticism.
I mentioned that Professor Clark refers to the paintings of Asger Jorn. Jorn is not simply any old modernist (dead white male) painter: he was a founder and, for several years, a central member of the Situationist International, as well as a close personal friend of and collaborator with Guy Debord. In his "Defense of Abstract Expressionism," Professor Clark suddenly blurts out that Jorn was "the greatest painter of the 1950s."
European painting after the [Second World] war, alas, comes out of a very different set of class formations. [Unlike in America], vulgarity is not its problem. In Asger Jorn, for example -- to turn for a moment to the greatest painter of the 1950s -- what painting confronts as its limit condition is always refinement.
A very strange passage, to be sure. To turn suddenly and only for a moment to the greatest painter of the 1950s. Knowing that "eyebrows will be raised" in response to this sudden and startling assertion -- which, because it is contained in an aside, seems nothing short of ridiculous -- Professor Clark writes the following a few lines later, in a tone that sounds defensive:
In calling Jorn the greatest painter of the 1950s I mean to imply nothing about the general health of painting in Europe at the time (nor to deny that Jorn's practice was hit and miss, and the number of his works that might qualify as good, let alone great, is very small). On the contrary. The cliches in the books are true. Jorn's really was an end game. Vulgarity, on the other hand, back on the other side of the Atlantic, turned out to be a way of keeping the corpse of painting hideously alive -- while all the time coquetting with Death. An Asger Jorn can be garish, florid, tasteless, forced, cute, flatulent, overemphatic: it can never be vulgar. It just cannot prevent itself from a tampering and framing of its desperate effects which pulls them back into the realm of painting, ironizes them, declares them done in full knowledge of their emptiness. American painting by contrast -- and precisely that American painting which is closest to the European, done by Germans and Dutchmen steeped in the tradition they are exiting from -- does not ironize, and will never make the (false) declaration that the game is up. Hofmann and de Kooning, precisely because they are so similar to Jorn in their sense of "touch" and composition, register as Jorn's direct opposites.
In a footnote, Professor Clark goes on to say:
You could apply the same rule of thumb to Jorn as Greenberg was fond of doing to abstract painting in general: most Jorn paintings from the 1950s and early 1960s are considerably worse than most from the same period by Gottlieb, Still, Hofmann, de Kooning, Kline, even Tomlin; but a very few Jorns are better than anything by any of the above -- in my view, decisively better. (I leave Pollock out of it, mainly because he painted so little, and, by his standards, so badly, after 1951.) A short, though certainly not exhaustive, list of the Jorns I have in mind would include, besides the ones I illustrate [Paris by Night, 1959, and To Become, That is the Question. To Have Been, That is the Answer, 1961]: La Grande Victoire: Kujaski, Lodz (1956), Shameful Project (1957), Alcools (1957), Le Canard Inquietant (1959), The Abominable Snowman (1959), Dead Drunk Danes (1960), L'Homme Poussiere (1960), Faustrold (1962), Les Pommes d'Adam (1962), Triplerie (1962), Deux Pingouins, Avant et d'apres David (1962), The Living Souls (1963), Something Remains (1963), probably several other Modifications and Defigurations, if I could get to see them, and one or two late works, like the great Between Us (1972). This list is skewed and limited by accidents of availability, but I have a feeling that even if my knowledge of Jorn was more comprehensive it would not swell enormously.
And that's all Professor Clark has to say about "the greatest painter of the 1950s," who happens to be, like Professor Clark, a former member of the SI.
Quite obviously, if anyone, but especially a situationist, really were the greatest painter of any decade -- but especially the 1950s (the decade beyond which Professor Clark's book cannot seem to go) -- there should be an entire chapter in Farewell To An Idea devoted to him or her. Had Professor Clark done this, he could have saved his entire book from ruin: not only was Asger Jorn an explicitly Marxist modern artist, but he was also active before, during and after the period that presents such an obstacle to Professor Clark's chronology. A chapter on Jorn at the end of the book would have allowed it to come to some (real) kind of completion, would have given it an opportunity to reach pertinent conclusions about the inter-relationship between modernism and socialism. A chapter on Jorn would also have linked up with and made sense of Professor Clark's interesting but scattered references to such situationist or lettrist chestnuts as "painting machines," "the unity of architecture," and the fact that certain "[a]rtists have invented a new alphabet." But no: all we get from Professor Clark on Asger Jorn are the two passages quoted above. That is to say, a fragment, another fragment.
This is most unfortunate. The English-speaking world needs a really good chapter on Asger Jorn, as well as on the other great situationist painters, Hans Peter Zimmer and Guiseppe Pinot-Gallizio, among them. (Just what the fuck does Tim mean when he says, in his first paragraph on Asger Jorn, "The cliches in the books are true"? Which cliches about Jorn? Are they situationist cliches? Which books about Jorn? Are they situationist books? Professor Clark does not anticipate these questions, unlike so many others, and so doesn't answer them, not even in a footnote.) The situationist painters, precisely because they were revolutionary socialists, and not academic or petite-bourgeois socialists, have never been written about by someone of T.J. Clark's caliber. It's a very exciting prospect -- the T.J. Clark of The Painting of Modern Life writing about situationist painting -- but one very unlikely to be realized.
In his discussion of Jackson Pollock, Professor Clark hedonistically tosses out the idea that "Modernism is full of novels and poems rescued from the wastepaper basket by their author's best friends." I am not prepared to rescue Asger Jorn and the other situationist painters from Professor Clark's trashcan and launch a situationist evaluation of situationist painting of my own. I plan to do something similar, but perhaps much less ambitious: using the research and other raw materials contained in Farewell To An Idea, I will offer alternative readings of some of the paintings on which Professor Clark focuses. In particular, I will detourn Professor Clark's chapters on Pissarro's Two Young Peasant Women (1892), Cezanne's three paintings entitled The Large Bathers (1895-1906), and Picasso's The Architect's Table (1912). As the reader will see, I will not deal directly in what follows with the chapters on David's Marat (1793) and El Lissitzky's propaganda board (1920) -- the former because, though stunted, it is quite adequate, and the latter because it is beyond repair. Nevertheless, to the extent that these two chapters touch upon modern (paper) money, I will deal with them in an extended digression that immediately follows. As for Professor Clark's chapters on Abstract Expressionism, I plan to leave them right where they are: perched high and dry. Perhaps my detournements of his readings of Pissarro, Cezanne and Picasso will raise the metaphorical water level sufficiently high, so that Pollock and the others (including Jorn) can get back in their boats and be on their respective ways.
Professor Clark states in his "Introduction":
A book about nineteenth- and twentieth-century culture will inevitably turn on the question of money and the market, and their effect on artmaking. This book does so three times: in its dealings with the Terror and War Communism, and with Pissarro in 1891. Again, two of the three cases are extreme. In 1793 in France and 1920 in Russia the very relation between markets and money seemed, for a while, to be coming to an end. We shall see that certain Bolsheviks looked back to Year 2 explicitly, and exulted in the notion of the socialist [sic] state's being able now to drown its enemies in a flood of paper. It was a fantasy, but not an entirely empty one. Money is the root form of representation in bourgeois society. Threats to monetary value are threats to signification in general. "Confidence in the sign" was at stake, to quote one historian of Jacobinism, talking of inflation in 1793 and the role of the new booknotes. In their different ways David and Malevich confronted the crisis of confidence, I think, and tried to give form to its enormity. In coming to terms with money, or with money seemingly about to evaporate as a (central) form of life, modernism at moments attained to true lucidity about the sign in general.
What I will be focusing on here is the failure to clearly distinguish between coined money and paper money, and the effect this failure has on Professor Clark's analysis of the crises of "confidence in the sign" in revolutionary France and Bolshevik Russia.
Money is an important, even central theme in Jacques-Louis David's famous painting Marat (1793). Upon the orange crate that the martryed revolutionary was using as a writing-desk moments before his assassination, the painter has placed an inkwell, an extra quill, a partially legible letter, and, directly upon the letter, an assignat (a printed banknote). The text of the letter (or that part of it which is visible) is, "You will give this banknote to this mother of five children whose husband is off defending the fatherland." As is the case with the letter that was written to accompany it, the printing on the assignat is difficult to make out, almost impossible to read. Both therefore stand in stark contrast to the letter held in the dead man's hand, that is, the letter to him from his assassin, Charlotte Corday, which can be seen clearly and is quite legible: "On the 13th of July, 1793: Marie Annie Charlotte Corday to citizen Marat: It suffices that I am truly Unfortunate for me to have a Right to your benevolence." With this ruse, she gained access to Marat. She might even be the "mother of five children" for whom the assignat was intended. But, if she (pretended that she) was, she left the paper money behind after she stabbed him. The blurriness of the assignat suggests that both Corday and Jacques-Louis David didn't think much of its value.
For reasons that are far from clear, Professor Clark presents himself as positively embarassed by having to talk about the assignat (he will present himself in much the same way when it comes to having to talk about at the naughty bits in Cezanne's The Large Bathers).
There is, I think, one further small piece of the picture which might have the power to reconcile the warring parties. Up to now I have brushed it aside. I mean the scrap of paper whose tiny weight keeps Marat's letter eternally balanced on the edge of the orange box. It is an assignat, a piece of revolutionary paper money -- writing which stands for property. I have to say something, in consequence, about what the assignat was. Many of the issues concerning it are for experts, and leave me as far behind as they left most revolutionaries. Marat was notably bone-headed on the subject. But one or two things are clear. The assignat was a form of paper currency first issued in January 1790, partly in response to the flight of gold and coin which had followed the storming of the Bastille. It only gradually became a mainstay of government finance. There was considerable scepticism about the whole idea of paper money, which was thought to be an English sort of thing. In theory the notes were guaranteed by land. Inscribed on each was the legend: "Mortgaged on the National Estates." That is to say, on the wealth generated from the sale of crown and church properties, and later from the lands and belongings of emigres, emigres' properties, and foreigners. From a Jacobin point of view, this rootedness of the paper in the earth was an important ideological consolation. [...] No one calls the economic policy of Robespierre and co. a success, but it did have one paradoxical result for a while: it managed to stabilize the value of its multiplying paper. [...] And how had they done it? By Terror, of course. By forcing the pace of expropriations, by seeking out and melting down gold and metal coinage, by a general and ruthless cours force. [...] In the end, in 1794 and 1795, the new form of money collapsed. The government was forced to conspire against its own currency -- buying up the paper in secret and burning it, as a desperate hedge against inflation.
Professor Clark's embarassed disclaimers about his lack of expertise in the presumably specialized field of monetary studies should not make us feel that we should be accepting or tolerant of his "bone-headed" mistakes. Nor should we be swayed by the fact that his short discussion of the assignat is only designed to show that "Marat's assignat is densely coded, then." Money is in fact not that difficult to understand, and elementary mistakes of the type Professor Clarks makes should be avoidable.
To begin with, "coin" and "metal coinage" (despite the implication in Professor Clark's gloss that they are raw material resources in the way that land and unminted gold are) are forms of money. Indeed, stamped gold coins were the first form of money. But money is not "writing that stands for property." Money is a combination of writing (a unique inscription) and a special substance into which this writing is inscribed. It therefore both "stands for" something else (the authority, trustworthiness and reliability of the power that both selected the special substance and inscribed the message) and is something in its own right (a special substance). Paradoxically, money -- unlike all other commodities --- is both a useful or otherwise desirable thing and the standard by which one measures all other useful or otherwise desirable things, including itself.
When coins were the only form of money, and when coins were stamped out of gold (which is quite costly to unearth and quite useful on its own), there was a clear, logical and reassuring connection between inscription and inscribed thing. The apparent arbitrariness of the inscription, which pretended to indicate the value of the coin as a whole, was limited by the actual value of the inscribed metal itself. A coin could only be worth so much: it depended on the amount of gold in it. And there needed to be such a strong connection between inscription and inscribed thing, because, in an age accustomed to barter, there was perceived to be a radical split between the sign (the inscription or the stamped coin as a whole) and the reality it was supposed to represent (the inscribed thing or the useful things for which the coin could be traded). Two thousand years before the French Revolution, a severe "crisis of confidence" occurred as a result of the invention and widespread use of coined money. A measure of its severity can be found in the split that oined money created between Socrates and Plato.
Paper money has been used, in one form or another, ever since the Middle Ages, when checks were first introduced to Europe by soldiers who had been to North Africa and the Middle East. As indicated by the context of Professor Clart's remarks, paper money was most frequently or only used as an emergency measure when neither unminted gold nor coined money was readily available. Banknotes could be used to pay soldiers, for example. But paper money was always used on a limited basis, for a limited time or in a limited geographical area. It was never used as a government's primary form of currency, at least until the French Revolution. The Jacobin introduction of the assignat set into motion yet another, or, rather, a second-order "crisis of confidence in the sign." Unlike coins, banknotes were not made out of a substance that was useful or otherwise desirable; or at least paper was not as useful or otherwise desirable a commodity in its own right as gold was. Gold was still scarce and difficult to extract from the earth; stamping coins took time and skill. But paper was plentiful and cheap, and the printing press made "coinage" quick and easy. The chains upon the arbitrariness of the sign (the inscription and its pretense to ascribe value on its own) seemed to have been suddenly broken; now the inscription seemed to float above and completely detached from the world of objects, material goods and the human needs they satisfy. The spectacle was born, and Plato's worst fears were realized.
And yet strange new possibilities opened up as well. Gold was natural, but human beings manufactured paper. If governments (mere human beings!) could say that a scrap of paper with "special" writing on it was money, why couldn't (other) writers say that their papers with "special writing" on it (poetry, for example) was also money? Who or what gave governments the exclusive right to write the form of poetry known as money? No one if not the people themselves.
Professor Clark completely misses this last point. In his chapter on El Lissitzky and the concentrated spectacle of "War Communism," Clark only grasps the negative aspect, and not the positive aspect, of the spectacularization of the money-form.
Most people capable of reading the papers in 1920 [Professor Clark writes] thought they were living through the end of capitalism. They were in the Economics of the Transition Period. And maybe the clearest symptom of that passing from one system to another was the crisis in capitalism's most precious means of representation, money. Mahkno as usual saw the point. The money he issued in his [sic] anarchist republic had printed on it the message that no one would be prosecuted for forging it. But Mahkno was only carrying to its logical conclusion the general collapse of "confidence in the sign," which not only anarchists thought would be terminal.
If there was such a message on the anarchists' paper money (I do not know for sure), this may have been simply or quite logically because, as anarchists, the citizens of the republic did not believe in maintaining a centralized and repressive judicial system, which would have been necessary to prosecute counterfeiting and other such "crimes against the state." (There was probably a moratorium on the prosecution of thefts of bread, as well, but this doesn't mean that the anarchists were participating in the general collapse of confidence in the nutritional value of grain!) The logic of the anarchist message is clear: if money (or bread) be needed, let money (or bread) be had. And if there is indeed a collapse of "confidence in the sign" at work here, there is also at work a growing confidence among the people in their ability to write and print their own banknotes.
All told, Professor Clark has a relatively easy time showing that Camille Pissarro was an anarchist. Not only did the painter subscribe to Brousse's newspaper and then to La Revolte, the newspaper founded by Kropotkin, but he wrote forcefully about anarchism in his letters: "I firmly believe that our ideas, impregnated with anarchist philosophy, give a color to the works we do, and hence make them antipathetic to the ideas of the moment." The problem for Professor Clark is that, like any good anarchist, Pissarro is vehemently anti-socialist:
Well yes, things passed off peacefully [during the May Day observations of 1890] in Paris. But the strikes are continuing, the socialist chiefs have done everything in their power to put a stop to the demonstrations, but the [working-class] movement is under way, and you will see in due course that this eight-hour day, which is absolutely useless and will not give the working class a thing, will be the spark that will lead to one demand after another. The bourgeois will not have stolen it all!!! [Emphasis added.]
Not surprisingly, our Marxist Professor of Art History can't let socialist-bashing such as this go on for too long; after a few such excerpts, he says, "Pissarro was no great political thinker. He knew his limits, and ducked the occasional invitation to put his anarchism in publishable form," and stops quoting from the painter's letters altogether. But by then it has been clearly established that Camille Pissarro was the type of man who, when he heard news that a fellow anarchist named Ravachol had been arrested for bombing the houses of princesses, magistrates, and prosecutors, wrote to his friend Mirbeau: "Ravachol must have really put the wind up those good magistrates. They only got away by the skin of their teeth! Devil take it! It is not a good thing to pass judgment on others! If you get a taste for it, you're damned! They are going to have to surround them [the magistrates] with soldiers from now on." (Ravachol is, of course, also presented as something of a hero in the situationist Raoul Vaneigem's book The Revolution of Everyday Life.)
But Professor Clark has a difficult time defining anarchism itself. Because anarchism emerges between the French Revolution and the 1890s, that is, in the 100-year-long gap between the book's first two chapters -- and because anarchism doesn't figure at all in his books on Courbet and Manet -- Professor Clark's definitions of it cannot help but be (typically) fragmentary and off-balance. For Professor Clark, anarchism "crystallized out of the struggles within the working-class movement in the 1870s and early 1880s, in response to the freezing and splitting that followed the [crushing of the Paris] Commune," and Brousse and Kropotkin are the first great anarchist theorists, writers and activists. The Professor is wrong, of course: the roots of anarchism go back to the 1840s, and any list of the first great anarchists must include Godwin, Stirner, Proudhon, and Bakunin, none of whom are even mentioned in Farewell To An Idea.
If anarchism arose in response to anything, it arose in response to the authoritarianism of the Marxists and the negative effects this authoritarianism had on the International Working-Men's Association in the late 1860s and early 1870s, that is, immediately prior to the Commune. (Professor Clark himself refers to "Marx's insistence on new forms of centralization and authority within the International," an insistence that unfortunately comes in the aftermath of the Paris Commune, which surely taught the working-class movement that the masses can be mobilized and organized without recourse to centralized authority.) And yet, for our Marxist Professor of Art History, "a side of anarchism figures, and wants to figure, as the Other to socialism." The only way this can be the case is if Marxism and socialism are interchangeable words for the same thing. But they are not: Marxism is just one version of socialism, just as anarchism is also a version of socialism. They (Marxism and anarchism) just happen to be mutually incompatible methods of conceiving of and moving toward a socialist society.
Professor Clark himself keeps pretty accurate tabs on the major differences between Marxism and anarchism in the 1890s: while the Marxists were militarists (and often nationalists, as well), the "[a]narchists were anti-militarists, working to subvert the loyalty of soldiers . . . . They believed in confronting the police and the courts -- in pushing new forms of working-class resistance and demonstration toward the breaking-point of class demand and state reply." While the Marxists ignored the revolutionary potential of the peasantry, "[a]narchists had long been preaching the folly of socialism's exclusive preoccupation with the city proletariat." Unlike the Marxists, who plodded along believing that the laws of historical development were pre-determined and unalterable, the anarchists "knew that that the question of whether the proletariat would choose, or be obliged, to accommodate with capitalism rather than try to defeat it was very much an open one." Unlike the Marxists, who dismissed moral indignation as a bourgeois conceit, the anarchists, in their very "bombast" and "naiveté," "had the measure of the bourgeois beast in the late nineteenth century: [anarchism's] rhetoric of horror and denunciation was the only one adequate to the new color of events. To Fourmies, Tonkin, Panama, Dreyfus. To the whole escalating vileness of patriotism and Empire that ended (but did not end) in 1914." Finally, unlike the Marxists and the other so-called socialists, "the anarchists," Professor Clark writes, "were the only ones capable of turning revulsion at this turn of events into resistance."
For Professor Clark, anarchism -- despite the lip service it might pay to collectives and federations -- knows no other kind of resistance than "the lone bomber."
"Propaganda by the deed" was a proposal for socialist tactics which, like its main rivals, first came to self-consciousness in the 1870s [Professor Clark writes]. [...] There were plenty of arguments among anarchists about the particular occasions, forms and combinations such a tactic should take. No doubt violence would be useless unless it connected with other kinds of agitation and political work. But the tactic itself (the examples of Ireland and Russia kept recurring) was mostly accepted. "As for me," said Kropotkin, "I approve entirely of this way of acting . . . it will be propaganda by cudgel blows, or revolvers if necessary." You will notice that the model is trouble at the edge of a demonstration, or a quick strike at tax records in an isolated Town Hall. Not (yet) the lone bomber.
You will notice that "the model," which is Professor Clark's creation, and not the creation of Kropotkin or any other anarchist, involves nothing but acts of cowardice. Both "a quick strike at tax records in an isolated Town Hall" and the work of a "lone bomber" are cowardly acts; there is no real "movement" (descent, devolution or turning) possible between the two; it is only a matter of degrees of cowardice. And so it is somewhat disingenuous of Professor Clark to play the role of judge and say that, with Ravachol, "a new (and ultimately disastrous) turn in the history of anarchism had begun," even if "anarchists did not immediately realize" it. No such decisive "turn" took place, or, rather, this turn, as well as several other decisive turns, some of them in the precisely the opposite "direction," took place in the history of anarchism in the twentieth century. You would never know from reading Farewell To An Idea that the twentieth century held such people and events in store for anarchism as Emma Goldman, Jules Bonnot, Bueneventuri Durutti, the Spanish Revolution of 1936-37, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and the May 1968 revolt in France, among others.
Because of the limits of his understanding of anarchism, Professor Clark fails to connect all this to the particular painting by Pissarro that he has chosen for careful examination. (The painting, Two Peasant Women, was never put up for sale by Pissarro and is not part of the modernist canon of great works.) The closest Clark gets to offering a reading of the painting in terms of anarchism is this:
The moment of anarchist politics in late 1891 was specific, I think, and had effects on Pissarro's Two Peasant Women. Not dramatically. Not in terms of particular imagery or even firmly identifiable tone. . . . I see no outright socialist [sic] politics in it.
This is a rather pathetic admission. Sorry, folks, all this stuff about anarchism has nothing to do with the subject at hand; I've been wasting your time this whole chapter.
So let us (try to) forget about Pissarro and turn our attention to what Professor Clark says about Georges Seurat. "Somewhere here, I think, in the continuing encounter with Seurat, is the key to the question of art and anarchism in Pissarro," Professor Clark writes. "I believe that if we can identify what Pissarro thought Seurat had to offer, we may understand what he thought, or hoped, anarchism in painting would be like." And again: "Seurat was profoundly anarchism's painter: cruel and elusive and infinitely fond of the city's foibles and moments of freedom." (If this is true, there seems no justification on Professor Clark's part for writing his chapter on Pissarro and anarchism instead of on Seurat and anarchism.) Provided that we accept the proposition that "the lone bomber" is representative of anarchism, which is a highly debatable notion (and, unfortunately, still very much with us a hundred years after Ravachol), we can say that the discrete points or dots of color out of which Seurat composes his paintings are symbols for the piece-by-piece reconstruction of the image of society after the anarchists' bombs have gone off. Or they are symbols for the moment immediately after the detonation but before the explosion of the shattered pieces. Or they are symbols of the fact that the image of society is already exploded, and needs only a bomb to make this fact plain. Professor Clark writes:
What the dot [in Seurat] seemed to promise, at least for a while, was a truly naive visualization of the singular and uniform as the same thing. The dot exploded the opposition. And this was wonderful. It planted a bomb in the middle of the bourgeois idea of freedom -- and order, and individuality, and Art-ness, and taste, and "touch," intuition, variety expressiveness. [...] [Seurat] worked quietly at perfecting his explosive device.
(Interesting parallels might be drawn here between Seurat and the "shot-gun" paintings made by William S. Burroughs in the last decade of his life. These abstract paintings were produced by lining up spray-paint cans in front of a blank canvas and exploding the cans with a blast from a shot-gun.)
The Seurat that Professor Clark chooses to illustrate these ideas (Channel at Gravelines, 1890) is apt for my purposes, as it turns out, precisely because it is a landscape. "Never had it been so clear," Professor Clark writes about the late 1880s and early 1890s, "that the built form of the state was now very much more than a set of prisons, palais de justice, fortifs, zones, and customs posts. The state was a landscape." Expressed in terms familiar to readers of Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space, the state -- always the master of space -- was in the process of totally re-ordering it, of creating a new, abstract space. "[The state] was [now] a pattern of agriculture and subsidy and monopoly and communication, whose forms had less and less to do each year with the facts of climate, geology, or regional specialization," Professor Clark writes, as if he knows exactly what Lefebvre was talking about. "These things were still in their infancy" around 1890; "not even the gloomiest dystopian had an inkling of what was to come." Except for the anarchists, of course: "But at least anarchists knew already in the 1890s that fighting the state meant thinking geographically and biologically."
The circumstances of the creation of three closely-related paintings by Paul Cezanne, all of them entitled The Large Bathers, are quite provocative. Though they were begun at different times (one in 1895, another in 1900 and the last in 1904), all three paintings were finished in 1906. They were among the very last Cezanne completed in his life. Apparently worked on side-by-side and comprising a kind of trilogy, the three Large Bathers are an obsessive working-over of a set of themes that were clearly dear to Cezanne himself, for he allowed Emile Bernard to photograph him sitting in front of one of the Bathers (still unfinished) in 1904. In these photographs, Cezanne is a small, pleasant-looking, slightly impish old man.
Though two of these three paintings have entered the canon of great modernist paintings, "there are no eulogies of Cezanne's last [three] Bathers -- or no descriptions (no extended, nonobvious interpretations) to go with the eulogistic noises." The questions that arise for Professor Clark, the person who made this observation, are, "Why, even if these works did eventually enter some kind of modernist canon in the twentieth century, could they not be described by those who did the canonizing? What was it that stood (and stands) in the way of description?" Good questions. He has a few answers, of course: referring to the Bathers that was started in 1895 and is now housed by the Barnes Foundation in (petite bourgeois) Pennsylvania, Professor Clark writes, "I take the Barnes painting to be a staging of some ultimate sexual material -- ultimate for Cezanne, that is -- which could only gradually be dragged into the light of day, and even more gradually (if at all) brought into order. It took ten years." The same interpretation is extended to the so-called Philadelphia, started in 1904 and now housed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but not to the Bathers owned by the National Gallery in London, which, begun in 1900, is the most conventional (less scandalous) of the three paintings. Professor Clark's thesis is that, in the Barnes and the Philadelphia paintings, the repressed attempts to return. To bring these paintings to completion, Cezanne had to possess a courageous determination to face directly what had (supposedly) been repressed (and was then presumably feared), a determination that must have been lacking in those who canonized these very paintings.
"Some ultimate sexual material": the subject matter of all three Bathers is the following scene: a group of eight to thirteen nude women are seen lounging around by the side of a river or some other body of water. Some of the women are standing; others sit on or squat above the ground; still others are lying on their stomachs, their naked asses facing us. Unlike the tone and "tactics of representation" in Bathers At Rest, which Cezanne painted between 1875 and 1877, the scene obsessively re-created in the three late Bathers is not clearly dream-like, and yet neither is it presented as if it were a (somewhat unusual) scene from waking life. There is something uncanny about the emotionally-charged atmosphere evoked, especially by the Barnes and the Philadelphia. To Professor Clark, the best (only) word for it is "phantasy," which he Clark struggles to think through in a language borrowed from the unfashionable but solid academic stalwarts Laplanche and Pontalis, who in 1973 defined "phantasy" as an "imaginary scene in which the subject is a protagonist, representing the fulfillment of a wish (in the last analysis, an unconscious wish) in a manner that is distorted to a greater or lesser extent by defensive processes." For Professor Clark, there is no question about the fact that the three Bathers obsessively recreate a phantasy in which Cezanne's unconscious wishes concerning the sexual difference(s) between men and women are staged.
In the Barnes, the nude form leaning against a tree at the far right of the painting appears to be both male and female: he or she has what appear to be small breasts and an erect penis (though the painted marks that are here taken to signify "erect penis" could also be interpreted as a long vaginal fold that travels up the stomach from the crotch). The nude form standing at the far left of the Barnes appears to be a woman, but her head looks like the head of a (circumcised) penis. In the Philadelphia, further to the right of the form (here she is clearly a woman) leaning against the tree, the figures of two women are combined in such an optically illusionistic way that the buttocks of one are easily confused with the shoulders of the other. The woman with the penis-head (in the Barnes) has been replaced (in the Philadelphia) by a standing woman whose right hand reaches out to touch a set of painted marks that could either be the back of one of the sitting women or the back of the head of one of the women squatting on the ground, or both at the same time.
In part because of the (sexual? certainly biological) subject matter of the paintings, and in part because of the serendipity of the dates of composition, Professor Clark juxtaposes Cezanne's three Bathers with the work done in this same decade by Sigmund Freud. Though psychoanalysis has occasionally been put in the service of revolutionary theory by such "Freudo-Marxists" as Andre Breton and Wilhelm Reich, Freud himself was neither a Marxist, a socialist nor an anarchist. Psychoanalysis itself, to the precise degree that it abandoned its original discoveries and re-fashioned itself in the image of the dominant society, long ago became a powerful institutional force for the repression of human desiring, and little else. At this stage in the game, no one expects psychoanalysis to be anything but a prop for the established order. And so Freud's presence in this book about modernism and socialism is irrelevant, totally gratuitous, even insulting to the intelligence. This is a chapter in Farewell To An Idea that both begins and ends badly.
"I have never understood why writers about Cezanne shy away from the strict coincidence of the ten years spent on the three large Bathers with those of the founding of psychoanalysis -- the years of Freud's self-analysis and the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), the letters to Fliess, the treatment of Dora, [and] the writing of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality," Professor Clark writes. "I like to think of the Barnes picture as roughly the equivalent of The Interpretation of Dreams, and the cooler atmosphere of the painting in the Philadelphia Museum as corresponding to that of the Three Essays." As we will see, this juxtaposition does not become active; it never becomes an interruption and intermingling of the separate(d) canonical discourses on Cezanne and Freud.
Not surprisingly, the epigraph for Clark's chapter on Cezanne is taken from Freud, but not, as one might expect, from one of the well-known psychoanalytic works referred to above. It is taken from an earlier and largely unknown text, an essay from 1895 entitled "Project for a Scientific Psychology."
The intention of this project is to furnish us with a psychology which shall be a natural science: its aim, that is, is to represent psychical processes as quantitatively determined states of specifiable material particles and so to make them plain and void of contradictions.
This is not the Freud we know as "Freud." As Professor Clark says, "the Freud I quote is the Freud before Freud, still struggling to think the unconscious in a language borrowed from Heimholtz and Fechner." After quoting a passage in which Freud evokes the "picture" of a living organism as an "undifferentiated vesicle of a substance that is susceptible to stimulation," Clark writes, "present-day readers of Freud tend to skim such passages, which crop up all through the later work -- the one quoted here is from Beyond the Pleasure Principle -- or denounce their 'scientism.'" Professor Clark goes on to say that "I imagine Cezanne's reading them all agog." I can imagine Cezanne reading them all agog, too. But Cezanne's reading of Freud is not the point: Clark's is.
Referring to the Freud of the "scientific psychology," Professor Clark says that "this is the Freud, ultimately, whom I take to be closest to the Bathers' mental world." Which is it, Tim? For it certainly can't be both. While it is true that elements of the (abandoned) project for a "scientific psychology" keep cropping up in the later Freud, it is not the case that all or even certain crucial aspects of the later Freud appear in the early Freud. Though psychoanalysis can at times be informed by the natural science of "scientific psychology" -- though psychoanalysis can even "struggle" to free itself from the vulgarity of the language and conceptual apparatus borrowed from Heimholtz and Fechner -- the science of "quantitatively determined states of specifiable material particles" knows nothing and needs to know nothing of such "mature" Freudian concepts as the phallus, castration, and the Oedipal complex, in order to function. These concepts are little more than "contradictions" to be "voided" by the Project. Unfortunately, Professor Clark doesn't recognize this difficulty in his self-avowedly vulgar appropriation of Freud, and mixes the two Freuds together as if they were the same. (Only Freud himself could get away with doing this, and he had a rough time of it.) By having his Freud and eating him, too, Clark produces scenes far more terrifying and oppressive than poor little Paul Cezanne ever did, even in the most "fantastic" parts of the putatively scandalous Barnes and Philadelphia paintings.
Despite or perhaps precisely because Professor Clark says that his reference to (the) Freud(s) "is not meant as preliminary to a Freudian reading of the three late Bathers," he goes straight off to offer what -- if there were a competition for such achievements in the field of academic specialization -- would surely be the big winner in the no doubt bitterly contested and very close contest for The Most Pat, Pre-Packaged, Reductive, Boring and Unconvincing Freudian Reading Ever Written. Even if it were written back in the 1930s or 1940s, when such monsters of the academic imagination were novel, Clark's non-Freudian Freudian reading of Cezanne would win the award. Hands down. Yes, it's that bad.
Based on these deceptively simple, clearly fragmentary, inconclusive and not very germane bits of (psycho-)biographical evidence --
Here, to begin, is a fragment [note: it is all we will get] of Cezanne's self-description. It occurs in Bernard's 1905 memoir. Cezanne is trying to explain to Bernard his horror of human contact, after a pathetic scene in the street the day before. He reaches back to an ancient memory: "I was going quietly down a staircase, when a gamin who was sliding down the banister, going full speed, gave me such a kick up the arse as he [sic] went by that I almost fell down; the shock being so unexpected and unlooked for, it hit me so hard that for years I have been obsessed by its happening again, to the point that I cannot abide being touched or even brushed by anyone." One can almost hear the analyst breathing a discreet sigh of relief. The patient's phantasies are close to the surface. [...] The script . . . is easy to write. This patient's phantasies are close to the surface.
-- Judge Clark reaches the following unappealable verdicts about the "patient's" sad case.
The Barnes picture, then, is a staging of that moment in the dissolution of the oedipus complex at which the threat of castration is so intense and overwhelming that the male child is unable to take the exit into repression; and instead remains frozen in a world where, in spite of everything, the Father is absent and the phallic mother's return is awaited. She will possess the phallus and restore it to her son. And everyone will have the same sexuality. [The Barnes picture] shows us the moment of inconsolable clinging to infantile sexuality, the stage of psychic development which "knows only one kind of genital: the male one." Freud called it the phallic stage. [...] You will gather that if [sic] I saw it necessary or possible to psychoanalyze Cezanne, I would hazard the guess that in his case the moment never did dissolve, and that the late Bathers were his attempt to reconstitute a world of sexuality which, at some level, he had never left. Maybe the Barnes picture does reconstitute it -- but of course it also summons up its doom-laden atmosphere. There has never been a subject so constituted under the sign of loss and despondency as the figure leaning on the tree. Maybe he [sic] does not even see the phallic mother arriving. Maybe in a sense he does not want to. [...] It was not until the Philadelphia picture that a narrative of sexual difference (sexual difference actually happening, as if it had never happened before) gave way to a kind of tragic positing of sexuality as fate.
Yuck. There is nothing "new" or even particularly modern about this kind of poisonous shit. Nietzsche (or Bataille) would have easily recognized in it nothing but the age-old religion-based hatred of the human body gussied up as a "theory" of its materiality: castration, loss, lack, tragedy, doom, despondency, fate, and the final "exit into repression" (rather than the exit from repression). Professor Clark should have wondered why its "script . . . is easy to write," why its script is so easy to write that it practically writes itself. But he didn't, and so ended up repeating and thereby helping to legitimatize the worse justifications for the on-going repression of real human desiring and its replacement with its spectacular representation.
Can one use Freud to look at Cezanne's Bathers and not reach the same dreadful results as Professor Clark did? Without trying to re-invent the wheel -- that is, without repeating what has already been laid in great detail, and quite brilliantly so, by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in Anti-Oedipus (1973) -- I think it is indeed possible to do so, but provided that one insist on and carefully observe an important distinction, which is not between Freud and "Freud," but between Freud's basic discoveries about the unconscious and those aspects of psychoanalysis that do not take account of, ignore or even obscure (by "defensive processes") these basic discoveries.
What Freud discovered and reported upon in The Interpretation of Dreams is the fact that the unconscious doesn't "wish" for anything, because it lacks nothing. The unconscious is actively productive, not passively representational; it is a kind of factory that produces "dream-works," not a theater for re-presentations of already-accumulated (already exploited) "work." It makes no sense to speak of the unconscious as "the machine of representation," as Professor Clark does. The (machinic) unconscious is fundamentally anti-spectacular. It doesn't signify; it works and produces. What is striking about spectacle-dreams is not the way they passively "re-present" past psychological states, events and truths. It is precisely the way in which spectacle-dreams work upon and thereby produce their images (the way they produce totally new states, events and truths) that is truly noteworthy. I think Professor Clark knows this well, for he writes at one point that the method of the Bathers (like the method of the unconscious itself) is "more like interruption than juxtaposition, more like the grating and locking of the parts of a great psychic machine than the patient disclosure of a world." But Clark still relies upon the wooden Freudian concept of "wish-fulfillment," in which the wishes that the dream or phantasy fulfills are pre-packaged (virtually eternal and indestructible), and come directly from the theater of spectacular representation (Oedipal triangulation). The "meaning" of dreams lies in the way they work, in the work that they accomplish on their "raw materials," and in the effects they produce, not in some code-book or system of interpretation, which is bound to repeat and reinforce the most oppressive prejudices and hatreds of the dominant system.
The language Freud uses in "The Project for a Scientific Psychology" shouldn't simply and only be understood as "borrowed from Heimholtz and Fechner." Otherwise, the (untenable) presumption is that Freud evolved out of and at least partially beyond the simplistic, steam-engine mechanics of his era and thereby inaugurated something new, something "modern," namely psychoanalysis. But are not some forms of borrowing also forms of detournement? It is quite true that Freud's discourse is more advanced than that of Heimholtz and Fechner, but this is precisely because Freud did not conceive of the detourned phrase "specifiable material particles" as a designation for stable, "singular" and "equivalent units" (as Professor Clark thinks he does). Freud conceived of these "particles" as both discreet units and indivisible flows. (Cf. contemporary theories of the nature and behavior of particles of light.) The language of "quantitatively determined states of specifiable material particles" -- the language of flows, cuts or breaks in flows, couplings and uncouplings -- is directly and quite productively connected to the discovery of the fundamentally productive (machinic) nature of the unconscious. Despite being vulgar or "uncritically" borrowed, the detourned language of Heimholtz and Fechner worked for Freud. Perhaps this is the reason why he "struggled" with it all through his career: it worked too well for bourgeois Vienna.
Enough about fucking Freud already: let's talk about Cezanne's The Large Bathers. Quite obviously I believe one can look at them and not see the (rather typical and altogether not very frightening) nightmares that Professor Clark sees. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, when it comes to human sexuality and sexual "wish fulfillments," very little is generalizable (so be forewarned all those who would pass judgment on others!). Human beings are far too diverse and their situations are far too different to do so with anything approaching confidence. We are not all white heterosexual men. For some of us, the visual content of even the most fantastic parts of the Bathers is not a phantasy, but the physical reality we live every day. There are in fact sexual "freaks" of all kinds, and they are both "natural" (involuntary) and "man-made" (voluntary). Fear or even avoidance of all physical contact does not mean that sexuality is impossible and desire is blocked. Desire flows freely in the (onanist) sexuality of the voyeur, the exhibitionist and the fetishist -- all of whom, need I tell you, can experience sexual pleasure and orgasm without touching or being touched by someone else.
One's take on Cezanne's The Large Bathers may also be a simple matter of personal temperament or sense of humor: the "double figures" (Clark's drab phrase) of the women joined at the buttocks and shoulders, the woman with the penis-head, and the man/woman with the erect penis/very long vaginal fold may strike you or me as funny instead of dreadful, liberatory instead of oppressive, and a mockery of bourgeois neurosis instead of an identification with it. After all, these "double figures" are all visual puns. Though puns are considered the "lowest" form of humor, their crudity or vulgarity need not make them terrifying, oppressive or evocative of inconsolable despair.
Can you feel the way Georges Bataille's "The Solar Anus" rises and falls with the movements of Cezanne's paintings? First Cezanne, then Bataille.
What do women talk about privately -- what are they really like -- when they are by themselves? What's it like to touch a nude woman? And several nude women, all at once?
A man who finds himself among others is irritated because he does not know why he is not one of the others. In bed next to a girl he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches. Without knowing it, he suffers from the obscurity of intelligence that keeps him from screaming that he himself is the girl who forgets his presence while shuddering in his arms.
Why does it please me so to see women's buttocks becoming shoulders and shoulders becoming buttocks? Why do I want to stick my penis's head atop one of their heads?
Ever since sentences started to circulate in brains devoted to reflection, an effort at total identification has been made, because with the aid of a copula each sentence ties one thing to another; all things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne's thread leading thought into its own labyrinth. But the copula of terms is no less irritating than the copulation of bodies.
What then is the relationship between my three paintings?
It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form.
Why are they always bathers? Why water?
Animal life comes entirely from the movement of the seas and, inside bodies, life continues to come from salt water.
The sea, then, has played the role of the female organ that liquefies under the excitation of the penis.
This is modernist as fuck, yo, but what has it to do with socialism?
This eruptive force accumulates in those who are necessarily situated below.
Communist workers appear to the bourgeois to be as ugly and dirty as hairy sexual organs, or lower parts; sooner or later there will be a scandalous eruption in the course of which the asexual noble heads of the bourgeois will be chopped off.
Though Pablo Picasso is often associated with strong anti-war sentiments (cf. Guernica), one doesn't associate him with either Marxism, socialism or anarchism. And so his presence in this book is questionable, though not nearly as much as that of Freud. For, after all, Picasso was a modernist painter, and this is supposed to be (and really is) a book in part about modernist art. According to Professor Clark, "Cubism . . . is the moment when modernism focused on its means and purposes with a special vengeance. The idiom that resulted became the idiom of visual art in the twentieth century: Picasso's and [Georges] Braque's way of organizing a picture was borrowed, adapted, or fought against by almost all subsequent art, and very often taken as the still point of modernism -- the set of works in which modernity found itself a style." I would claim pride of place here for Dada, and not Cubism, but I've probably spent too much time reading the situationists and Greil Marcus to make an unbiased judgment.
Professor Clark is most interested in the paintings Picasso (and, to a lesser extent, Braque) completed between 1907 or 1908 and 1912 -- that is, in the period after "the aftershock of Demoiselles d'Avignon (which is another story) had subsided" and before 1914, which is when Clark dates the birth of abstract art. For Clark, "clearly there is something eye-catchingly sequential to the work Picasso and Braque did between 1908 and 1912."
It looks to have a kind of logic and consistency, to be looping back and back to the same or much the same set of problems, edging forward to new ways of doing things, plotting a syntax and testing it out across the usual range of subjects -- still life, landscape, nudes, figure paintings, portraits of dealers and friends. This look is not misleading. There is a quality of insistence and repetitiveness to Cubism that sets it apart from all other modernisms, even the most dogged [...].
And yet, Clark writes, "everyone agrees" that "the moment of summer 1910 and the pictures done on vacation in Cadaques" are "odd." Picasso's art dealer Kahnweiler recalls that, "dissatisfied, [Picasso] returned to Paris in the fall [of 1910], after weeks of painful struggle, bringing back works that were unfinished." And so Professor Clark believes that, "we can best understand the painting Picasso did in 1911 and 1912 if we see it as not issuing from the process of inquiry of the previous three years." Thus, within the "larger" 1907 or 1908 to 1912 period, there is an internal division between the work Picasso did before and after 1910, the year that found Cubism "near freezing point" (Clark's phrase). It was in 1910 that Picasso's paintings demonstrated "their inability to conclude the remaking of representation that was their goal." And it was in the following two years that Picasso decided to try something radically different -- and succeeded. "Everyone agrees," Clark writes, "that the painting Picasso did in 1911 and 1912 represents some ultimate test-case and triumph of modernism."
Despite its precise focus, Professor Clark's entire chapter on Picasso doesn't offer any explanations as to why the painter made the art-historical decisions he made between 1908 and 1912, or between 1910 and 1912, for that matter. What motivated Picasso to undertake the project to "remake representation"? Was he, like Cezanne, motivated by an unresolved Oedipal complex? Was he, like David during the French Revolution or Pissarro in the year of Ravachol, motivated by (the possibility of) a revolutionary uprising? No, neither.
According to Professor Clark (he's writing about Picasso's The Architect's Table), "what is being done to the world in the oval [of the painting] is done not by 'painting' alone but painting-in-the-service-of-epistemology; and that pretense is necessary precisely in order to keep 'painting' alive, since painting in Picasso's view is a set of means generated out of imitation, and unthinkable -- empty, inconsistent, unconstrained -- without it." Painting is threatened with death. Why? How? By what? Painting must be kept alive. Why? Being placed in the service of epistemology will keep painting alive. Why? No answer. No answers at all, other than this: "So a formal task presents itself, which Picasso carries out to perfection." A strictly formal task, one without any (political) content?! Not bloody likely. And so: here we go, back into the Good Professor's wastepaper basket!
Though it doesn't serve as the centerpiece for the chapter -- a photograph by Picasso himself of several of his paintings displayed at Sorgues in 1912 has the honor -- The Architect's Table (1912) is discussed at length by Professor Clark. Of all the paintings by Picasso that Clark reproduces and discusses, this one is both the most interesting and the one that brings him to (even over) the brink of thinking of modernism in explicitly spatial terms.
Let us recall that Clark announced in his "Introduction" that he didn't want to think of modernism in terms of space, but in terms of a "distinctive patterning of mental and technical possibilities." Clark doesn't explain or develop what he means by this last phrase, so it isn't possible to determine why such "patterns of possibilities" should be opposed to or precluded from spatial conceptualization. But it appears that Clark understands these patterns to have something to do with time, and not space. At the conclusion of his chapter on the French Revolution, he writes, "If I wanted to argue more fully for the 1790s and early 1800s being the decades that usher in a decisive new structuring of time, I think my best evidence would be music. Naturally, since this is the art that feeds most deeply on a culture's imagining of temporality -- its sense of sequence and repetition, or of discontinuity and inauguration." How very similar to Debord -- and to Jacques Attali and to Henri Lefebvre, as well! The passage of time, not the usage of space, is primary in modernity. It really is a history, and not a (psycho)geography of modernism that Clark wants to be write.
And yet, when he comes face-to-face with Cubist paintings, Clark does not talk about a new structuring of time, but about a new structuring of space: In Cubist paintings, "the surface [is] chock-full, almost overwhelmed by spatiality," he says. Summing up his remarks on the 1912-1913 painting Man with a Guitar, Clark writes, "This is the kind of spatiality that Picasso was struggling to retrieve." Elsewhere, Clark says that:
If one were feeling for a means, that is, to cancel the equation of presence with salience, then maybe there would prove no other way of doing it than reducing the body to a set of contingent positions and directions in space -- possible not actual, mapped not materialized. In which case [...] the organizing structure of representation would no longer be edges and surfaces -- solids folding out into spaces abutting them -- but a tissue of virtual locations, relations, kinds of orientation or topology. That all locations are now virtual is expressed, in The Guitarist , by the fact that more and more surfaces seem to be transparent or nearly so, opening onto other possible positions, declaring themselves not to be solids, or even forms of transparent material, but rather configurations of space.
In other words, Picasso's paintings from the early 1910s demonstrate that space isn't "empty" when there are no discernible objects in it, that space is never "empty," and that the supposedly sharp distinction between space and solid objects (between absence and presence) is illusory. "There is no [such thing as] empty space," Professor Clark quotes Kasimir Malevich as saying, "because everything is already filled, occupied."
Clark's rather complete turnaround concerning space, or, if you will, the sudden and violent "return" of what he has "repressed," is provocative, for it in part suggests that, to the extent Cubism is in fact central to twentieth century modernism, Clark's discussions of the art that followed Picasso's (El Lissitzky's, Jackson Pollock's, and Abstract Expressionism in general) should be in spatial terms as well. Not surprisingly, the theme of space is present in Clark's discussions of El Lissitzky's interest in architecture, and in his discussions of Jackson Pollock's works from 1947 to 1950. (In the latter, Clark quotes Michael Fried, who speaks about the "new kind of space" opened up in Pollock's Number 1, 1948.) But these are not sustained discussions of spatiality in modernist art. Professor Clark only takes up the theme of space in his chapter on Picasso (just as anarchism is only discussed in his chapter on Pissarro and Freud only comes up in his chapter on Cezanne).
The theme of space is certainly unavoidable when one turns to The Architect's Table -- in part because of its evocative title, which was not given to the painting by Picasso. At some point, it was just a "still life."
For instance [Professor Clark writes], the one that includes Gertrude Stein's calling card, which Picasso identified in a letter to her as "votre nature mort (ma jolie)" [your still life (my pretty)]: the phrase from the pop song appears again [it is also the subtitle of the 1911-1912 painting Woman with a Zither], with what look to be lines of music (or maybe guitar strings) in the vicinity. The sexual humor hoped for in the counterpoint between "Ma Jolie" and Mis (sic) Gertrude Stein is about up to Picasso's usual ["vulgar"?] standard. Kahnweiler preferred to take his cue from the carpenter's T-square visible upper left, and christened the painting The Architect's Table.
Evidently Picasso accepted this unusual title, which evokes magic, alchemy, and "the philosopher's stone." Despite the title's richness -- despite all the puns that are possible -- Professor Clark does very little with it, which is noteworthy, given how much attention he pays to the titles given to paintings by Jackson Pollock.
"Run your hand over The Architect's Table," Clark writes in a rare instance; "pick up the unlovely Miss Stein's calling card, hang on to the knife by its handle." These suggestions fit the painting, which has a fascinating visual texture, a spatiality that you want to enter into and experience directly, personally. But Clark ignores the fact that he himself is writing "on" The Architect's Table, that he is trying to make his mark "on" (the critical reception of) it. He ignores the fact that The Architect's Table is not a square or rectangle, but an oval. (Most architect's tables are square or rectangular, and not oval-shaped, right? Architects don't move around their tables; they sit for long periods of time at a particular end or side of it.) But, most notably, Clark ignores the fact that The Architect's Table -- despite our modern expectation that such a table must be as clean and orderly as both the plans for buildings that are drafted upon it and the buildings themselves -- is incredibly cluttered. (I mean that though Clark understands and speaks at length about the visual clutter of the painting itself, he does not point out the irony of the fact that it is an architect's table -- of all things! -- that is overwhelmed with decorative architectural elements, objects of all types, and words both floating about "in thin air" and fixed upon calling cards.)
The spatial-visual clutter of The Architect's Table is obviously the key element in "understanding" it. This is Gertrude Stein writing in 1912 about Picasso's most recent paintings:
Something had been coming out of him, certainly it had been coming out of him, certainly it was something, certainly it had been coming out of him and it had meaning, a charming meaning, a solid meaning, a struggling meaning, a clear meaning . . . . This one [Picasso] was always having something that was coming out of this one that was a solid thing, a charming thing, a lovely thing, a perplexing thing, a disconcerting thing, a simple thing, a clear thing, a complicated thing, an interesting thing, a disturbing thing, a repellent thing, a very pretty thing.
Note: not one thing with a great many diverse aspects or sides, but simply a great many diverse things. This is Picasso himself writing about the paintings he's doing in 1911 and 1912:
For certain I am sending you [Kahnweiler] the pictures I told you about yesterday in my letter . . . there are three of them the biggest a violin on its side and then a still life done at Druetrx the hotel-keeper's place with the letters Mazagran armagnac cafe on a round table a fruit bowl with pears a knife a glass. The other still life Pernod on a round wooden table a glass with strainer and sugar and bottle written Pernod Fils with in the background posters mazagran cafe armagnac 50.
Again: a great many things, not so much juxtaposed as jumbled together, almost interconnected with each other.
Clark's interest in these passages is rather narrow. They are simply "evidence for these [Cubist] paintings' being best construed as descriptions of an object-world," a world in which there are "objects, or aspects of objects, accumulated, intersecting, fighting for room in the oval." That need be all. "If we do agree on that much," Professor Clark writes, "we have already come far in the interpretation of Cubism, for this opening onto an object-world has always been disputed or downplayed in the case of the paintings from 1911 and 1912, often by those with most to say about them." The point? Apparently that Cubism is not yet abstract art, for in abstract art there are no objects -- no "real" object-world to which the painting might refer -- just shapes, colors and textures.
In Clark's fumbling hands, the objects in Picasso's paintings -- "Miss Stein's dog-eared calling card, a pipe and liqueur glass, Victorian furniture, fringes with little tassels, curtains with heavy silk cords" -- are simply "bits and pieces of a bourgeois world." Clark notes that "viewers of Cubism have always relished the sheer banality of the things it does denote," but is unable to rise above this banality himself. He asks, half-rhetorically, "What could we find to say about them?" If this were the T.J. Clark of the chapter on Pissarro and anarchism, the answer would be: "These bits and pieces are fragments of the world hated and bombed to pieces by Seurat and Ravachol." But it isn't; this chapter is written by T.J. Clark the Academic Semiotician, and so the answer, "provisionally" (of course), is this: "The claim or pretense in The Architect's Table to articulate an order made out of perception . . . is a mighty one, but a pretense." The purpose of creating a painting such as The Architect's Table in 1912 was to (yet again!) show "the arbitrariness of the sign." Not the arbitrariness of the "object-world" of architecture and architects, but that of the sign. Forget about the oppressive day-to-day reality of over-crowded modern cities! O, save me from the arbitrariness of the sign! "Here I think I cross the path of the semioticians," Professor Clark says. You are incorrect, sir: here is where you tripped over the path of the semioticians and fell flat on your face.
A few basic banalities, then: The Architect's Table is cluttered by objects that had traditionally been either hand-made or produced by relatively simple, if not pre-industrial techniques. That is to say, the "object-world" evoked or depicted by this and other such Cubist paintings is the precisely object-world that was -- at that very time -- being rapidly destroyed, and replaced with a new one, by mass industrial production. Every conceivable object -- no matter how "aristocratic" or "banal" in past times -- was then beginning to be mass-produced and widely distributed by huge industrial combines. The reign of the spectacle-commodity had begun. Tables and carafes and posters and pieces of furniture and glasses and calling cards and knives were mass-produced by complex electrically-powered machines. The skilled artisans of the past were now unneeded, obsolete; the relatively scarce objects formerly reserved for the bourgeois alone could be increasingly be purchased by anyone, anywhere. Clark mistakenly claims that the "particular representational repertoire" of The Architect's Table attempts to "contradict experience, [and] set up impossible orders, and imagine otherwise." On the contrary: The Architect's Table attempts to reaffirm everyday experience, and to resist the setting up of the (impossible) cluttered new "order" of mass-produced objects. The representational space of the painting is overwhelmed by handmade objects precisely because they were starting to disappear, not one by one, but en masse and rapidly.
It is surprising that Professor Clark says so little about Gertrude Stein's calling card, which would seem to offer a unique opportunity to make an interesting comparison with the half-legible letters and the assignat in David's Marat. Is the misspelling of the word "Miss" solely an instance of "vulgar" sexual humor? ("Duh, I get the joke: the Miss is missing an S.") But perhaps Picasso dropped the last "s" because he knew that Stein was interested in misprints. Perhaps Picasso was signaling that he knew that certain forms of money -- but especially modern paper banknotes and postal stamps -- increase rather than decrease in value if they contain a misprint. Perhaps Picasso meant to indicate that misprints on official papers said a great deal about the creation of artistic value in his own paintings. (Note well that, despite what Picasso wrote to Stein about "Ma Jolie," it is in fact the phrase "La Jolie" that floats "in thin air" in The Architect's Table.)
It so happens that Gertrude Stein was fascinated by money, not so much by what it could buy, but by the literal object itself, all through her literary career, but especially when she lived in Paris. In particular, she was fascinated by paper money, which had been introduced to the United States as early as the 1840s (cf. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold Bug") and which became fully institutionalized in 1913 when the Federal Reserve Bank was established. Stein used to sign autographs on paper money and frequently commented upon the practice. She knew well that (hyper)inflation wasn't a "crisis of confidence" that arrived later, when too much paper money had been printed up. She knew well that, from the perspective of the gold coin, paper money has (or is) inflation at its very heart; that paper money itself is inflationary and floats "in thin air," above the ground. She knew well that, with the total separation of the money-form from gold and other precious metals, (the value of) money itself had become inflated. And so Miss Gertrude Stein based her entire mature work on a simple but very productive device: the systematic "hyper-inflation" (over-production) of literary value. When she wrote obsessively repetitive passages such as the one quoted above -- "Something had been coming out of him, certainly it had been coming out of him, certainly it was something, certainly it had been coming out of him" -- she was imitating the way printed money unceasingly and quite miraculously makes something meaningful (indeed, the measure of all meaningful value) come from nothing or almost nothing (a few magic words on a mere scrap of paper).
What has architecture or oval architect's tables to do with all this? In the very years under consideration here, European architecture was undergoing something of a "crisis of confidence" of its own. According to Walter Gropius, the German modernist who wrote a groundbreaking and widely distributed essay about the subject in 1913, European architecture was mired in its past and morbidly obsessed with ornamentation, which was deemed to be a "crime" by the Austrian architect Adolph Loos. The old historical city, over-crowded with people and objects, was being overwhelmed by industrial mass production. Circulation was becoming impossible. The only way out, according to Gropius, was for European architecture to wholeheartedly embrace the monumental and apparently completely undecorated industrial and commercial buildings being put up by engineers (not architects) in the United States, Canada and South America. That is to say, Gropius was arguing that the techniques that were then proving so successful in the mass-production of commodity-objects (and which had in the past proved so successful in the mass production of paper money) should be applied to the design and production of buildings and cities.
European architecture did in fact embrace the quick and cheap building materials and methods, as well as the sleek "functional" look, of industrial buildings. Under the guidance of Le Corbusier, Frank Johnson and Mies Van der Rohe, among others, this form of architectural modernism became known as the International Style. Monumental or superhuman in scale, obsessed with simple geometric shapes, always clad in spectacular mirrored surfaces, and strangely in need of "empty spaces" surrounding its rigid steel-and-glass monoliths -- abstract architecture now orders (dominates) the social space of the entire planet. That is to say, abstraction now dominates everything, from money to commodities and art to social space itself, precisely because abstract social space is the space needed for the production and maintenance of modern bureaucracies and total (uncontested) state power.
Perhaps Walter Gropius would have interpreted Picasso's The Architect's Table as either a parody of the old and overwhelmed European city, or as an open call to modern architects to create the New (Abstract) City. Space needed to be changed to accommodate the proliferating new object-world. ("Either that, or industrial mass production needed to be changed to accommodate people, not profits," a Marxist, a socialist or an anarchist would say.) The Architect's Table certainly disorients and enriches our perception of what space is and could be. But does it in fact change space? Certainly the impulse or the desire to change space was very strong. Clark aptly summarizes it in a remark he imagines Picasso might have made: "I will get the world in order -- just watch me! I will have the picture be more than the sum of its parts!"
Nevertheless, the answer to our question must be "No." This painting cannot -- indeed, no painting can -- change space on its own. "It may even be that Pollock never thought the project of abstract painting had a chance of succeeding without its becoming part of some such general reordering of space," Clark writes. (A "general reordering of space" will do nicely as short-hand for social revolution.) As for Picasso, his painting was not "a devising of a new description of the world -- one in which, to take the most widely touted example, the terms of space and time were recast in a way that responded to changes out there in physics or philosophy," Clark writes; "it was a counterfeit of such a description -- an imagining of what kinds of things might happen to the means of Western painting if such a new description arose" (emphasis added). Though it may circulate in the meantime, Picasso's counterfeit can only be cashed in "after the revolution."
There is something ominous about Jacques Riviere's 1912 statement that, in the paintings of Picasso, shadows become incarnated as space. (As quoted by Clark: "By becoming incarnate as shadows, space will preserve the discrete existence of objects in the picture itself.") What ideology is in fact materializing before our eyes? "I will get the world in order -- just watch me! I will have the picture be more than the sum of its parts!" This is in fact the ideology of totalitarian state power.
I can't help but wonder what Adolph Hitler -- surely the twentieth century's greatest hater of both modernism and socialism (and yet unmentioned by Clark) -- would have made of Picasso's The Architect's Table. An architect and a painter in his own right, Hitler would have had strong opinions on the subject. Certainly he would have hated the painting, hated its "decadence," "ugliness," and "deformation" of the human body. But Hitler would have been unable to forget it, though -- even if he had it destroyed or locked up in a museum of decadent (and obsolete) culture. For did not Hitler, too, feel overwhelmed by life in the over-crowded city? Did not he, too, dream of a New City in which space and the object-world were reconciled?
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