We’ve Been Hooked Then Abandoned

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The story of our lives is one of:  A)  getting addicted to something, and then:  B)  getting abandoned.

Good things end.  I’m not talking about kids growing up or getting old or things wearing out.  Those things are bad enough, but they aren’t artificial.

I’m talking about artificial, capitalist-style desertion.  Since the industrial revolution, and especially since the turn of the 20th century, marketing, advertising, innovation, and technology have enchanted us and then broken our hearts.

We’re given – sold, actually – a bill of good things.  Take TV.

TV ended in the mid-1980’s when intelligent comedies such as “Barney Miller” and “Taxi” wrapped.  Oh, there was “thirtysomething” a few years later, which fell prematurely to self-indulgence and class envy.  There was the original “Twin Peaks”, and even this year’s Showtime version.

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Then what?  TV abandoned us.

What’s left?  “Hannity”?  “The Property Brothers”?  Some reality shows?

Hell, my wife and I came across “The Beverly Hillbillies” a few weeks ago, and in it are cultural references to ancient Greece that would fly over the heads of today’s college graduates.  “Hillbillies” now comes off as hip and campy compared to today’s fare.

By the late ’80’s, video games arrived to fill the gap.  We got hooked.  At least white males did.

I remember “Earl Weaver Baseball” and “SimEarth” and “SimCity” and “SimLife”, then “Pharaoh” and “Stronghold” and “The Sims”.

Since then?  Video games are muck.

The graphics cause motion sickness.  They are almost all shooters.  They’re all designed for lower-demographic 12 year old boys whose parents don’t pay much attention to them.

We got addicted to the time sink of video games, and then our friends like Electronic Arts abandoned us.

Thus adrift at sea, we were picked up by the internet.

Surfing, Facebook, and the web in general became the new organizing principle of our lives.  Technology was called our savior.  We believed it.  We bought it.

Now San Francisco, the symbolic home of high tech, is one vast homeless shelter, and California’s economic inequality is infamous.  The products they gave us are seen in research as causing depression, loneliness, envy, anger, rage, and political divisiveness, fed by our very own “friends”.

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I was asked to join Facebook about 10 years ago by a real-life friend (as opposed to an artificial digital one) who, in typical school playground drug pusher style said, “Oh, come on, Gregg, it’ll be fun!”

I was hooked.

But now we all know how Facebook and the internet in general are a waste of time, are annoying, cause rage and impoliteness, post fake news, allow radical political groups to emerge, hack our bank accounts, steal our credit card numbers, and on and on.

And, worst of all, the internet is overflowing with ads for crap products and it is . . . boring.  Really shit-awful boring.

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I won’t even mention the porn.  Did I mention the porn?

After you’ve seen every breast on the planet several times over, what can captivate further?  Is there anything capitalism can provide to fill up the next 10 or 20 years?

No, it can’t.  Capitalism has shot its wad.  It has forced us to undergo detox several times, and we’ve caught on to its games.  Capitalism is a liar.  So is socialism, even worse.  All “isms” fail the, “Come on, it’ll be fun!” hype after several detox cycles.

You can see the failures of several other cultural subsets, which only makes things worse.

I see small schools such as SLU pushed out of college hockey by big money, or at least made permanent laughingstocks, good for an easy win.

I see small market professional sports teams neutered, especially in baseball.  I’m sure MLB was delighted with the Boston/Los Angeles World Series.  It’s a miracle Milwaukee got as close as they did.   That won’t be allowed to happen again.  So no sports addiction for me.  What fun is a stacked deck?

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There was a time when I could walk from my corner home on Leigh Street down to Appleton Arena in Canton, NY (pop. what, about 5,000?) and see future NHLers beat Cornell and Yale.  The walk took about one minute.  The game was free or nearly free.  I thought a lifetime of sports was going to be a safe addiction.

And the same with cars.  The market got us all addicted to cars.

The ultimate was a low-slung sports car.  Now all cars are SUVs, which look like jacked-up hearses.   The car addiction fuel has dried up.

I don’t want this to sound like a “things were better in the good old days” lament, because  they weren’t, and that’s not what I’m saying.

I’m saying that modernity has a rhythm of creative destruction that makes us all unhappy, all the time.  We await the Next Big Thing.  We have to, because the game and show developers, the auto manufacturers, the geeks, the university administrators, and the CEOs all lose focus by going for the easy and/or big $$ rather than quality.  Markets are overhyped, then they “mature” (rot).

What happens now that we’ve caught on?  What happens when we refuse to get addicted again?

More importantly, what do we do tonight?  And tomorrow?

 

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All Art Is Not Politics

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SIX SHOTS by Gregg Fedchak

I had a college professor who repeated, like a mantra, “All art is politics.”

Not true.  As an artist, I can safely say that, “All art is whatever color paint I have in front of me today.”

I get the professor’s point.  We’re all embedded in a culture, our culture, the culture and time and place we live in today.  To the extent that you think politics is the most important thing in life, you’re likely to believe that politics equals culture.

Art is politics only when you consciously sit down and plan your art, beforehand, to be a political statement, and an obvious one.  I’ve tried that.  It produces my weakest art, probably because politics is weak broth for anything serious.

The strongest art comes from the unconscious gesture, an assault upon the blank canvas with whatever those paint colors are in front of you, with no idea where you’re headed.

Even then, the “all art is politics” cult would say that your unconscious is shaped by politics, and ultimately determines the nature and/or subject of your work.

No.  Besides what colors have hardened and which still flow, my art is determined by my mood, by whether the cat just threw up, by whether it’s raining out or not, by whether I’m constipated or hungry or zipped on caffeine.  Politics still hums in the background, but no more than hums my blood sugar level, flies dying on the windowsill, random prayers or oaths, how bad the Orioles lost last night, whether or not my favorite shirt is wearing out, or whatever.

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LOOSE GRID by Gregg Fedchak

Only people addicted to or obsessed by politics would favor politics as a bigger mover of the world than religion, family, or acid reflux.  Art reflects what we obsess over.

I obsess over color.  Therefore, I say, “All art is color.  Or the lack thereof.”

There may be Red States and Blue States.  But I live in purple.  It’s the only way to stay sane.

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Fools Right & Left

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I just read Roger Scruton’s updated FOOLS, FRAUDS, AND FIREBRANDS:  Thinkers of the New Left, instead of going to my high school reunion.  Sorry.

btw, these are not “book reviews”.  I didn’t want to do book reviews in 4th grade, I didn’t want to do book reviews in 9th grade, and I don’t want to do book reviews now.

I thought I was going to be a bank vice president and drive a Buick station wagon with plastic woodgrain on its sides.  This is what I do instead.  I live to figure out why people are happy or unhappy.  Some people shovel coal.  I don’t.  I shovel books.

Scruton says that the brightest liberal thinkers write nonsense, safely ensconced with tenure behind high university walls fortified with political correctness and in a smoke-free environment, unless you count pot.  They spill out books like beans.

The scary thing is, Scruton convinces me.  I have, and have read, the authors he crucifies.   Deleuze, Guattari, Adorno, Habermas, Sartre, Marcuse, Benjamin, Foucault, Galbraith, Lacan, Zizek.  Actually, I don’t have Galbraith, Habermas, or Zizek.  Interlibrary Loan headed them off at the pass, and saved me some money.

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These authors are nearly impossible to read.  Scruton takes them apart piece-by-piece and almost, almost, makes them understandable.  But all they do is urp up verbiage that defies understanding – on purpose.

The problem is, if the left is fueled by thin gruel, so is the right.  Scruton fails to convince me that conservatives have philosophy that can be turned into a political program either.

I’ve gone to the trouble to summarize all that I know about politics from all of the above authors, including Scruton and other conservative philosophers:

  1.  It doesn’t have to be as hard as they make it.
  2.  Political/social thinkers, both liberal and conservative, are dense and useless “players”.
  3.  Liberals think that things are bad and can only be improved by laws, regulations, “education”, government, politics, and tax money.  Conservatives think that things are pretty good and can get even better with God, prayer, and with less government, fewer laws, fewer regulations, and lower taxes.

The way that this plays out can be illustrated by, say, a school shooting.

Liberals call for gun laws.  Conservatives call for a moment of silence.  Liberals call conservatives Hitler and fascists on social media.  Conservatives call liberals snowflakes.

It used to be that nobody called the other side names.  As recently as 9/11, in fact.

This made compromise possible.  Liberals could get a little gun control, conservatives could get policemen at school doors, kids were marginally safer, and everybody was happy.  More or less.

Then along came Facebook, cable news, and clickbait meme sharks.  Throw in your average hysterical American moron with a smartphone and a gin ‘n’ tonic, and you get unsophisticated name calling.

So now there can be no compromises.  There can be no way forward.  You can’t negotiate a compromise with Hitler, can you?  You can’t reason with a snowflake who acts like a 4 year old, can you?

Adorno, Horkheimer, Scruton, Hayek – are all worthless.  They are worthless in our current situation, and they are stand-alone worthlessnesses.

I can now turn to lighter reading fare.  Unless the rare great woman or man comes along on one side or the other.  Or, preferably, on both sides.

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On Bailing on Books

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Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  My last confession was about 40 years ago.  Since then I have bailed on several books.  I started reading them, then tossed them aside.  I have even tossed aside books by the handsome, young Saul Bellow, above, photo via Knopf.

I just read Bellow’s RAVELSTEIN.  I thought I would bail, but didn’t.  I wavered, though.

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RAVELSTEIN is a late work from Bellow, and is a thinly fictionalized account of his real-life relationship with Allan Bloom.  I just wrote about Bloom’s bestselling THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND, so I had a sudden, spontaneous interest in RAVELSTEIN.

As a late work, RAVEL is kind of shaky.  Bellow had nearly died of food poisoning a few years prior, and was in his 80’s.  RAVEL is a vehicle for Bellow’s belief that the “pictures” in our mind – the pictures of lived experience, what we call consciousness – along with RAVELSTEIN/BLOOM’s late reversion to speaking as if an afterlife was an automatic expectation of a fully-formed human consciousness (even though Bloom was an atheist) – speak of eternal life for all of us.  Not a small topic!

Bellow at his shakiest still makes for a great novel.  Buoyed by finishing RAVELSTEIN, like an ass I tried reading Bellow’s award-winning 1970 MR. SAMMLER’S PLANET:

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btw, this was like my 4th attempt to read SAMMLER.  I think my first attempt was right after an SLU summer class that I took from Bob DeGraff (sp?) for English credit.

Something about SAMMLER repels me.  It’s not SAMMLER’S (or Bellow’s) fault.

I know that when I was younger, the “elderliness” of the protagonist was a turn-off.  Sammler is a partly blind Holocaust survivor with an odd fascination for minor criminals.

I’m not happy to say that, at 61, I am still repelled by the bitchy old man Sammler, even though he has many, many legitimate reasons to be grumpy.  I felt a familiar depression slip over me as the pages went on.  The Sammler Depression.

It’s not because of the Holocaust.  I read history and World War II history.  No problem.  I would suggest that, perhaps, Bellow’s novel is one or two steps greater than straight history, one or two steps more concentrated and potent.

And I’m not up to it yet.  I may never be.

It’s not that I have a problem with Bellow, who was probably the greatest American novelist of the 20th Century.  One of my favorite novels is Bellow’s 1956-ish HENDERSON THE RAIN KING:

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I read HENDERSON for the same summer school class at St. Lawrence.  It changed my life.

HENDERSON was the prototypical big, dorky, powerful-to-a-fault American abroad.  He nearly destroyed Africa in his clumsy attempt to love Africa to death.  American foreign policy came to life in a way it could not have in Hepburn Hall with my Government major.  Talk about liberal arts synergy.  This is why I assume SAMMLER is more potent medicine than I can stand; that’s what was true with HENDERSON, but it was assigned.  I HAD to read it.

In any case, the point of all this is:

Don’t be afraid to pick up a book and then, if necessary, toss it aside.

Maybe it’s a bad book.  Maybe it’s not for you.  Maybe you aren’t ready for it yet.  Put it back on the shelf.  It’ll be there 10 or 30 years from now.  Don’t be OCD and refuse the book out of the fear that you’re stuck with it.  Grab and read, or else grab and read and toss aside.

It’s not a sin!

Life is too short for bad or for even inappropriate books.  RAVELSTEIN says that.  And Bellow is always right.

 

 

 

The Closing of the American Mind

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THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND by Allan Bloom is a 1987 bestseller.  It suggests Americans no longer understand the big ideas, have no clue about history, and are living in America’s very own Weimar period – a brief and tumultuous time in Germany’s history when left and right killed each other in the streets nightly.

It culminated in Hitler.  But if it had culminated in a Stalinesque figure and the far left, it would have been just as catastrophic for Germans and for the world.

I read CLOSING when it came out.  I read it again and red-penned it around the year 2005.  I just read it for the third time.

It gets more diffuse to me with each reading.  Bloom is talking about so much.

We are Weimar.  We are 1/4 of an inch away from beating each other up on the streets.  We are savages.  Savages with technology.  We think we are virtuous when we posit things that are merely selfish, selfishly ahistorical, and utterly transitory, because we don’t know our place in the greater culture.

Obama signed a bunch of executive orders.  Trump spends 4 years erasing them, one by one.  Transitoriness.  The next president might erase Trump’s works.  Transitoriness.  Nothing sticks.  America is vapor.  There is no America.  It bounces along, with or without political violence.  There is only noise, passed along by useful idiots.  At least until one side – both sides evil and stupid – “wins”.

And one side will win.  History says so.  And if you are not evil, you do not want either side, left or right, to win.

Good luck with that.  Won’t happen.  Irony.

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Jolly Bloom’s prescription?

The classics.  Homer.  Socrates.  Rousseau.  The great thinkers.  Philosophy.  Logic.  Reason.  The Great Books.  The humanities.  College courses in same.  Rigorous ones.  Courses that teach young people how to think rather than what to think.

Mainly, courses that teach students that they don’t know anything, that they are too ignorant to realize how stupid their opinions are, and, *wham*, take this:  a wallop of education that causes complete and utter estrangement from family, friends, and society.

Good luck with that, too.

Bloom admits – he’s gone now, btw, but is cast as the character Ravelstein in the Saul Bellow (also gone) novel of the same name – that nobody can make much of a dent in The Great Books in a lifetime.  He admits that what constitutes a “great book” is up in the air.  He admits that we no longer have teachers who understand them anyway.  And the great thoughts in great books are what we need.

And to me, this third reading makes it clear that Bloom’s ideas are just another random set of opinions, just another arbitrary postmodern construct.  We might as well study fly fishing or podiatry.

He may be right.  He may be wrong.  He may have some good ideas.  The guy at the corner gas station may have better insights than Bloom does.  Another philosopher might.  Bloom might be a genius, or evil, or a joke, or a waffle with syrup on it.

It’s 2018.  We’re all jokes now.

Bloom said that we need certainty and facts and a strict Socratic framework to use when investigating those facts.  We need to know where we stand and what we mean.

His certainty now looks ludicrous.

The idiots who base their lives upon rumor and vapor and random websites – like this one? – are taking to the streets once again.

Damn certainty and damn the certain.  Except for those like Bloom, in whose hands it could last be trusted.

The Broken Internet

We all know the internet is screwing with the human mind and spirit.  But even the experts don’t know how to fix it.

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With “Frozen in Time” African violet between . . .

Lanier and Williams:  the experts.  One, like, invented reality and the other invented virtuality.  Or whatever.  Google them, if you give a shit.  The big problem with how the internet and social media are messing with us now is that the people responsible for implementing it are not . . . normal.

Even as scientists or engineers go, what these guys do is ineffable.  And even as I/we can not grasp the essence of what they do, they build the framework – the culture – in which we are all forced to live.  These are truly end times.

Lanier has semi-left Silicon Valley, although he still seems to work for Microsoft in some capacity.  Williams has left and become a philosopher.

Lanier suggests that we quit social media – and Google, as best we can – because that’s the only language – $$ lost eyeballs $$ – that Facebook and Google understand.  They’ll then be forced into a better way of making monstrous profits than monetizing our attention and our clicks ‘n’ likes.

Williams suggests that, among other things, we might want to consider a PBS/NPR version of the internet, a (government?) subsidized branch of the internet in which there would be non-profit search engines and social networks.  Maybe it would work.  Maybe it would suck.  Maybe it should be like C-SPAN?

None of his other notions, other than that we might need a total reboot of the internet (!) or of Facebook (Like!) in order to get them off the economic models that make us addled addicts, stuck with me.

Neither of these guys thrill me.  These books both strike me as too little, too early.

We still don’t know wtf the internet does to us.  We still don’t know wtf it does to young, developing minds.  Perhaps it makes certain that they don’t develop at all.  Or, more likely, that they develop the way Facebook wants them to develop.

I would kill for a Lewis Mumford or a Christopher Lasch right now.

If you’re technically-minded and socially-concerned, read these books.  Maybe.

If you’re really socially-concerned, read other books, blog, and grow African violets.

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One Way To Understand Abstract Art

LastMinute
LAST MINUTE by Gregg Fedchak

Above is my recent abstract painting, LAST MINUTE.

I began it the way I begin most of my paintings, by facing a fresh canvas and applying paint and materials until a way forward becomes clear.  I keep working until it feels finished, until it looks pleasing, or until I am stymied.

Sometimes, I park the painting upstairs next to the TV and keep on eye on it while relaxing, to see if it’s done, to see if it grows on me, to see if it needs more work (and to see what that work might be), or to see if I reject it and paint over it.

It’s only when a work is finished that I try to figure out “what it is.”  More often than not, I can.

I realized, well after the painting was done, that it was my abstract interpretation of an unknown graphic artist’s DVD cover of the movie “Slaughterhouse Five,” as shown below:

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I saw the movie in 1970 or thereabouts.  I went to the American Theater in Canton, NY, with my friends Mark Simpson and Steve Merrill.  Mark’s father took us, because it was an R rated movie and you needed adult accompaniment.

That alone – the nude Valerie Perrine, my first naked movie star – made the movie stick in  my mind.

But the entire movie stuck.  I knew nothing about what happened in Dresden.  I knew very little about World War II.  I was in 8th grade and about 13 years old.  I bought the Betamax version, the VHS version, then the DVD version.

The cover art on the DVD version combined with my viewings of the movie over the years.  My unconscious mind delivered LAST MINUTE when my first doodlings produced images or colors – that “way forward” – that made me move toward an unconscious image in my mind that had excited me many times over.

You might ask, “Why should I be interested in an artist’s stray unconscious images reproduced in abstract form?”  Especially images so personal and possibly so obscure.

Hopefully, the abstract art urpped up by the artist will connect and resonate with the viewer.  The viewer will feel something of what the artist felt.

In my case, hopefully you’ll feel a bit of what I felt of the horrors of Dresden, of the firestorm, of imminent death, of the culpability of the Allies, of Valerie Perrine’s incredibly distinctive breasts as played out in the mind of a forever-13 year old.  Even if you don’t explicitly know the subject of the painting.

You may come up with your own imaginings, your own ideas of what the painting is about.  You should.  They may be completely at odds with what the artist thinks is going on.  Good.  The key is that the life in the painting excites your life, your mind, your imagination.  There is no right or wrong.

The graphic artist did his or her job.  He or she made me buy the recordings.  Their image mated so well with the movie that it’s now a part of me, deeper than I can know – at least until I paint.

And hopefully, just hopefully, a little of Kurt Vonnegut lives on in LAST MINUTE, too.