|The Party of the Middle Class?||Don't Get Mad, Send Money|
by Christopher Chantrill
August 14, 2004 at 8:00 pm
OK, THATS it. Ive had it. Its time to declare that the decadence of liberal challenge art is terminal. Somebody take it out and shoot it.
Exhibit A is Singing Forest, a tired liberal play by Craig Lucas that recently premiered in Seattles Intiman Theatre. Its about an aging Jewish matriarch and her dysfunctional familyyou know, the Holocaust, psychoanalysis, a Nazi rapist, a cameo appearance by Freud, gays, slackers, and Starbucks baristas. Like, we are supposed to care about a retread narrative like this?
Exhibit B is the new Seattle Public Library designed by Rem Koolhaas. The New York Times loved it. And you can see why. The building utterly negates what youd expect in a library. There is no solemn hardwood paneling; there are no scholarly nooks, no strategically placed desks where a spinster librarian can fix teenage boys in a withering glare. The meeting room floor is a rabbit warren, done in rounded red plastic. You get to the book stack on an up-only escalator that dumps you out in the middle of a continuous ramp. But how do you get out of the stacks? Thank you, Senator, Im glad you asked.. There are floating platforms on which are arrayed platoons of computers, and black lightning bolts of columns and diagonal stiffeners crash out of the glowering thunderhead of a ceiling. Railings are done with galvanized gratings, and metallic stairs boom like fire escapes.
Well, these exhibits certainly are challenging. They challenge the notion that the challenge movement has anything left to say, assuming for a moment that sophomoric challenge art ever did have anything to say. But who will challenge the challengers? Who gets to judge who is the smug self-satisfied bigot, and who is the creative idealist?
Imagine a theater that challenges liberal hypocrisies.
Fiona, the twentysomething daughter of a lesbian has just found out that her mother mixed together the semen from two gay friends when she decided to conceive her daughter. When her lesbian relationship broke up, she responded by marrying a manafter her daughter had grown up. What does it mean for a young woman to know that her father was chosen in a mix-up?
Imagine an architecture that challenges liberal hypocrisies. Its hard to imagine what that might look like. Maybe it would respect the middle-class people that used it instead of slamming them in the solar plexus. And maybe it would be in love with the architecture of the past instead of sniggering at it with oh-so-clever inside jokes. And maybe it would restrict galvanized guardrails to outdoor applications where the zinc was needed as a sacrificial anode.
The whole point of transgressive art has been to negate the middle-class culture of order, harmony, and discipline. Its creativity is the negation of order and rules. Down with rules, genius is its own inspiration!
But lets get Hegelian for a moment. How about a movement in art that is the negation of the negation. Instead of assuming that creativity occupies the opposite pole from order and rules, let us challenge challenge art with the revolutionary idea that creativity and hard-earned expertise go together like peas and carrots.
The new art will be a return to beauty. Beauty, it turns out, is not exactly in the eye of the beholder. All humans tend to respond with pleasure to certain shapes and representations because our brains are wired that way. The new art will be a culture of hope. Obviously it will negate the art of the twentieth century that believed in the end of values, and swirled downwards in a spiral of nihilism and despair. Instead it will return to the eternal hope that throbs in every living creature. Instead of abstraction and expressionism it will return to a natural classicism, in which humans will investigate the peculiar resonance between the elegance of artificial surface and the pulsing throb of chthonic life.
Its time for a new generation to arise and smash the tired shibboleths of liberal challenge art. Down with edginess! Down with transgression! Down with artistical black! Ever since the 1960s budding artists have been taught that the way to creative signature is through transgression, through rejection of society, through celebration of the authentic voice of marginalized voices, through the power of raw talent, through the challenge to established ideas and economic power.
But what if that is all wrong? What if there really is a standard of beauty, programmed into our brains? What if creativity dwells at the union of preparation and inspiration? What if challenge is not about challenge but merely about power? If this is true, then it cant be too soon to start a movement to sweep challenge art aside and start challenging the challengers.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America