Off Topic: In Praise of the Difficult
It’s Warhol’s world, and we’re just living in it.
Lately I get the feeling that everything is kitsch, which is maybe the inevitable result of a mature capitalist economy (or past mature, considering that we’re arguably witnessing its collapse). I mean, the worth of just about everything has been reduced to a singularity: that of its monetary worth as measured by sales. If it doesn’t sell, it must suck; if it isn’t already popular, how can it be worth my time?
This is sort of reflected (in a way – this is tenuous, I know) in Internet culture. Everything is faster, to be skimmed, grasped, perhaps commented on, and forgotten. But in no way contemplated. Capitalism has compressed all values into a singularity; the Internet compresses our attention into tiny digestible bites (which is something else I don’t understand – say you’ve come up with and promoted a successful meme. Then what? What is it for? You get two million hits (more accurate to say “glances”) but they are hits of dubious, if any, worth. Okay, end digression.
But my main point is that, everything salable is, essentially, kitsch, if you buy the argument (and I do) that kitsch reassures us of the things we already know. And art tells things we don’t. In a way (and this is just to button up that opening sentence), Warhol slowed us down to tell us something we, in fact, didn’t already know. He was showing us the what and how of kitsch (and the occasional art that resides within it). But ever since then, we’ve been steadily abandoning his kind of thoughtful irony, and art, and just jumping in to a great boring pool of familiar soup. Shit, even irony is its own kitsch now – a shorthand for a set of shared and unchallenged aesthetic values.
I’ve been jolted out of this recently (and I’m as susceptible as everyone else – fuck, life’s hard, why complicate things further?) by a play and a record. The play was a Brecht joint, and, man was it difficult. Brecht himself is difficult, his messages were open-ended and oblique, and the guy has a logorrhea that would make Dostoevsky plotz. But in the end, that very difficulty was a kind of refreshing jolt. My mind is so used to being lulled, that actually having to dope out the threads of this monster (and I still can’t say I like it – but that was part of the small marvel) felt genuinely, surprising, invigorating.
More invigorating, I’m sure than this overlong post. So I’ll wrap it up –
The other difficult (although much less difficult) thing is the new record by a killer band called Rudder. I hesitate to call it jazz because jazz is unpopular and therefore generally perceived as worthless. But if you want some music that will tell you things you don’t already know, that will take you in directions you didn’t realize existed, check it out. The difference between this and the Brecht, though, is that I love this record. And it’s still just as invigorating and rewarding. Great reviews at the Boston Post, on Jambase, and on a cool site that I didn’t know existed until just now (though the reviewer moonlights for the LA Times),
Take an (abbreviated) listen here.