In his 1919 dissertation The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism, Walter Benjamin writes, “Where there is no self-knowledge, there is no knowing at all […].” As America’s democracy is dealt yet another blow by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we might ask why art criticism still matters. Yet if, as Benjamin’s text suggests, the critic’s reflection is a form of self-knowledge, through such reflection we can better know — ourselves, others, and the world around us.
This week, seeing Caravaggio, the new Princeton Art Museum, Judith Butler on JK Rowling, white supremacy and classical music, the QAnon threat, and more.
The new designs for the Princeton Art Museum have been released. Designed by Adjaye Associates, it features some beautiful details like this viewing alcove. Dezeen has more images and the full story. (via Dezeen)
Teju Cole looks to Caravaggio paintings for wisdom in these trying times:
The themes in a Caravaggio painting might derive from the Bible or from myth, but it is impossible to forget even for a moment that this is a painting made by a particular person, a person with a specific set of emotions and sympathies. The maker is there in a Caravaggio painting. We sense him calling out to us. His contemporaries may have been interested in the biblical lesson of the doubting Thomas, but we are attracted to Thomas’s uncertainty, which we read, in some way, as the painter’s own.
But there’s more than subjectivity in Caravaggio: There’s also the way his particular brand of subjectivity tends to highlight the bitter and unpleasant aspects of life. His compact oeuvre is awash in threat, seduction and ambiguity. Why did he paint so many martyrdoms and beheadings? Horror is a part of life we hope not to witness too often, but it exists, and we do have to see it sometimes. Like Sophocles or Samuel Beckett or Toni Morrison — and yet unlike them — Caravaggio is an artist who goes there with us, to the painful places of reality. And when we are there with him, we sense that he’s no mere guide. We realize that he is in fact at home in that pain, that he lives there. There’s the unease.
[i kinda feel like this paragraph would be good on its own but either works for me]
Judith Butler gave a lengthy interview about the culture wars, JK Rowling, and definitions of feminism. She talks to Alona Ferber of the New Statesman:
AF: One example of mainstream public discourse on this issue in the UK is the argument about allowing people to self-identify in terms of their gender. In an open letter she published in June, JK Rowling articulated the concern that this would “throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman”, potentially putting women at risk of violence.
JB: If we look closely at the example that you characterise as “mainstream” we can see that a domain of fantasy is at work, one which reflects more about the feminist who has such a fear than any actually existing situation in trans life. The feminist who holds such a view presumes that the penis does define the person, and that anyone with a penis would identify as a woman for the purposes of entering such changing rooms and posing a threat to the women inside. It assumes that the penis is the threat, or that any person who has a penis who identifies as a woman is engaging in a base, deceitful, and harmful form of disguise. This is a rich fantasy, and one that comes from powerful fears, but it does not describe a social reality. Trans women are often discriminated against in men’s bathrooms, and their modes of self-identification are ways of describing a lived reality, one that cannot be captured or regulated by the fantasies brought to bear upon them. The fact that such fantasies pass as public argument is itself cause for worry.
Alex Ross on White Supremacy in Classical Music:
Several scholars have conjectured that [Martin Luther] King[, Jr] was sending a cultural signal when he inserted Donizetti into “Stride Toward Freedom.” Jonathan Rieder says that the story demonstrates “King’s desire to cast himself as a man of sensibility and distinction.” Godfrey Hodgson writes that such references were intended to “reassure northern intellectuals that he was on the same wavelength as they were.” Du Bois’s cosmopolitan tastes have elicited similar commentary. It is questionable, though, to assume that these two formidable personalities were simply trying to assimilate themselves to a perceived white aesthetic. Rather, they were taking possession of the European inheritance and pulling it into their own sphere. More elementally, they loved the music, and had no need to justify their taste.
It is equally questionable to assume that King’s and Du Bois’s fondness for classical music lends it some kind of universal, anti-racist virtue. In that sense, my attraction to these anecdotes of fandom is suspect. I am a white American who grew up with the classics, and I am troubled by the presumption that they are stamped with whiteness—and are even aligned with white supremacy, as some scholars have lately argued. I cannot counter that suggestion simply by gesturing toward important Black figures who cherished this same tradition, or by reeling off the names of Black singers and composers. The exceptions remain exceptions. This world is blindingly white, both in its history and its present.
Yasha Levine penned a short post about the limits of the US’s “liberal values” in relation to China and how it only work when they can feel a sense of superiority.
Read reporting on the issue and you’ll find that a kind of paranoid realpolitik prevails these days. No one talks about the Internet being a post-political platform. Now it’s all about how technology can be weaponized by a rival power againstAmerican interests. If an Internet company is Chinese, it naturally must be an extension of Chinese national power. If a company is Russian, the Russian government must be benefitting from its use somehow. And if a company is American — like Google or Facebook — it of course must pledge allegiance to American imperial interests. And Google and Facebook publicly agree.
Ken Buist, a former longtime employee of the annual ArtPrize competition, opines about the annual competition and if it’s coming back:
Is ArtPrize over? I honestly don’t know. I’m not sure about other staffers, but I’m not waiting around to find out, I’m moving on. Maybe the board will give it another try in the future, but unfortunately they’ve jettisoned a lot of institutional knowledge. ArtPrize has always been nimble and mutable in ways that other arts orgs can’t be, which is why it’s so hard to watch it freeze in the face of a new challenge. I’ve always thought of ArtPrize as a perennially unfinished project. The ArtPrize in my mind was always a higher ideal than the real thing, I saw it as the next version of what it could become. ArtPrize was designed to be responsive and adaptable, and it always had something new in the world to respond to. It was scrappy, energetic and relentless, which is what I loved about it, and why it was so painful to be shut out of the conversation about how it could rise to meet the present moment. Making relevant public-facing art has never been more challenging, and it’s never been more important.
Aída Chávez writes about how people in her hometown got sucked into QAnon:
A few of the friends I spoke with were young moms who recently began posting Q-curious content, adopting the anti-trafficking cause as their top issue — despite openly detesting the Trump administration and otherwise holding left-leaning positions.
Jared Holt, an investigative reporter at Right Wing Watch who has been covering QAnon since its inception, said that this web of conspiracy theories during the pandemic has “spread so much that it’s coming home to roost in places we were not expecting.”
“During the last six months, QAnon has really, as a movement, found a lot of success breaking out of its confines among sort of the far-right fringe,” Holt said. “You are now seeing mommy bloggers, health and wellness influencers, MMA fighters, various celebrities embracing parts or the whole of QAnon.”
While we mourn US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s also a good time to remember that even incredible figures are flawed. Here is an assessment of her record on race and criminal justice:
The civil rights framework that informed her gender discrimination work left little or no room for collective interests like tribal sovereignty. The testimony she gave at her confirmation hearing demonstrated a meager understanding of Native American history and present day circumstances, and very small acquaintance with federal Indian law.
Not surprisingly the decisions she wrote in the early part of her tenure demonstrated her lack of understanding and respect for tribal sovereignty. Scholars commented on this and their criticisms were pretty blistering. Maybe because she took those criticisms to heart, maybe because she had more experience, her later decisions reflected much greater appreciation for the value of tribal sovereignty and the realities of tribal governments and economies. I think it’s worth noting that she joined the majority in her final Indian law case, MCGIRT V. OKLAHOMA, which was a very consequential affirmation of reservation existence and tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma.
I recommend the LA Times‘ Chicano Moratorium zine:
You have to read this tomato plant story because you might be shocked how it ends. It begins:
The following account is completely true, and, no, there is nothing funny about it.
I was on my laptop in the dining room of my rowhouse in downtown Washington, D.C., when someone rapped at the window. There was a man there, in my backyard. This is a good neighborhood, but a gritty one. Cautiously, I cracked the door.