Commentaries - November 2007
Today's Times features an article about the pressures brought to bear on these mostly ridiculous big-time party designers - "event planners" who sometimes take six months to create a gathering. One of these folks, David Stark, might rightly be called a conceptual event designer (in the sense of "conceptual artist," although as I verily write this parenthesis I realize it will seem a stretch, but bear with me...).
Stark's latest work, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s awards gala, was meant to be Green & enviro-friendly and avant-garde at once. Giving into decadence in one sense, creating green ironies in another, and possibly mocking the tuxes and little black dresses prancing below trash topiaries and shredded-paper chandeliers in yet a third. Stark created indeed giant faux-natural shapes - many florid archaisms fashioned from trash. "It was the language of excess," says the Times "— those topiaries recalled the gardens of Versailles — expressed in the material of frugality."
The shredded paper of which these biomorphs were made included 12 years of Stark's own tax returns. Excess means the extra stuff you throw away (or now: make available for recycling), and it also means too much.
(Maybe, as a result of this success, Stark's tax return this year will need to have a few extra addenda. I wonder, if we demand to have his tax returns made public, if it will be part of the art. I rather think so.) MORE...
John Brockman's world in the 1960s was a humming electronic world, in which multiple films, tapes, amplifiers, kinetic sculpture, lights and live dancers or actors are combined to involve audiences in a total theater experience. His Intermedia Kinetic Experiences permitted audiences simply to sit, stand, walk or lie down and allow their senses to be Saturated by Media. His 1969 book was By the Late John Brockman.
Yes, Brockman, the sci/tech literary uber-agent, the Happenings organizer in the 1960s and in recent years the creator of "Third Culture" and a leader of the digerati (cyber-intellectuals), came to the Writers House in 1999 along with six of the digerati. And I introduced and, with John, co-moderated a discussion about digital culture.
The digerati I met that night were: Maris Bowe of word.com; Jason McCabe Calacanis, a Silicon Alley Reporter; Luyen Chou of Learn Technologies; Steven Johnson of feed.com; Katinka Matson of EDGE; Frank Moretti of Columbia University's Center for New Media, Technology and Learning; Stefanie Syman of feed.com; Bob Stein of Night Kitchen. At left: John Brockman in '99.
 the KWH calendar entry for this event: LINK
 the KWH digerati page: LINK
 Daily Pennsylvanian article covering the event: LINK
 Wired exec ed Kevin Kelly's essay about Third Culture: LINK
 an account of the day Dylan visited the Factory and Brockman was there: LINK
Recently I was asked about the precise origins of the word "McCarthyism." The correct answer to the question is that for a while (perhaps five or six years) the term was used by some as a term of commendation--a positive as well as, of course, for many if not most, a negative. Soon I remembered that Richard Rovere (in his book Senator Joe McCarthy) wrote a nice passage on this topic:
Barely a month after [the] Wheeling [West Virginia speech in which the junior senator from Wisconsin claimed to know about several hundred communists in the State Department], "McCarthyism" was coined by Herbert Block, the cartoonist who signs himself "Herblock" in the Washington Post. The word was an oath at first--a synonym for the hatefulness of baseless defamation, or mudslinging. (In the Herblock cartoon, "McCarthyism" was crudely lettered on a barrel of mud, which teetered on a tower of ten buckets of the stuff.) Later it became, for some, an affirmation. The term survives both as oath and as affirmation not very usefully as either, one is bound to say and has far broader applications than at first. Now it is evocative of an almost undifferetiated evil to a large number of Americans and of a positive good to a somewhat smaller number. To the one, whatever is illiberal, repressive, reactionary, obscurantist, anti-intellectual, totalitarian, or merely swinish will for some time to come be McCarthyism, while to the other it means nothing more or less than a militant patriotism. "To many Americans, McCarthyism is Americanism," Fulton Lewis, Jr., a radio commentator and the official McCarthyite muezzin, said. Once the word caught on, McCarthy himself became intrigued with it. "McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled," he told a Wisconsin audience in 1952, and, sure enough, there was the eponym, with his hairy arms bare to the biceps. That year he published a book of snippets from his speeches and his testimony before committees, and it bore the modest title of McCarthyism: The Fight for America. There is injustice as well as imprecision in both meanings; if patriotism can hardly be reduced to tracking down Marxists in the pastry kitchens of the Pentagon or the bindery of the Government Printing Office, neither is the late Senator's surname to be placed at the center of all the constellations of political unrighteousness. He was not, for example, totalitarian in any significant sense, or even reactionary. These terms apply mainly to the social and economic order, and the social and economic order didn't interest him in the slightest. If he was anything at all in the realm of ideas, principles, doctrines, he was a species of nihilist; he was an essentially destructive force, a revolutionist without any revolutionary vision, a rebel without a cause.
For more, have a look at my 1950s site.
This week's "Poetry off the Shelf" podcast, produced by Curtis Fox for the Poetry Foundation, features Flarf poetry. The best way to get this podcast series is to go to the alt.NPR podcast series page: here. The piece is well edited and jabs both pro and con.