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Archive for April 14th, 2006

you are all so tired…

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One place to look for Benjamin on Loos is “Experience and Poverty.”

A complex artist like the painter Paul Klee and a programmatic one like Loos – both reject the traditional, solemn, noble image of man, festooned with all the sacrificial offerings of the past. They turn instead to the naked man of the contemporary world who lies screaming like a newborn babe in the dirty diapers of the present.

This is a fantastic piece. Interesting stuff on an architectural theorist and novelist Paul Scheerbart, whom I’m going to look into when I get back to the library. A bit more:

Poverty of experience. This should not be understood to mean that people are yearning for new experience. No, they long to free themselves from experience; they long for a world in which they can make such pure and decided use of their poverty – their outer poverty, and ultimately also their inner poverty – that it will lead to something respectable. Nor are they ignorant or inexperienced. Often we could say the very opposite. They have ‘devoured’ everything, both ‘culture and people,’ and they have had such a surfeit that it has exhausted them. No one feels more caught out than they by Scheerbart’s words: “You are all so tired, just because you have failed to concentrate your thoughts on a simple but ambitious plan.”

(What comes next, about Mickey Mouse, actually, is fantastic as well. But I’ll leave you to find it on your own…)

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April 14, 2006 at 1:29 pm

the yoke of ornament

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From Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime” (1929)

Every epoch had its own style, and ours alone should be denied one!? By style, people meant ornamentation. But I said, “Do not weep. Do you not see the greatness of our age resides in our very inability to create new ornament? We have gone beyond ornament, we have achieved plain, undecorated simplicity. Behold, the time is at hand, fulfillment awaits us. Soon the streets of the cities will shine like white walls! Like Zion, the Holy City, Heaven’s capital. Then fulfillment will be ours.”

Interesting. It seems that Benjamin was a fan, which is doubly interesting. From the introduction to Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays:

The philosopher and art critic Walter Benjamin… rated this pamphlet [Ornament and Crime], with which Loos also used to harangue his audience in his notorious lectures, as the most important work “in combating the aesthetic imperialism of the last century, the ‘gold fever’ of those who proclaim the so-called eternal values of art.”

I’ll try to look up some of Benjamin’s references to Loos tomorrow and perhaps post them… But, for now, let me say that I’m interested in what Benjamin exactly means by “aesthetic imperialism.” Ambiguous. Does he mean the dominance of the category of the aesthetic in general or does he mean in particular the aesthetic of those who side with the “eternal values of art.” In other words, does Benjamin think of Loos’s essay as framing a critique of the aesthetic in general or the description of a new aesthetic, a counter aesthetic?

The category of the aesthetic – or even simply of taste – is difficult to distill from Loos’s essay. Take the following passage:

I do not accept the objection that ornament is a source of increased pleasure in life for cultured people, the objection expressed in the exclamation “But if the ornament is beautiful!” For me, and with me for all people of culture, ornament is not a source of increased pleasure in life. When I want to eat a piece of gingerbread, I choose a piece that is plain, not a piece shaped like a heart, or a baby, or a cavalryman, covered over and over with decoration. A fifteenth-century man would not have understood me, but all modern people will. The supporters of ornament think my hunger for simplicity is some kind of mortification of the flesh. No, my dear Professor of Applied Arts, I am not mortifying the flesh at all. I find the gingerbread tastes better like that.

OK, now wait, the last line is strange. The gingerbread most certainly doesn’t taste better when it’s “simple,” when it’s not shaped as a heart, or a baby, or whatever. It just tastes the same. This is more important than it perhaps looks, at first.

(I can’t decide whether or not to select “multinational capitalist chic” as one of the categories for the post. I will leave it provisionally untoggled.)

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 14, 2006 at 1:30 am