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Archive for July 20th, 2006

national in form, socialist in content

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Open Democracy on North Korean art:

Socialist Realism is now referred to in North Korea as Juche Realism. Juche art theorists in North Korea divide world art history into two kinds: “peoples’ art”, reflecting the needs of the masses, and “reactionary art”, reflecting the ideology of the exploiting class. Kim Il-song’s 1966 instruction, “Let’s develop our National form with Socialist content”, is still regarded as the absolute guiding principle of Juche art. This “call” for a new Juche Art was in fact a paraphrase of both Stalin and Mao. Stalin had defined Socialist Realism as “national in form, socialist in content”, while Mao called it “national in form, new democratic in content”.

The “national form” of painting naturally meant traditional Korean ink painting or Chosonhwa, but oil painting (an imported western technique) was also encouraged. Large public wall paintings, which would normally be expected to be carried out in oils, were therefore also produced in ink painting, encouraging ink painters to paint realistically. Still today, there are many more ink painters classed as Merit Artists or Peoples’ Artists than there are oil painters, as a matter of principle.

I hadn’t ever heard this formulation before, somehow. And when I first read it, I wondered to myself, “Now what would they possibly mean by a nationalist form for a novel?” and then realized that that’s the point. Not a novel but Korean ink painting or whatever.

But it’s interesting to think, now that I’ve got it straighten out for myself, why it is that “nationalist in form, socialist in content” became something like a universal definition of Socialist Realism, at least according to this article. Why is it that the content is deemed pliable, adjustable to the ideological weather, while the form – in the sense of medium or genre – is considered intractable, rooted in the soil…

Why, in other words, couldn’t it be “Socialist in form and content”?

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Written by adswithoutproducts

July 20, 2006 at 10:08 pm

Posted in aesthetics, socialism

casuistry

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Ken MacLeod on the doctrine of just war:

Nothing has done more to corrupt humanity than the attempt to civilise warfare. Just War Theory is an utter perversion of the moral sense, a doctrine of literally mediaeval barbarism, invented by clerics to regulate wars between Christian kings. Its finest moral discrimination to date is that it’s legitimate to kill a munitions worker on his way to work, but a crime to kill him on his way home. It tells us that to aim a bomb at an enemy soldier and kill a hundred civilians is – if the necessity is there – legitimate collateral damage, but to deliberately aim one bullet at one enemy civilian is murder. In its pedantic, casuistic jesuitry it still stinks of the cringing, quibbling fusspots who invented it, and retains too its usefulness to a useless and barbaric ruling class. It does nothing whatsoever to restrain their behaviour. Its only function is to befuddle those who oppose, protest and fight them. It justifies every horrific, predictable consequence of imperialist assault as an unintended consequence, and condemns every horrific, predictable consequence of resistance to that assault as an intended consequence. Their violence against civilians is mass murder, ours is collateral damage.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

July 20, 2006 at 8:46 pm

Posted in distraction, war

extension du domaine de la lutte

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(Crossposted from Long Sunday, where I’m taking part in a symposium on democracy

I’m a bit daunted, now, by the passage that I breezily told Angela I’d deal with for this symposium. It’s from E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910), and it deals with a central character of the work – or, better, a character whose centrality to the work is very much the question, the issue, at play.

Leonard Bast is 21 when the novel opens, something of a would-be social and intellectual climber, an auto-didact, who has somehow pinned himself on to the Schlegel sisters, who fascinate him as avatars of cultural capital and unearned income. (The “umbrella” in the passage below refers to an embarrassing incident, fraught with class-anxiety, that occurs when Leonard first meets the sisters…)

The boy, Leonard Bast, stood at the extreme verge of gentility. He was not in the abyss, but he could see it, and at times people whom he knew had dropped in, and counted no more. He knew that he was poor, and would admit it: he would have died sooner than confess any inferiority to the rich. This may be splendid of him. But he was inferior to most rich people, there is not the least doubt of it. He was not as courteous as the average rich man, nor as intelligent, nor as healthy, nor as lovable. His mind and his body had been alike underfed, because he was poor, and because he was modern they were always craving better food. Had he lived some centuries ago, in the brightly coloured civilizations of the past, he would have had a definite status, his rank and his income would have corresponded. But in his day the angel of Democracy had arisen, enshadowing the classes with leathern wings, and proclaiming, “All men are equal–all men, that is to say, who possess umbrellas,” and so he was obliged to assert gentility, lest he slipped into the abyss where nothing counts, and the statements of Democracy are inaudible.

It’s an interesting passage, very tough to pin down the narrator’s tone here, the degree of affiliation or remove from Bast’s own sense of things. Our first response might be that Forster says Democracy when he really means Capitalism. This anxiety that haunts Bast, the necessity of constantly scrambling, constantly reinforcing the foundations of the self, lest he slip into the “abyss” is not, of course, a matter of political self-representation or governmental organization, but rather a matter of market forces, economic liberalism, and individual gumption. Or, if were more politically charitable to Forster, then he means us to hear the euphemistic usage of the word Democracy as euphemistic. And then there is the reactionarily nostalgia, ironized or not, for “the brightly coloured civilizations of the past.” It is true, even if it doesn’t mean all that much, that were Leonard born under pre-democratic / capitalistic feudalism, he at least wouldn’t have suffered from this anxiety about the abyss – either in it or not, but no nervousness about climbing and falling. And, it follows, why leathern wings, exactly? The angel of democracy, as it grants the ability to fly, also turns the classes satanic, naturally unnatural?

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Written by adswithoutproducts

July 20, 2006 at 12:55 am

Posted in literature