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You have no voice…

Recently, I enjoyed watching a Postmodern filmic wreck, un grand discours, about love, art, outcasts and sublime cultural darkness entitled Anonymous, a movie that whips up the unrequited conjecture regarding the “true” authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s an old fashioned conspiracy movie filled with inspired revelations, outlandish leaps of time and logic, OTT acting, beautiful photography and costuming, and piles and piles of gold plated bullshit. Among the more inspired shiny turds in this movie is the portrayal of the Bard, Shakespeare, as a half-witted, simpering, insanely ambitious, murderous, sybaritic opportunist. He symbolizes the money grubbing social climber/fame seeker that will do absolutely anything to gain renown, groupie sex and gobs of money. There is nothing this man won’t do for fame. The unsung hero of the movie, the Earl of Oxford, on the other hand, is portrayed as a man-done-wrong by his enemies, the people that he loved and trusted, his social standing, his insanely complicated familial heritage, and ultimately, by his own failed desires and ambitions both artistic and political. Edward De Vere is doomed to remain forever Anonymous, not only to the world at large, his own class and history, but also to us, those who have been clued into the real “soul of the age.” His fantastic legacy of love and artistry will forever be attributed to another. Quelle horreur! Tragedy most foul…an Elizabethan soap opera for a Postmodern world!

What fascinates me is the conjecture about the legitimacy of the Bard himself. The few moments we get with the actual character in the film are among the best. He’s a comedic one note charlatan who grabs hold of the moment and runs with it. This movie Shakespeare is also slagged off by a no lesser actor of note than Derek Jacobi, who states that there doesn’t exist a shred of evidence that Will ever actually wrote anything, no works in his hand survive. Never mind that there’s not a shred of evidence for any of the other bald-faced conjecture presented in the movie. Nope, this my friends is Postmodernism at its “best!” There’s a scene where Edward, our hero, plans to overthrow his enemy by inciting a mob through his play. And this is, in its way, the same kind of thing that this movie does. It tries to incite us to overthrow our “knowing” about Shakespeare. The tragedy is that this hokum works on people. To which I say, to suspend one’s disbelief for the enjoyment of the moment does not mean one must lose one’s mind! An entertainment that lies to tell the truth is not the same as lying to change the truth.

Which brings me to the passing of our own Robert Hughes. There are a lot of the old school that are aging and passing. Men and Women that brought real things into the art world. Hughes was among them. I enjoyed many of his reviews through the years, but he began to mean something REAL in the last decade or so of his life – after the Time Magazine years, after the motor accident that left him broken and weak. He explored in depth the changes in the Art World and in Art. The New Shock of the New and the Mona Lisa Curse are real masterpieces of Televisual Art Criticism. His take on the dismal prospects of art in a Postmodern Capitalist Economy leave one thunderstruck. His interviews with players on all sides leave your mouth agape and your jaw slack. The one thing that Hughes always seemed to be after was truth, both in art and in words. Hell, I know he lambasted a few artists that I like, but so what? Everyone needs a good kick up the backside once in a while, just to keep one honest! As a critic its his job to have a point of view, which is something a lot of critics have forgotten. Hughes could not only tell you why something was good, but why it was bad as well – why it did or didn’t work in the context of history, style, color, form or composition. But mostly he could tell you why it wasn’t true, why it felt like bad faith art. And there’s a lot of that kind of art and art making running around the high circles of the Art Economy these days.

The new season, 2012-2013, is about to begin. There are hundreds of galleries opening this weekend hoping to draw you in with parties and new faces. The excitement is palpable. But what we all should be looking for is change. New things that point to new ideas, new thoughts, new visions. So far I’ve followed the links on the hundreds of spammy notices I’ve received, and it looks like much the same will be going on. Postmodernism continues because change is a dangerous thing – maybe not politically or spiritually, but certainly economically. The auctions begin, the sales begin, careers will be made and sold in easy exchanges, and it should all dovetail nicely into the scripted dialog of the Art Economy itself. In 2008 the economic world went dark the day after the very lucky Damien Hirst sold off his warehouse goods. We all thought the Art World would collapse in a heap. But the US government borrowed trillions of dollars from the Chinese and pumped up the world economy – I say world because many of the Wall Street portfolios that were rescued by that money were held by the Global Corporate Elite – the collectors. American taxpayers inadvertently bouyed up the failing Art World by taking on massive debt to be paid for with their tax dollars. Is it any wonder the wealthy elite want their taxes reduced – why not let the suckers pay it back?! This was the biggest monetary giveaway to the wealthiest individuals in the history of American Politics. And with their pockets still stuffed and fat, it allowed the Art Market to continue on its merry way, shoring up the Postmodern Hegemony of tight, self-righteous douche bags. OK that’s a bit OTT, but it’s true.

In the end it’s about your voice. Like Ben Jonson says – our voices are completely different. Then Edward thunders at him, “You have no voice!” If you play the game, if you don’t work it out beyond the confines of what’s expected, if you do it to make a dime, you might have a career, but you shall never be the soul of an age. Whether any of us get to experience that “soul” is beside the point. The point is to work, to do one’s best, to live and to expect to be Anonymous. Your soul is your own business. Good Luck to you all for the new season! Henri wishes you all the very BEST!


  1. Carla wrote:

    Excellent post. One has to maintain a belief that their own findings matter, even if they cannot justify them within any current cultural systems.One needs that liberty foremost, and then we can figure out how/if to create a framework for them within/without the established structures.

    Sunday, September 9, 2012 at 1:43 PM | Permalink
  2. Hans wrote:

    I see the crisis of art connected with 9/11, some thoughts here

    Best regards, H

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 3:16 AM | Permalink
  3. anon wrote:

    the post-9/11 milieu hasn’t addressed the death of the author as presciently theorized in the preceding decades by barthes et al. with few exceptions, this remains the most important piece of unfinished business with which postmodernity must contend. artworks in the affluent society reflect the destructive relationship of corporate personhood to its atomized consumerist endpoints. if it’s in suicide that the alienation of the mass embraces the finality of death:

    then i suggest this model of subjectivity is flawed, and its premise will not hold.

    we will not be silent.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 8:01 AM | Permalink
  4. mike vandy wrote:

    I enjoyed your post. I think Robert Hughes was a critical genius, which he made evident in his use of plain language to weave elegant and complex relations between things. He was a writer first, a content expert second… or should I say… a content expert by way of being a writer. He was committed to language as the tool by which to condense complex meanings from observation. That is the essence of poetry, and Hughes was surely a poet of critical thought. The context experts of academia don’t (as professional practice) condense complexity from observation. Instead, they explode complexity by reworking existing academic formulations. They don’t go back to nature, they don’t judge the point at which bone grinds on earth, and they do not grasp the nature of things in themselves. That is for men like Hughes. That is why he is great, and that is why he is so often marginalized and parodied by those who want to locate themselves within the privileges of academia or the art world.

    What I appreciate most about Hughes, is that despite however negative his assessment of the current scene gets, he is not cynical about the prospects for art. He is simply strong enough to accept that the entire scene may be missing the larger meanings of art, both historically and personally. Perhaps history will judge him to have missed the point of the current postmodern malaise. Time will tell. But Hughes doesn’t hedge his bets, he doesn’t waffle on his judgements. That takes courage, commitment, belief, judgement. Balls.

    The emperor of culture is indeed naked. But knowing that is not enough. If one then follows that observation with endless railings against the cultural hegemony that underwrites the yes-man-ism of the emperors courtesans, then one is falling into a counter-punching relationship with a social power that has no historical or moral authority. Calling out such bankruptcy, and throwing some punches at it is necessary. But to engage in an perpetual analysis of the emperor’s nudity is to (unwittingly, and by implication) sanction it and give it relevance. I don’t know where to draw that line. It isn’t always obvious, and the persistence of said nudity seems to require endless rebuttal arguments, lest our silence be confused with acceptance.

    But the talking does need to end at some point. This is difficult for the critic, I suppose, whose very purpose is to carry on discourse. But for artists themselves, the critical engagement can end. The emperor and his cultural context can be called out, critiqued, and rejected. An opening can be clawed out thusly… an opportunity for an alternative. But nature abhors these vacuums, so unless one is ready to fill that space with something else, that big pile of bullshit will just slough back down and burry these efforts.

    We fill that space with positive proposals, with new theories, by championing things that make sense, and by making art that makes sense. Hughes is inspirational on this point. At the end of his critical writings, or at the end of his video segments, when he looks into the camera and summarizes so clearly, and draws us into the confidence that rational men share… one can feel very primed to break free from all the troubling errors of the world. Hughes is already there. He passes judgement, turns away from the camera, and is done. We should be as brave.

    The significance of Hughes is not simply what he says, but the way he says it, and the man behind these things. If the medium is the message, then the true message of Hughes is Hughes himself, who embodies the courage to draw the conclusion, and to move on. He is bigger than all the wrong ideas he sees so clearly. He is bigger even than the content of his ideas, though his ideas are inevitably tied to this character. His content and his medium are one. But whereas the content of any man’s life must end, the lessons of his medium (his character) go on.

    The sadness of the critic, so isolated in time, is that his course may be run whence he has so clearly understood these things. But the artist only moves forward, and must, else surrender the field to the very thing Hughes revealed. If the artist wants to honor the idealism of Hughes and react against the bullshit of cultural hegemons, then they must act like a man. They must have the courage to construct something, to assert it, and then step back and let it breath. Like Hughes himself… know it, say it, and then be still.

    Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 2:19 PM | Permalink

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