Individualism

(Lecture notes from 9th January, 2006)

‘Modernists’ gave equality and thought on a more ‘Socialist’ slant, this obviously worked well for consumerism.

The individual is the ‘consumer’ – they make ‘cultural purchases’.

There are fewer generators of ‘quality’ work than receivers thus making it more sought after.

“There is no society anymore, only a group of individuals.” – Margaret Thatcher

‘Teach Yourself Postmodernism’ (Hodder Education 1997)
by Glenn Ward

‘According to (Clement) Greenberg, every historical age has its ‘dominant art form’, and between the seventeenth and mid-nineteenth centuries the dominant art form was literature. This means that literature became the prototype which all other art forms tried to imitate. For example, nineteenth-century salon paintings tried to tell sentimental, melodramatic tales: in doing so, they were aspiring to the condition of literature.
This is an artistic crime in Greenberg’s view. The aspiration towards literary effects in painting and other art forms is a lamentable ‘confusion of the arts’. In this confusion, there ceases to be any reliable standard by which artists and critics can make judgements about quality. The aesthetic worth of a painting is a question that can only be framed in relation to the specific properties, conventions, and history of painting itself.’ (pp 43)

Also from this publication comes a study on:

‘The Death of The Author’ (originally published in an obscure Parisian literary journal, later published in a collection of Barthes’ essays called – ‘Image – Music – Text’ in 1977, now re-published by Fontana Press 1993)
by Roland Barthes (1925-1980)

Barthes criticizes the romantic model on three main counts:

1 – “The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author”

‘The normal idea of how meaning works assumes that three steps are taken. First, there exists in an individual author an idea, experience, sensation or mental state. This occurs in the author independently of any verbal or visual language. It does not signify anything yet. It just is. This isclose to what we mean by the moment of inspiration. Second, the author shapes inspiration into meaning by manipulating a particular medium. In other words, his or her inspiration is put into signs (words, images, etc.) Third, these signs convey the meaning given by the author and an audience is able to read them. The meaning as it occurred in the author can be read off the signs.’ (pp 161)

‘Language therefore simply carries meaning. The role of the reader as an interpreter of the text is essentially to receive meaning and not to create it. But Barthes reminds us that any text can exist in any number of different times and places unforeseen when the author originally conceived it.’ (pp 161/162)

‘There is no reason to assume that a Shakespeare play means exactly the same thing today as it did when first performed, for example.’ (pp 162)

Elsewhere in his essay Barthes notes that ‘a text’s unity lies not in its origin, but in its destination’. A text is only a random mass of signs until a reader comes along and binds them together in a way which lends them coherence.’ (pp 162)

2 – “The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture”

‘Barthes called the condition of texts described by (Michel) Foucault “intertextuality.” (pp 162)

‘Authors have to get their ideas from somewhere, and readers can only read in the light of what they have seen before.’ (pp 163)

‘Certain artefacts are very noticeably intertextual. That is to say, they overtly refer to other texts.’ (pp 163)

‘Modernist novels like James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (1922) also self-consciously refer to other writings. In Ulysses Joyce re-worked the themes of Homer’s Odyssey and played with all sorts of styles, from Chaucer to modern day beauty-advice columns.’ (pp 163)

‘We can all think of recent records which have mixed references to music from many different times and places, for example. Fashion design, too, is enormously wide-ranging in the way it can take ideas from any point in the entire history and geography of dress.’ (pp 163)

‘In this understanding of the term, intertextuality is a style intensified (and perhaps created) by the increasingly pluralistic, cosmopolitan nature of postmodern society and media.’ (pp 163)

3 – “It is language which speaks, not the author”

‘What Barthes is arguing against here is the taken-for-granted view that ideas spontaneously occur in the mind of the author, as if from nowhere, and are secondarily put into words or other signs. This conventional view suggests that there is a pure realm of ideas which exists prior to language, and that we can simply freely choose the best signs with which to express those ideas.’

‘From Barthes’ perspective, there are a couple of major theoretical problems here:
– You cannot have an idea without it already arriving to you in the form of signs. You cannot have a language-less thought.
– Language is therefore active: it speaks. Signs produce, rather than passively mirror, meaning.’ (pp 164/165)

‘The Gift – How the Creative Spirit transforms the world’ (Canongate Books 2006 – Originally published 1979)
by Lewis Hyde

‘It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two ‘economies,’ a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.’ (pp xiv)

‘We also rightly speak of intuition or inspiration as a gift. As the artist works, some portion of his creation is bestowed upon him. An idea pops into his head, a tune begins to play, a phrase comes to mind, a colour falls in place on the canvas.’ (pp xiv)

‘That art that matters to us – which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience – that work is received by us as a gift is received. Even if we have paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the price. I went to see the landscape painter’s works, and that evening, walking among pine trees near my home, I could see the shapes and colours I had not seen the day before.’ (pp xiv)

‘If a work of art is the emanation of its maker’s gift and if it is received by its audience as a gift, then is it, too, a gift? I have framed the question to imply an affirmative answer, but I doubt we can be so categorical. Any object, any item of commerce, becomes one kind of property or another depending on how we use it. Even if a work of art itself is a gift. It is what we make of it.’ (pp xv)

‘For some years now I myself have tried to make my way as a poet, a translator, and a sort of ‘scholar without institution.’ Inevitably the money question comes up; labours such as mine are notoriously non-remunerative, and the landlord is not interested in your book of translations the day the rent falls due. A necessary corollary seems to follow the proposition that a work of art is a gift: there is nothing in the labour of art itself that will automatically make it pay. Quite the opposite, in fact. I develop this point at some length in the chapters that follow, so I shall not elaborate upon it here except to say that every modern artist who has chosen to labour with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange. And if the fruits of a gift are gifts themselves, how is the artist to nourish himself, spiritually as well as materially, in an age whose values are market values and whose commerce consists almost exclusively in the purchase and sale of commodities?’ (pp xv/xvi)

‘The Medium Is The Massage: An inventory of effects’ (1967)
by Marshall McLuhan/Quentin Fiore

‘Xerography – every man’s brain-picker – heralds the times of instant publishing. Anybody can now become both author and publisher. Take any books on any subject and custom-make your own book by simply Xeroxing a chapter from this one, a chapter from that one – instant steal!’ (pp 123)

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