Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Today was all Michael Jackson, all the time. Nothing more to add, but it was annoying, since the news in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Asia, was minimized at a time when there was so much going on. And in terms of death: Robert McNamara's death was dealt with in a very cursory fashion. Yet in terms of actual world events, McNamara remains one of the most significant figures of the 20th Century, as his doctrine of the preemptive strike as a weapon of anti-Communism became the touchstone of the Vietnam War, one of the most wrenching episodes in American history. He and Henry Kissinger were the architects of the Vietnam War, but McNamara had the decency (as documented in Errol Morris's "The Fog of War") to admit the horrors that the country was plunged in because of the war, and to question whether the war was "right".

Of course, Kissinger remains, not so much unrepentant, but utterly convinced of his correctness in all matters. There was a documentary which opened the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, "The Reckoning", which detailed the working of the World Court in Amsterdam, and how the US has tried to block the court, and (in fact) have tried to undermine and destroy the court. And the reason is that, according to international law (which the US had signed during the 1990s), Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush are all war criminals. And so the US is trying to undermine international law because our leaders are war criminals.

And the Sarah Palin saga just gets more insane: turns out that she is trying to evade all the cases that have been filed against her for various ethical infractions during her term as governor of Alaska. Her understanding of the law is so hilariously limited that she thinks that if she stops being governor, that all the lawsuits will just have to go away.

(That's as hilarious as Peggy Noonan's declaration that Ronald Reagan was a great intellect; i wonder what would happen to Peggy Noonan if she had ever met Ludwig Wittgenstein, or Claude Levi-Strauss, or Simone de Beauvoir; i know in De Beauvoir's case, she'd sniff and declare De Beauvoir a Communist.)

There's been so many movies over the past few weeks (months, even), but it's hard to know what to think. The reason? The insistence on pop above all else. The way that Michael Jackson has dominated the news in the last week.

I'm reminded of Susan Sontag's essay "The Pornographic Imagination", in which she argues that some works which can be considered "pornographic" need to be acknowledged as works of literary merit. 'Not only do Pierre Louys' "Trois Filles de leur Mere," George Bataille's "Histoire de l'Oeil" and "Madame Edwarda," the pseudonymous "Story of O" and "The Image" belong to literature, but it can be made clear why these books, all five of them, occupy a much higher rank as literature than "Candy" or Oscar Wilde's "Teleny" or the Earl of Rochester's "Sodom" or Appolinaire's "The Debauched Hospodar" or Cleland's "Fanny Hill." The avalanche of pornographic potboilers marketed for two centuries under and, now, increasingly, over the counter no more impugns the status of literature of the first group of pornographic books than the proliferation of books of the caliber of "The Carpetbaggers" and "Valley of the Dolls" throws into question the credentials of "Anna Karenina" and "The Great Gatsby" and "The Man Who Loved Children."' But just as the last two decades have seen the change in values in terms of literary precepts, so critical debates have been superceded by an acceptance which has undermined all values. Sontag: "Only when English and American critics evolve a more sophisticated view of literature will an interesting debate get underway. (In the end, this debate would not only be about pornography but about the whole body of contemporary literature insistently focused on extreme situation and behavior.)" And (of course) this has happened, so that there is a whole school of thought which only seems to value abjection, degradation and extremism.

One Andy Warhol who upends all values is fine, but when the field is crowded with too many wannabe Andy Warhols (Jeff Koons, Mark Kostabi, etc.), then the field is nullified.


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