What’s so wrong with people painting their face brown?

Chris Lilley’s new show features him playing a black kid from America. He plays the part with his face painted brown.  Some believe that this is courting controversy, undoubtedly, given the Hey Hey Saturday Blackface performance of a couple of years ago, it is.

I am not sure what the problem is with people painting their faces brown. Is it because racism mistakes correlation for cause, i.e. a racist position concludes that because certain acts have a correlation with certain genetically determined signs those acts are caused by those genetically determined signs? Playing out that correlation could then be seen to be reinforcing that mistake.

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Two Views on the Beautiful

Sarah recently posted a facebook thing that gave voice to a view of the beautiful. I am calling that view ‘grunge’. In contrast to that view I offer the operatic. Below is the graphic Sarah used to convey the opinion I am calling ‘grunge’ and two quotes, one from Karen Blixen and the other from Dostoevsky, that I am associating with the operatic view. The first view, grunge, suggests that what is claimed to be beautiful is in actual fact not beautiful but shit, the proclamation of beauty is just a lie. The second view, basically says: ‘isn’t shit beautiful.’ This is noteworthy because the view that Sarah put forward stands in contrast to her poetry work which accords with the second view.

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A Voice for the Voiceless (me pretending to be a trolley)

Life as a trolley is hard. As hard as it gets. Boredom and hard work. That’s all there is.

The life of a trolley is simple. We wait until we are called up and then we carry the things that the humans want. With no ability to move by ourselves we are pushed around as we carry the things that the humans want.

We wait in our docks in flocks with our comrades, terrified into silence. Who knows what horrors we might suffer if a human heard us ask for some simple care. When we lose the embrace of our brothers and sisters and have our backs exposed to the world we find our first entertainments. Here we enjoy the fear of possible withdrawal from our safety in numbers and the hope that we may find protection from such a terror when one of us inserted by the humans through our back and into our embrace.

If we are taken we are driven to our familiar service locations. For most of us, perhaps the lucky ones, we will only know this location, our flock and the scrap yard that is our ultimate doom.

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Roskolnikov’s ‘New Word’

In Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment the central character Raskolnikov (the murderer) writes an article that is the first sign that the police investigator finds of his guilt. Below is the argument of that article as presented by himself, in person, to the police investigator. This presentation is the machine at the heart of the novel. The novel can be read as an exploration of the definition of that machine.

Raskolinkov makes an attempt at being an extraordinary person by pronouncing a ‘new word’. That ‘new word’ is the article presented in the following quote – that is, it is the articulation of the criminal origins of all law. The reason that he kills the old money lender and her sister is the principle outlined in this article – the assertion that law is criminal itself and thereby justifies its own transgression. The plot that arises from this act can be understood as the “beautiful and edifying” “public penances” that are the self-inflicted punishment of those that cannot bear the consequences of founding a new law yet make the attempt anyhow.

The question presented by the novel seems to be: Is this an articulation of the limitations of law – that it cannot be done away with, that it cannot be built again on grounds that are not criminal, that is, that it cannot recognize its own partiality? Or, is the novel itself the presentation of Raskolinkov’s ‘new word’ and that the punishment he inflicts upon himself represents the re-founding of law precisely on the basis of its partiality? This second possibility would see his punishment as being a necessary estrangement the ‘extraordinary man’ has from the experience of his own mastery.

The key to the answer to these questions seems to lie in the interpretation of Raskolinkov’s ‘redemption’ in Siberia. Answering this question could be a way of articulating that Nietzsche’s fear of the ‘ultimate man’ is unfounded at an absolute level. This is a topic that I have been interested in because, to put it crudely, it seems to suggest that a lack of stupidity is a problem for modernity and this, at least at the empirical level, is erroneous.

The other consequence of such an investigation would be to provide some comment on the possibility of positive political action that is not simply self-interested against the assertion that political engagement holding a rigorous claim to universality must by definition always be negative.

Here is the quote:

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Banning ‘Super Art’: A step in the right direction

In response to a strongly worded letter that I was going to write the authorities have swung into action. Rather than simply warning people of the dubious nature of investments in art, as I argued should be done here, a recommendation has been made that the practice be banned in the instance of self-managed super funds (reported in the Australian here).

In a review of self managed super Jeremy Cooper has recommended that making art works part of an investment portfolio standing as a self managed superannuation fund should be outlawed. In this recommendation the hucksterism of the art world – the fundamentally fraudulent nature of any value being attributed to art works – has been recognised.

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Changes in the Football Vernacular with Respect to the Verb Rape

For quite sometime now the AFL and other codes have been battling the sexual proclivities of players off the field. Whilst the Hopoate incident of 2001 is the only sexual catastrophe to occur on the field the numbers of footballers finding themselves in the media glare for their sexual behaviour off the field seems too numerous to count, this is a fact that seems to be reflected in the football vernacular.

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Ramblings on Todorov, de Sade, the Burqa and Communication

I had a conversation on the weekend that raised the connection between universalism and war. I attempted to explore the idea that there may be reasons why we, as a community, might wish to push our laws onto others, violently. That reason being that we believe that our laws are just and that therefore they are best. A ‘tolerant’ perspective is something that just seems ridiculous, either it falls back into the conflict around definitions of what level of tolerance is acceptable or becomes resignation to the inherent evil of people – a denial of the existence of justice and indeed argument and hence irrelevant. To put it another way: if we want to live under just laws this implies that there is a possibility of other laws being seen as unjust and given interaction between other polities is inevitable, or seems to be so, interaction with the laws of others appears to be inevitable and where such interaction does not result in mutually agreed accommodation does not then the prospect of a just war arise?

I never actually got to clarify that argument because as part of the attempt at doing so I put forward the hypothetical that it might be conceivable that we would enact laws against attempts to enforce people wearing a burqa in public on the basis that in order to have communication between people it is necessary to see their face due to a component of communication that may be denoted by the term body language. I suggested that it might be that we decided consequently that laws should be enacted that ban legal associations holding as a condition of membership that females must at all times in public cover their faces from view. This, I postulated, might lead to an act of war but was unable to arrive at that because of the controversy over the posited hypothetical and the amount of wine that had been consumed.
Whilst I am far from believing that the idea is worthy of being put forward as a justification for laws that would be enforced by force I do believe that the idea merits discussion. It is meritorious primarily because I have suspicions that there are differences between writing and speech. Such consideration could easily rule in favour of the irrelevancy of the Burqa for such laws, for instance if it is some natural differentiation that is key I am sure that the modulations of the human voice cold perform that task – if not body odour.

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The People Smuggler: “He is something of a poet”

In light of the current mood for denouncing and punishing the craft of the people smuggler I found the following passage interesting. Although it relates to the smuggling of vodka, tobacco and other useful items into a prison in Siberia I believe that it does till have some relevance.

“Incidently, smuggling is by its very nature something of a special crime. Can one believe, for example, that money and gain are of only secondary importance to a smuggler? And yet precisely this is the case. The smuggler works passionately, with a sense of vocation. He is something of a poet. He risks everything, faces terrible dangers, employs cunning, inventiveness, gets himself out of scrapes; sometimes he even acts according to some kind of inspiration. This passion is as strong as the passion for cards. In the prison I knew one convict who was outwardly of colossal proportions, but so gentle, quiet and resigned that it was impossible to imagine how he could ever have ended up in prison. He was so lacking in malice, so easy to get along with that during his entire stay in prison he never once quarrelled with anyone. But he came from the western frontier, had been sent to prison for smuggling and had of course not been able to restrain himself, but started to smuggle vodka into the prison. How many times he had been flogged for this, and how he feared the birch! And the trade in illicit vodka brought him only the most meagre returns. The only person who made any profit from the sale was the entrepreneur. The curious fellow loved his art for its own sake. He was as tearful as an old woman, and how many times after he had been flogged did he repent and swear never to smuggle again. He would sometimes master himself courageously for a whole month, but in the end he was always unable to hold out any longer… It was thanks to characters such as him that there was no shortage of vodka in the prison.” p 41. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead.

The legality of an act does not necessarily dictate its value. In fact one might say that in any act both good and bad are entwined.

The smuggler is motivated only secondarily by money, for Dostoyevsky the primary motivation is like gambling, risking all in acts that are only reasonable from the point of view of pure inspiration. It is the relation to the other that is the primary consideration, the respect shown for the law in the challenge of it. Just as the gambler hopes that the laws of probability might overlook his lucky streak the smuggler hopes the law might show a similar blindness. It might also be said that a motivation operates on a positive level – the satisfation of the desires of others. Undoubtedly there is the corruption of money and self-gain but there is a specific form to the activity; it is not simply murder and theft. This remains true regardless of the money to be scored, if only for the fact that in relative terms the punishment of getting caught is always proportional to the possible returns of the venture.

The same is true in the business world; success is not the result of simple theft and murder but of pursuits shaped by respect for the laws of others and their own desires. At the same time it is always in the interest of business to be the first into a market that until its incursion was protected by the boundaries of the law in order to reap the rewards of wealth.

In terms of concern for individuals, there is no difference between business and crime, one is merely assailed to a more significant degree by the state then the other. Both remain antagonistic to law as they chase the glory of breaking limits in quests to fulfill the desires of others.

Perhaps the danger that must be watched for is the equation of the state with one group or another. A state beholden to the criminal is just as bad as a state beholden to the businessman. According to the reflections of some Russia and America may have reached a degree of equality in this regard, or at least heading towards it.

There always needs to be somebody to create the limits that are to be transgressed. If they are absent both desire and others become irrelevancies and crime and business can only be simple murder and theft. People smuggling is as good a sign of a healthy state as is a diverse marketplace.

If only this were the place to give details I would, just as Jean-Jacques would have if he had writen in the right place.

“If this were the place to go into details, I would explain how inequality of influence and authority become inevitable among individuals as soon as, being united in the same society, they are forced to compare themselves with one another and to take into account the differences they discover in the continual dealings they have with one another. These differences are of several kinds, but since wealth, nobility or rank, power and personal merit are generally the four principal qualities by which one is measured in society, I would prove that harmony or conflict between these several sorts of distinction is the surest indication of the good and bad constitution of a state. I would show that as between these four kinds of inequality, personal qualities are the origin of all the others, and wealth is the last to which they are all reduced because wealth, being the most immediately useful to wellbeing and the easiest to communicate, can be readily used to buy all the rest – an observation which enables us to judge fairly easily how far each people has distanced itself from its primitive institution, and the progress it has made towards the extreme stage of corruption. I would observe what extent this universal desire for reputation, honours and promotion, which devours us all, exercises and compares talents and strengths; I would show how it excites and multiplies passions, and how, in turning all men into competitors, rivals or rather enemies, it causes every day failures and successes and catastrophies of every sort by making so many contenders run the same course; I would show that this burning desire to be talked about, this yearning for distinction which keeps us almost always in a restless state is responsible for what is best and what is worst among men, for our virtues and our vices, for our science and our mistakes, for our conquerors and our philosophers – that is to say, for a multitude of bad things and very few good things. Finally, I would prove that if one sees a handful of powerful and rich men on the pinnacle of grandeur and fortune, while the crowd grovels below in obscurity and wretchedness, it is because the former value the things they enjoy only to the extent that the others are deprived of them and because, even without changing their condition, they would cease to be happy if the people ceased to be miserable.” P133 Jean-Jacques Rousseau A Discourse on Inequality.

Art is Theft

Andy Warhol collectors are currently up in arms about the dramatic loss in value some works attributed to him are suffering. One work from the Red Series made the dramatic descent from $2 million to nothing. The cause of the decrease was the stamping of ‘denied’ in bright red on the back of the canvas.

That stamp was a costly little addition given by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts as part of its authentication efforts. What, above all, has got people up in arms about that stamp is that the actual process of determination is entirely secret and appears arbitrary. That 1 in 5 of works attributed to Warhol are knocked back amplifies the significance of the issue. The ramifications, however, run much deeper than the trade-able value of certain works by a certain artist, the situation highlights a general arbitrariness in the determination of art as art.

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