December 29, 2004

Mark von Schlegel

Googling for Mark von Schlegel's writing, I find this site, This is part of the intro by Tessa Laird, I clip for you here (emphasis mine, and I tried to clean up several anomalies in the text, unsure of the propriety of doing so):

When I told Marc Herbst I would like to contribute to The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, he asked me if I could write a piece on the current "role of criticism" I'd written lots about art in the past, so I said "sure", pretty positive of my critical credentials. But the more I read up on criticism, particularly within the context of the Los Angeles art world, the less certain I became. I felt like I had stumbled into an anthill, where thousands of industrious (anty) intellectuals were going about their business of empire-building and ankle-biting.

My own role in this society was negligible, to say the least (aphid? dust mote?) as I began to realize a full-scale critical war was underway, mired in a rhetoric as black and white as Dubya? post 9-11 paeans to binarism. Brian Tucker painted a succinct picture of this division in X-tra? Summer 1999 editorial:

...discussion of art often takes the form of belligerent camps who caricature each other, then wage war against the caricatures: In this corner, wearing white trunks, Reactionary Patriarchs, their jackets grandly embroidered with the word beauty. And in red, fun-hating Marxist Puritans who strive to repress every wayward tongue and testicle.

Tucker, very sensibly, calls for dialogue instead of warfare (sound familiar?), rightly acknowledging that we are all, at the end of the day, folk that like to talk about art, and therefore ought to be able to find some common ground. Besides, he opines, Dave Hickey isn't Hitler. "I think he is", counters an anonymous colleague of Tucker.

At this point I had to shake my head. How did it come to pass that someone as seemingly affable as Hickey was being equated with the architect of the Holocaust? Hickey? A penchant for classicism coupled with regular jabs at his favorite punching-bag - the politically correct art institution - make him popular with conservatives and libertarians alike (and yes, we know they are alike). But does this kind of retrograde vision really spell the doom of everything we have fought for? Or is it simply an invitation to an invigorating ideological joust? To lose one's sense of humor is perhaps more fatal than loss of morality. Hickey plays the Joker in a deck that is stacked against the humorlessness of the left.

I myself like Dave Hickey very much. Joker or Ace? I wouldn't go against him in a card game. People who consider him to be reactionary don't know the meaning of the word.

This is a pretty fair description of the character of the dialog (a generous word) in the LA art scene. One reason for this perhaps is that there are several art schools (5 by one count) in that metropolis, and pecking orders are inevitable, espeically within each school.

Anyway... Pardon this immediate digression into the LA art scene, the subject here is Mark von Schlegel (and I don't know what Mark thinks of Hickey's writing, by the way). Mark will be publishing a scifi novel in 2005 to be published by Semiotext(e). Here, we jump to Mark's statement (of which Mark puts forward his views, which doesn't entirely match mine, but thankfully neither he nor I think they must do so):

Mark von Schlegel
Critic, Los Angeles, Editor of The Rambler

It's a strange time, culturally speaking. To my mind, Matthew Arnold's call for the critic "to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and by in its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas" remains valid and necessary. Western art has found itself in a position where it depends on criticism and writing more than ever before to create historical continuity in a field that tends to be fragmented and often perplexing. Artists today depend on ideas and rely, in part, on criticism to help define and trace their achievements. That said, today's art criticism threatens to devolve into a monotonous publicity and marketing of individual artists. If one wants to bring in ideas and connections and theories etc. one's welcome to, but one tends to be published and distributed because of the names positively dropped and the works illustrated. It's important that the critic (who tastes so little of the perks he or she helps generate for others) resists this trend. "What is more insidious than any censorship," the sometime censor T. S. Elliot once said, "is the steady influence which operates silently in any mass society organized for profit, for the depression of standards of art and culture."

There are readers all through the art world eager for honest, thoughtful criticism. We tend to look to publications these days not as forums of ideas but for revealing the current shape of art world power-positioning, yet an authentic work of criticism, when it appears, can function with more immediacy and authority than ever. The 100th anniversary edition of October Magazine was dedicated to the proposition that thoughtful criticism is obsolete. It was interesting that this particular issue was the most readable and challenging in years. Criticism gains freedom and honesty from a perceived obsolescence.

Theory, when it's printed, is practice. As we enter an age of religious atrocity, it's natural that early Enlightenment methodology should resurface. The Rambler takes its title from a semi-anonymous 18th-century Grub Street publication, one of many such sheets that littered the streets of London in those days. It's an attempt to reach back to an Enlightenment in its youth - wherein a tiny intellectual trickle (I recommend Blanford Parker's Triumph of Augustan Poetics on this) was able to enter the stream of public reality without recourse to any power but that of its own press. "Reason" obviously, philosophically, is a political posture - a symbol of individual power in a silencing, psychotic world. When reactionaries adopt it to preserve false histories and consolidate oligarchic power, terrible troubles ensue. The Rambler includes a healthy dose of science fiction as both acknowledgment of the claim possible futures hold on our generation and as satire of our own quasi-libertarian reactionism.

With the Rambler, we fantasize that the smallest, semi-anonymous, most localized collaborative publication can help generate wars of ideas, fictional trends, perpetrations of hoaxes, attacks in print, geo-political shiftings, the foundings of rival newspapers and schools who stand for something, etc. In other words, make it of actual consequence again, as we fantasize it used to be in the early Enlightenment, to write, to make art, to be alive. By presenting popular fictions beside art criticism, political analysis beside raw complaint, and giving ourselves the individual respect that only writers can give to other writers, we hope to gain energy and novelty by collapsing market-imposed, disciplinary boundaries. In its de-categorizing potential, contemporary Art culture remains, in many senses, wide open. Our first issue called for the resignation of George Bush. We hoped to be one among a series of such gestures and found ourselves relatively alone, even somewhat frightened and paranoid. But our artist readers appreciated the gesture -- eager to perceive their own place in a world larger than the contemporary machinations of a peculiar, elusive economy. Art needs to reach out to the "outside" world, for its own sake as much as for the sake of the "outside" world itself which has looked to it for moral and political initiative in the past.

In America today rights to free speech are in jeopardy; non-violent citizens are getting picked off in Home Depot parking-lots and professors shot in class rooms, while an abandoned, over-sported environment radically deteriorates. We artists and writers are a part of that America and our lives may not be so long. It's not so difficult, we've discovered, to make something cheap, something honest and awakening (advertisement and image-free) for people to read.

(For the interested reader, copies are available free at Diannepreuss gallery, Chung King Road, Chinatown).

I look forward to reading his upcoming novel.

Posted by Dennis at December 29, 2004 3:54 PM

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