Maciek Jozefowicz's BlogSubscribe
Taschen Publishes a Scroll (To My Dismay)
I just picked up my mail and received a new Taschen catalog. I like Taschen because the books they publish are visually attractive (not much depth but superficially beautiful, like a supermodel (which actually is one of their staple publishing genre: photos of naked or semi-naked female or male supermodel types. Even their architecture books, which I used to own a large number of, is essentially architectural pornography)). But what displeased me enough to write this is seeing in the catalog the first publication of a scroll format I’ve ever seen (I wonder where they got the idea?). The packaging of the scroll is beautiful. The scroll mechanism seems simple, practical and looks elegant (five stars for that). But the choice of the work to publish in a scroll format is a tragedy! I understand that the original work, of which this is a facsimile, is a 6.5 meter (21 foot) long scroll. But the creator of this work had no understanding for the beauty of the format that he was working in. This looks like a book (Taschen actually includes a 122 page book version of this scroll with this scroll). The regular intervals of text and images (a repetition that quickly becomes tiresome) correspond to pages. The only visual graphic that can be said to take advantage of the continuity of the scroll format is the background border. But that is mere wallpaper. Everything else is adopted to the rhythm of a book. To have wasted the resources to publish this work as a scroll is tragic (and unless you speak German (but then again Taschen is German) the only reason to buy this is for the novelty of the format). And to ask $700 for this limited edition of 1,746 copies is criminal (but understandable. The format is irregular and thus is expensive to produce). But while printing a scroll as a scroll is laudable (again, where did Taschen get the idea? My first blog entry in 2010 was about publishing a scroll), the choice of the work is highly disappointing. (My own scroll-comic, Welcome, Welcome, Welcome, would be far more appropriate for such a publication (and is far superior and original as a scroll). Unfortunately I probably will not have the funds to complete this unique children’s story (which is currently at a rough draft stage and will stay there indefinitely)).
12/27/12, 4:13PM PST
On Montaigne’s “On Friendship”, Facebook and the Future of Presidential Elections
“Of a perfect society friendship is the peak. For, generally speaking, all those relationships that are created and fostered by pleasure and profit, by public or private interest, are so much the less fine and noble, and so much the less friendships, in so far as they mix some cause, or aim, or advantage with friendship, other than friendship itself...
...For the rest, what we commonly call friends and friendships are no more than acquaintanceships and familiarities, contracted either by chance or for advantage, which have brought our minds together. In the friendship I speak of they mix and blend one into the other in so perfect a union that the seam which has joined them is effaced and disappears. If I were pressed to say why I love him, I feel that my only reply could be: “Because it was he, because it was I.”
...one detail: the number of friends. For this perfect friendship of which I speak is indivisible. Each gives himself so absolutely to his friend that he has nothing to dispose of elsewhere. On the contrary, he is sorry that he is not double, triple, or quadruple, and that he has not several souls and several wills, so that he can bestow them all on this one object. Common friendships are divisible; one may love one person for his beauty, another for his ease of manner, another for his liberality, this one for his paternal affection, and that one for his brotherly love, and so on. But that friendship which possesses the soul and rules over it with complete sovereignty cannot possibly be divided in two. If two called on you for help at the same time, to which of them would you run? If they asked contradictory services of you, how would you reconcile them?...
...I greatly admire the young soldier’s reply to Cyrus, when he was asked how much he would take for a horse on which he had just won first prize in a race, and whether he would exchange him for a kingdom. “Certainly not, Sire,” he answered, “but I would gladly part with him to gain a friend, if I could find anyone worthy of such a fellowship.” He was right to say ‘if I could find”. For it is easy enough to find men fit for a superficial acquaintance, but here, where a man commits himself from the depths of his heart, keeping nothing back, it is essential that all the springs of action be perfectly clean and reliable.
...Menander, of old, called a man happy if he had met only with the shadow of a friend.”
-Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), ON FRIENDSHIP, translated by J.M. Cohen
By Montaigne’s standards, true friendship is as rare and precious a find as true love. And it is. I suspect that a vast majority of us do not find either (if true friendship is “indivisible”, as Montaigne believes, than true friendship and true love would have to be contained in a single person) and we either make a choice of going without (those rare, spoiled idealists who will not compromise) or we settle for the best that is available to us (many even go so far as to brainwash themselves into thinking they have found true friendship and true love until they eventually recognize otherwise). Maybe that is why there is such an obsession in America with popularity. What we lack in quality, we try to compensate for in quantity. But desire for quantity could also be a measure of our materialism and simpletonism. Many of us consider friendship as a commodity. The more friends we posses the more successful we feel. And, of course, it is easier to make judgements based on quantity than on quality. It is obvious to anyone that 100 is more than 10 (and must be better, right?) but it is less obvious as to which is better: “this one” or “that one”? (Facebook is an ideal expression of this and its phenomenon is a reflection of our age and culture. But it could be improved: in addition to keeping a precise count of our “friends”, it should also allow us to rate their quality on a 1 to 10 scale (this would, unfortunately, complicate assessing our “success” a little. Is having one “8” friend and two “5” friends better than having eight “3” friends. Is having one “10” friend equivalent to having ten “1” friends? What is needed is a mathematical formula that would allow us to gauge the exact total value of our friendships. I’ll work on this formula and present it in some future blog (But what about cheating? If each individual is in control of rating his/her friends would they not inflate these numbers to feel more “successful”? This would be classified as a white collar Facebook crime and proper punishment would need to be applied to discourage such activity. Internet prison? Your Facebook profile thrown into the slammer?))) But than maybe this obsession for popularity, for being liked, originates in the American electoral process and the spirit of democracy (it could also originate in capitalism. Every friend is a potential customer. Don’t celebrity incomes depend largely on the number of fans they have? The more fans, the bigger market for their products (movies, books, music, posters, etc.). The bigger the market, the more they get paid for whatever they do that they get paid for). After all, elections are popularity contests, contests of “like-ability”. And in this kind of a contest quality does not matter, quantity is king. That is why Facebook is the ideal platform for conducting the Presidential elections. Maybe in the near future that is how Americans will vote for their president: via their Facebook page. Just click the “Like” button and your vote will be counted. The man with the most friends becomes the President.
12/27/12, 4:10PM PST
On Franz Kafka’s Last Request, Burning Drawings, Drowning Babies, Misjustice and Purpose
“Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread .... Yours, Franz Kafka” - Franz Kaftka, from publisher’s note of THE CASTLE
If we are to believe Max Brod, Kafka’s closest friend, then this request was a fake. It was not expected to be carried out. It was a last attempt at legend making and marketing by Kafka. And it succeeded, as is shown by almost every introduction and/or biography of the writer that mentions this request and Brod’s failure in acquiescing to it. If Kafka wanted his work burned he should have burned it himself, like Michelangelo who burned many of his drawings himself. (Why did one of the greatest Western artists burned his work? Certainly not for publicity or legend. Did he not want to pollute his oeuvre with inferior work? I think Vasari, in his “Life of Painters”, explains that Michelangelo destroyed some of his drawings because he did not want his ideas to be stolen by other artists (just think how paranoid he would have become in the age of the internet). In fact, Michelangelo’s studio has been broken into and some of his precious drawings were stolen) It is hard to imagine a creator destroying his creation. An artist burning his drawings is like a mother drowning her children, except worse (yes, I know how crazy that sounds). It is worse because her children are not as thoroughly part of her as drawings are part of the artist. To create art requires years of obsessive training and years of sacrifices. It requires years of physical and mental work, of suffering even. To create a child it takes patient bearing of nine months of discomfort. It does not require years of learning and suffering (I suppose, one could spend years of learning how to have sex but would that be considered sacrifice?). Drowning your child is drowning another being (it is immoral and evil! Fortunately the drowning of children is a rare event. But, unfortunately, there is a different kind of drowning of children that happens, I believe, regularly around the world, including America. This drowning goes unnoticed and largely unacknowledged because it is insidious. It is the drowning of a child’s potential. And this drowning starts with the mother and the father (quite often unconsciously) and it continuous in schools and other public arenas), burning your artwork is burning a part of yourself. But while it may be difficult for artists to destroy their work, more of them should (As sacrilegious as this may sound to collectors, Renoir should have destroyed some of his paintings. He left too many. They all look the same or very nearly the same and dilute his oeuvre. Picasso left too much work also. He left behind him about 40,000 pieces. That is an example of lack of restraint due to ego and vanity. But, in a way, it makes sense in evolutionary terms. It is like a fish laying millions of eggs in order that at least a few thousand (a few hundred?) of them survive to reach adulthood. It is a survival strategy for a gene pool. That must have been Picasso’s motivation. After all, an artist should not need 40,000 artworks to prove his greatness. A few dozen masterpieces and a few hundred drawings to complement them should be enough. Giorgione and Vermeer left far less (some psychologists studying creativity and art have suggested that there is a close connection between creative “energy” and sexual “energy”. A prolific creative outflow thus may be a simple symptom of sex deprivation. What would you rather be doing, a painting or a woman? Picasso answered that!)). They should destroy their art to avoid the indecent and disgusting and unjust situation of millions of dollars exchanging hands between businessmen and businesswen and various museums after the artist’s death while during his lifetime he had to struggle with poverty (Van Gogh is the classic example, of course. But hardly the only one. Cezanne and Rembrandt are among the most famous and greatest that fit this template). An artist should burn all his unsold work at the end of his life for the sake of justice (posthumous fame and fortune has no value. And, as Czeslaw Milosz suggests in one of his poems (At Yale), an artist should not despair at burning his art as he will be reunited with it, “on the other side of fire”). Some philosophers suggest that this is the purpose of the human species: to bring justice to the universe. Maybe it is to this purpose that we were created by God or through evolution or by God using evolution. After all, no other animal attempts to incorporate right and wrong into its daily existence. We are the only animal that seems to want to live by a certain moral code (at least most of us, at least some of the time, when it suits us, as long as we fear being found out and punished or ostracized). Of course, by justice I don’t mean the kind of absurd legal system that Kafka wrote about in his novel The Trial. His fictive jurisprudence is, unfortunately, not too far off from the real thing (this can easily be shown by a multitude of examples. Misjustice (the real word in injustice but this one sounds more appropriate) abounds). We have a long evolutionary journey to go if we are to reach our purpose as a species, if this is our purpose.
12/27/12, 4:00PM PST
Superheroes: Nudes in Disguise
“The history of art could be written in terms of a sequence of compulsive subjects that seem to succeed each other for purely internal or artistic reasons. Such, for example, was the succession of apples, harlequins, and guitars that occupied artists in the early years of the present [20th] century. And in Florence, from about 1480 to 1505, the compulsive subject was a battle of naked men." - Kenneth Clark, THE NUDE, A STUDY OF IDEAL FORM
The nude, an object of painting and of sculpture for thousands of years, has virtually no history in American art. Or does it? One genre which has been presenting the nude for almost a hundred years now (ever since its inception in the early decades of the twentieth century) is the superhero comic. After all, what are superheroes (graphically) but castrated male nudes body painted. At least that is what they look like in their skin tight costumes (is it not amusing that the great models of male masculinity and male strength and power, men with superpowers, are presented as colorful, castrated nudes? Would it not be more appropriate to express masculinity by a superhero with a gargantuan fifth “limb” which he would use to bludgeon criminals with? (“For his codpiece they took twenty-four and a quarter yards of the same stuff; and its shape was that of a bowed arch, well and gallantly fastened by two fine gold buckles with two enameled clasps, in each of which was set a huge emerald, the size of an orange. For (as Orpheus says, in his Book of Precious Stones, and Pliny, in his final book) this fruit has an erective virtue and is encouraging to the natural member. The bulge of the codpiece was eighty-one inches long, slashed like his hose, with the blue damask puffing out in the same way. But if you had seen the fine gold-thread embroidery, and the charming plaiting in gold, set with rich diamonds, precious rubies, rare turquoises, magnificent emeralds, and Persian pearls, you would have compared it to one of those grand cornucopias that you see on ancient monuments, one such as Rhea gave to the two nymphs Adrastea and Ida, the nurses of Jupiter. For it was always brave, sappy, and moist, always green, always flourishing, always fructifying, full of humors, full of flowers, full of fruit, full of every delight. I swear to God it was a pleasure to look at! But I will tell you a good deal more about it in the book that I have written, On the Dignity of Codpieces. On one point I will inform you now, however, that not only was it long and capacious, but well furnished within and well provisioned, having no resemblance to the fraudulent codpieces of so many young gentlemen which contain nothing but wind, to the great disappointment of the female sex”. -Francois Rabelais, "Gargantua", translated by John Cohen) It is curious that it was only a haircut that was the cause of Samson’s loss of his superpowers, fortuitously allowing him to have many more years of fruitful relations with, if not Delilah, then with other females whom Samson would need not impress with any superpowers. After all, since when has it become a test of man’s mettle in being able to lift buildings?)) The superhero nudes are the American Apollos (like those ancient marble sculptures with missing limbs. Well, with a single missing limb, in this case), not exhibited in the public square or on the friezes of temples or on various vases (the American public associates the nude with pornography and is squeamish (as well as we should be squeamish about pornography in public. Pornography should be safely hidden in the corner of the closet underneath all those old sweaters), squeamish about its presence in the public arena (maybe with the exception of fashion/celebrity magazines which are the other genre where the nude can be found in the American culture). Michelangelo would probably have had a hard time making a living these days as no other great artist’s art depended on the nude more ("he developed an extraordinary power of communicating his feelings through knots of muscles...[and] with a few elements, the muscles of the torso and thighs, above all the junction of the thorax and abdomen, [he] can evoke an immense range of emotional effect." - Clark). Can you imagine Michelangelo drawing superhero comics to eke out a living?), no, not exhibited in public spaces but contained for private perusal within periodicals. The ancient Greek culture lives on. Even the Greek homoeroticism lives on in this genre (or is that a stretch?). The superhero comic book is a Greek gymnasium where naked youths exercised (strutted their stuff like some ancient Chippendales) in front of male viewers (women were not allowed into the gymnasium, women were, generally, not allowed out of the house (except the female servants (who were, of course, not real women) who needed to get to the market to get materials for the days meals). Is it not strange that the main audience for superhero comics is the adolescent male (I use the term loosely, referring not only to the teenager but also those 20 and 30 something adolescents who ravish the genre regularly and which Marvel and DC have made their target market). Strange, considering that it is the American adolescent male that exhibits the most vehement homophobic tendencies. What would Freud say about this? Is it a satisfaction of subconscious homoerotic desires in a culturally acceptable way? (For the record: I have read superhero comics as a teenager and beyond and I am fully, unpendulatingly heterosexual (am I being suspiciously defensive about this? What would Freud say about that?)). In any case, it would be interesting to study the development of the nude in this genre. Maybe someone, somewhere, will write a book about it, The Naked Superhero. This might make an fun companion to Kenneth Clark’s The Nude, A Study in Ideal Form (“The Greeks discovered in the nude two embodiments of energy, which lived on throughout European art almost until our own day. They are the athlete and the hero, and from the beginning they were closely connected with one another...At these games [Olympiads] it was customary to present the winners with large jars, on which were painted representations of the branch of sport at which they had excelled: and from these vase paintings begins the long history of the nude in action...We feel in every line of these purposeful bodies a capacity for endurance and self-sacrifice for which the word moral is not inappropriate. Of this the Greeks themselves were, of course, perfectly conscious; and it was an embodiment of moral energy, triumphing through physical means, that they created the myth of Harakles." -Clark) The Naked Superhero could document the evolution of this ideal form that was created to express energy and vitality. And it could also document the evolution of our culture's moral energy as depicted through the battle of naked men who possess extraordinary powers.
12/27/12, 3:52PM PST