Thursday, November 22, 2012

In Madrid the great Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa has just published a nonfiction work, "La Civilización del Espectáculo, in which he indicts the current deterioration of culture and the arts. "Culture, in the traditional sense of the world, is today on the verge of disappearing," he writes. "Or perhaps it has already disappeared, discreetly emptied of its content and replaced by another, denatured version of itself." 
Nowhere is this deterioration more glaringly evident than in the contemporary visual arts. Most of the work is intellectually undemanding, offering no access to the rich historical resources of art,  yet offering "fun" instead. If, paradoxically, it can be claimed that the work offers an incisive critique of capitalism and consumerism, that is fine--provided one need only reflect for 30 seconds or so on the lessons ostensibly conveyed. 
The Pied Piper of Hamlin in this realm is Andy Warhol. A current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art documents the influence of this malign magus on sixty other artists in the last half century. Influence to be sure, but to what end? Actually, the reductio ad absurdum of the tendency excoriated by Vargas Llosa is occurring at another NYC institution, the Museum of Modern Art.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In a session of the recent Harry Hay conference here in New York on “Queer Characters” (Sept. 29) we discussed the question of whether a certain amount of craziness was not in fact a prerequisite for active participation in the gay-emancipation movement prior to Stonewall, and even after. A good example was Donnie the Punk (Stephen Donaldson aka Robert A. Martin), who was examined in an excellent presentation by Tavia Nyong-o. I knew Donnie very well. In 1967 while a student at Columbia University he started the first gay student group (as far as we know) in the history of the world: the Student Homophlle League. In later life he was the leading figure in the Stop Prison Rape organization. As far as I could tell Donnie never held a full-time job, and spent a total of six years in federal prisons (he had fired a gun on federal property). He adopted odd hair styles and sometimes wore the robes of a Hindu priest. Those of a more conventional cast criticized him for his “self-damaging” tendency.

The overall pattern is one of disdain for the conventions of bourgeois normalcy; voluntary poverty; and a tendency to burn one’s bridges so that return to everyday respectability becomes impossible. This pattern recurred with many of the early leaders, including preeminently Harry Hay, but also Don Slater, Dorr Legg, and Morris Kight in Los Angeles.  In Boston there were Prescott Townsend and Charley Shively; in DC, Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols.  The pattern is less common with lesbian leaders, though Barbara Gittings and Karla Jay (two very different figures) come to mind.

It seems that, paradoxically enough, a "happy medium" of craziness is needed.  Too little produces timidity and clinging to the closet; too much and one flirts with genuine insanity.  I would say that Donnie (mentioned above) was a borderline instance of the latter extreme. Another is Marsha P. Johnson, the New York trans activist who died in 1992 and is currently being honored in the documentary film "Don't Pay No Mind."

Thursday, November 08, 2012

In some postelection commentaries I have noted something approaching elation at the apparent discomfiture of white people, more specifically white heterosexual males. Ostensibly, demographic shifts will further foster this disadvantaging.
This form of schadenfreude, pitting the majority against the rest (recall that white people still constitute at least 60 percent of the US population), strikes me as dangerous and divisive, especially when added to the now-entrenched dogma of the absolute distinction between the blue states and the red states.  In this way one unfortunate binarism joins another.
This almost gleeful antiwhite sentiment--let us call it what it is (though it is mainly some PC white ideologues who are promoting it)--goes completely against Obama's own approach as I understand it. Already in his 2004 speech, which first brought him to national attention, Obama eloquently rejected such divisiveness, emphasizing national unity. I would hope that he could now step up to the plate and denounce the pernicious notion that his election represents a well-deserved defeat for white people. It does not.

Some background may be helpful  In 1930 the German writer Theodor Lessing published an influential study of a phenomenon he termed "Jewish Self-hattred."  A little later some social psychologists extended the analysis to other ethnic groups in the US, such as Italian Americans.  Moreover, it is a well-known fact that until recently some gay men and lesbians internalized stereotypes that the host society had projected on them.

Now this phenomenon has extended to some sectors of the white population, especially as seen in the effort by PC whites to guilt-trip other whites into voting a certain way.  To do otherwise would be "racist."  I did not vote for Mitt Romney.  Yet I confess that aggressive cajolery of this type made me think of doing so.  It is counterproductive. 
UPDATE (November 13). For those who doubt the existence of this strand of thought, I reproduce the credo of a publication called "Race Traitor":  

"The white race is a historically constructed social formation. It consists of all those who partake of the privileges of the white skin in this society. Its most wretched members share a status higher, in certain respects, than that of the most exalted persons excluded from it, in return for which they give support to a system that degrades them.

"The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race, which means no more and no less than abolishing the privileges of white skin. Until that task is accomplished, even partial reform will prove elusive, because white influence permeates every issue, domestic and foreign, in U.S. society.

"The existence of the white race depends on the willingness of those assigned to it to place their racial interests above class, gender, or any other interests they hold. The defection of enough of its members to make it unreliable as a predictor of behavior will lead to its collapse.
"Race Traitor aims to serve as an intellectual center for those seeking to abolish the white race. It will encourage dissent from the conformity that maintains it and popularize examples of defection from its ranks, analyze the forces that hold it together and those that promise to tear it apart. Part of its task will be to promote debate among abolitionists. When possible, it will support practical measures, guided by the principle Treason to Whiteness Is Loyalty to Humanity."