Saturday, February 19, 2011

Liberalism, Bad Faith and Interpretation

A lot of crappy culture product is made to deliver gratifying white supremacist, misogynist, queeraverse messages in a kind of crude code which invites and supplies the material for defensive misreadings. The exculpatory mis- or dis-interpretations however require a certain willful stupidity and are not really about convincing so much as smugly refusing reason. They are themselves a secondary aggression which the works enable, added on to the initial symbolic violence - the pleasure of impunity flaunted.

This is one perfect example of a piece designed to communicate offensive and aggressive content in an unmistakeable way while permitting defensive misinterpretation, but requiring that misinterpretation to be ostentatiously stupid, to refuse, for example, to know there are two images, not one, that are "not feminism"; to refuse to acknowledge chronology and the implication of consequence in sequence; to refuse to see the images not only in a fixed sequence but simultaneously, as juxtapositions and comparisons in such features as the contextualising of the figures and the celebrity of the women. (Kahlo's image, labelled "pre-feminism", associated with an era before feminism and a female life untouched by feminism, is her own renowned artistic product; she pictures herself in a context of nature, flora and fauna; the image itself is of great beauty and enormous value, etc.. Greer is a celebrity whose angry recognisable face crowds the frame blotting out all context and thus expressing egotism as well as aggression; her image is bereft of value as image; she is envisioned, in contrast to the others, as not silent and not in the act of submitting herself to a gaze for the pleasure of the gazer. The porn image of a minor or non-celebrity is a reproducible commodity image; it is taken looking down at the subject in contrast to Greer whose photographer looks up; in contrast to the others it is signifying an immediate past that is more important than the captured moment and indispensible for understanding the present portrayed...).

In "defence" of the picture, one "feminist" interpreter wrote:

I don’t particularly like this man’s work, but I don’t think he was saying that taking a load is a punishment for being a feminist – I think he was saying that it is the inevitable result of NOT being one...

It is a comment remarkable for the unembarrassed obtuseness and superficiality of the engagement with the piece that requires so little interpretive sensitivity it is a labour to supply less than is wanted, and also for the careful addition of an assertion of independent and free thought ("I don't particularly care for..."). Though this text does not have a great deal to it, "Bebe" has to cut one third of it off entirely - the idyllic pre-feminist image of and by the pre-feminist artist - and obliterate most of the picture's content (chronology and implied consequentiality, comparison by juxtaposition) in order to suppress the portion of the obvious she wishes to deny. This response is made possible by the crudeness of the work itself but also by doctrinal liberalism which validates her interpretation, however idiosyncratic, nonsensical and groundless, as personal and "an opinion" to which she has "a right". (In several respects this response recalls the standard liberal Kauffmanite readings of Nietzsche.)

Spectacular violence against women is increasingly accompanied by these kinds of reception accessories.


  1. I'm trying to remember, but first time around on this "work" I don't think any of us explicitly pointed out that "idyllic' "pre-feminist" represents woman deeply involved in communist circles. The internal visual context displaces the historical context.

  2. thanks chuckie - both Kahlo and Greer can be supplied social contexts; the cum faced girl is without biography or individuality.

    Seems to me Kahlo's environment and politicsed aesthetics and political radicalism is all suppressed here under this function of her image brought out by the label and the comparisons - the mother nature thing, the harmony and the glamour and stature it gives her...her "eternal feminine with strand of pearls" aspect. Her humility guarantees her power/stature. Then Greer whose image is presented as a me me me egoist celebrity. That would echo this argument about feminist seperatism and feminism - and women's selfishness and competition - destroying the masculist bourgeois "enlightenment project" 's supposed natural course to socialism via ever expanded "inclusion" achieved through education in increasing abstraction.

    the artist of this piece seems like bit of a knucklehead actually - refers to women as "the female species" - but either by a gift for recognising semiotically active stuff to import, or by the fact of the existing base of his "big idea", the thing invites a fashioning of "feminine" and "feminist" in a structuralist raw and cooked story that ends with cutsey pomo irony.