Arts and Clture and Politics

Mark Rothko, Abstract Expressionism and the Decline of Western Art, Part 3

Abstract Expressionism and the Culture of Critique

Abstract Expressionism was disproportionately a Jewish cultural phenomenon. It was a movement populated by legions of Jewish artists, intellectuals and critics. Prominent non-Jewish artists within the movement like Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell married Jewish women (Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler). Willem de Kooning defied the trend, although he generally had to ingratiate himself with the overwhelmingly Jewish intellectual and cultural elite focused around the journal Partisan Review which was ‘dominated by editors and contributors with a Jewish ethnic identity and a deep alienation from American cultural and political institutions.’[i]

It was an art movement where the culture of critique of Jewish artists and intellectuals, frustrated that the post-war American prosperity based on Keynesian foundations had prevented the coming of socialism, turned inward and instead “proposed individualistic modes of liberation.” This mirrored the ideological shift that occurred among the New York Intellectuals generally who had “gradually evolved away from advocacy of socialist revolution toward a shared commitment to anti-nationalism and cosmopolitanism, ‘a broad and inclusive culture’ in which cultural differences were esteemed.”[ii] Doss notes how this ideological shift manifested itself among the post-war artists who became the Abstract Expressionists:

As full employment returned, New Deal programs were terminated — including federal support for the arts — the reformist spirit that had flourished in the 1930s dissipated. Corporate liberalism triumphed: together, big government and big business forged a planned economy and engineered a new social contract based on free market expansion… With New Deal dreams of reform in ruins, and the better “tomorrow” prophesied at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair having seemingly led only to the carnage of World War II, it is not surprising that post-war artists largely abandoned the art styles and political cultures associated with the Great Depression.[iii]

The avant-garde artists of the New York School instead embraced an “inherently ambiguous and unresolved, an open-ended modern art … which encouraged liberation through personal, autonomous ‘acts’ of expression.” The works of the Abstract Expressionists were “revolutionary attempts” to liberate the larger American culture “from the alienating conformity and pathological fears [especially of communism] that permeated the post-war era.”[iv] Rothko claimed that “after the Holocaust and the Atom Bomb you couldn’t paint figures without mutilating them.” His friend Barnett Newman remarked that if people only read his paintings properly “it would mean the end of all state capitalism and totalitarianism.”[v] Read more

Mark Rothko, Abstract Expressionism and the Decline of Western Art, Part 1

The life and career of Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko is a prototypical Jewish story that encapsulates a range of themes discussed at The Occidental Observer. Central to Rothko’s story is the political radicalism of eastern European Jewish migrants arriving in the United States between 1880 and 1920; the reflexive hostility of these migrants and their descendents to the traditional people and culture of their new homeland, and how this hostility was reflected in the artistic and intellectual currents that dominated Western societies during the twentieth century. Rothko’s story also exemplifies other familiar themes including: the force of Jewish ethnic networking and nepotism in promoting Jewish interests, and the tendency for Jewish “genius” to be constructed by the Jewish intellectual establishment as self-appointed gatekeepers of Western culture.

With Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko has been accorded a leading place in the ranks of the Abstract Expressionists. If there is such a thing as a cult artist among the liberal Jewish intelligentsia, then Rothko is probably it. Important people stand in grave silence before his empty expanses with looks on their faces that bespeak lofty thoughts. As a critic for The Times noted:

Rothko evokes all that could be criticized as most pretentious, most clannish, most pseudish about his spectators. They stand there gravely perusing something that to the outsider probably looks more like a patch of half-stripped wallpaper than a picture and then declare themselves profoundly moved. And many outsiders will start to wonder if they are being duped, if this Modernist emperor actually has no clothes on and his fans are just the blind followers of some aesthetic faith. Read more

Superman Shrugged

The recent release of a film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged has brought Ayn Rand’s fantasy of the world’s supermen abdicating from the role of stewards and leaders to a much wider audience. Within her frame, these men are noble and their decision to retreat into “Galt’s gulch” is an honorable response to the indignity and exploitation they’re exposed to. As others have noted, this fantasy doesn’t jibe with the current situation. While elites of yesteryear may have actually created wealth as titans of industry or ambitious innovators, today’s elites don’t make wealth, they take wealth.

To borrow from another book by Ayn Rand, today’s elites are Ellsworth Toohey, not Howard Roark.

And the “shrugging” that our White American elites are doing is less of a principled boycott than a manic fit of self-glorification. In the animated blockbuster Megamind, the presumptive hero “Metro Man” abandons Metro City to become “Music Man”, leaving the city to burn in the hands of the villains while indulging his juvenile hobby. This is a much better metaphor for the collective decision by our overlords to turn their backs on their stubborn and myopic White American minions. They’re not buckling under our burdensome demands as John Galt had been. They’re hellbent on making minions of the entire world, of upgrading from mere American elites to global elites.

Superman renounces his citizenship

In an emblematic case of art imitating life, Superman will be renouncing his U.S. citizenship in the upcoming edition, stepping up from the lowly post of being the steward of a nation (and thus an implicit nationalist) to becoming an exciting new global superhero. He doesn’t answer to us — he answers to the United Nations. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Barack Obama, and the rest of America’s elite have preceded Superman in their own quests to take the wealth and power they amass in America and pour it into the “developing” world. It’s a truly bipartisan effort, with Former President George W. Bush and his wife lobbying for the Middle Eastern women they haven’t buried alive or vaporized to have more “women’s rights“.

Read more

“A Serious Man” Revisited

Larry Gopnik

I don’t have much use for light comedies, but I love dark ones. Thus I have been a fan of the Coen brothers ever since their first movie Blood Simple, which I regard as a masterpiece. But not all of their movies succeed. The Coens are at their best when they are working with tight and ingenious plots. Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, and No Country for Old Men (no comedy that) come immediately to mind. However, when they stray from tight plotting, their movies tend to fail. But one still has to grant that films like Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? are at least interesting failures.

At first viewing, I thought A Serious Man was just another interesting failure. But my mind kept coming back to it, like a tongue seeking a sore tooth, until I broke down and watched it again. This time, I think I got it. And I like it. I am going to summarize pretty much the whole story, so if you have not watched it, bail out here. Read more

Derrida’s (Crypto-) Jewish Identity

In Culture of Critique I had a brief section on philosopher Jacques Derrida’s strong Jewish identity and how that informed his writing. (See here, p. 198ff.) It emphasizes the point that Derrida thought of himself as a crypto-Jew. Despite his pose as “a leftist Parisian intellectual, a secularist and an atheist,” Derrida descended from a long line of crypto-Jews, and at one point he explicitly identifies himself as a crypto-Jew: “Marranos that we are, Marranos in any case whether we want to be or not, whether we know it or not.” Derrida changed his first name to the French Christian sounding ‘Jacques’ in order better blend into the  French scene.

Indeed, one might say that Derrida’s crypsis is typical of Jews on the left:

[Leftist] universalism may thus be viewed as a mechanism for Jewish continuity via crypsis or semi-crypsis. The Jewish radical is invisible to the [non-Jew] as a Jew and thereby avoids anti-Semitism while at the same time covertly retains his or her Jewish identity. Lyons (1982, 73) finds that “most Jewish Communists wear their Jewishness very casually but experience it deeply. It is not a religious or even an institutional Jewishness for most; nevertheless, it is rooted in a subculture of identity, style, language, and social network. . . . In fact, this second-generation Jewishness was antiethnic and yet the height of ethnicity. The emperor believed that he was clothed in transethnic, American garb, but [non-Jews] saw the nuances and details of his naked ethnicity.” (Chapter 3 of CofC, p. 91)

The Forward has an article on a recent biography of Derrida that adds to the portrait. It notes that Derrida was “acutely aware of his ethnic identity” and as a result much of his early writing was on “fellow Jews.” He took his crypto-Judaism to the grave:

Abundant details provided by Peeters prove Derrida’s lasting devotion toYiddishkeit When Derrida was buried, his elder brother, René, wore a tallit at the suburban French cemetery and recited the Kaddish to himself inwardly, since Jacques had asked for no public prayers. This discreet, highly personal, yet emotionally and spiritually meaningful approach to recognizing Derrida’s Judaism seems emblematic of this complex, imperfect, yet valuably nuanced thinker.

In other words, Derrida was a crypto-Jew until the end and instructed his family to participate in the charade.  Read more

Charles Dodgson replies to comments

I want to thank commentators for pointing out errors in my review of Band of Brothers. Watching the sequence again I can see that it was Webster who shouted out at the surrendering German troops. And sure enough there are the different types of uniforms on the camp inmates, as John Orloff notes. Also I did not realize that Liebgott was in fact Catholic or that Tom Hanks is partly Jewish (actually I still don’t realize that Hanks is Jewish). One part of the camp scene in which an error occurs is especially important because a prisoner explains what the camp is and who the prisoners are. The exchange is as follows:

(Liebgott interprets.)

Winters: “Will you ask him what kind of camp this is? Why are they here?”

Prisoner: “It is a work camp for Unerwuenscht.”

Liebgott cannot translate the final word.

Winters: “Criminals?”

Prisoner: “No. Doctors, clerks, musicians, taylors, farmers, intellectuals, . . . Jews, Jews, Jews . . . Poles, Gypsies.”

My review correctly quoted the prisoner as identifying the camp as a work camp. However, where the prisoner comes to describe ethnicity and nationality my review omits his mention of Poles, though I do include Gypsies in quoting him. The omission does not affect my argument because Jews are clearly emphasized, more so in the literal transcript above than in my review. Nevertheless this and other errors are embarrassing. Read more

Steven Spielberg: Body Snatcher–A Review of the Miniseries “Band of Brothers”

Band of Brothers, the 2001 TV miniseries, was produced  by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

Episode 9 was directed by David Frankel and written by John Orloff.

Based on the 1992 book by Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers. E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle Nest, Simon and Schuster (reviewed edition by Pocket Books, 2001).

In ten episodes, Band of Brothers depicts how E (“Easy”) Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, trained in America and England and then fought from D-Day through to the end of the European phase of WWII. It is a technically strong and gripping production. The battle scenes are among the most realistic I have seen, though one must allow for the demands of the cinematic medium — emphasis of a few individuals and spatial compression of combat groups. I am reminded of the grim and gritty street battle sequences in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. This review looks at the ninth episode, which does not depict military conflict but is itself something of a black operation in the culture wars.

As our own Edmund Connelly has repeatedly demonstrated, Jewish interests have frequently been pushed by American television and Hollywood films in various ways, often as a backdrop to stories unrelated to ethnicity, like the omnipresent upper class Anglo twit and the Black genius technical expert. The 9th episode of Band of Brothers, titled “Why We Fight”, represents an unprecedented level of ambition — to claim America’s WWII sacrifices as motivated by the desire to save Jews from Nazi persecution, to make America’s sacrifice in WWII all about the Jews, not about Americans doing their duty in a tragic internecine conflict. Read more