File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0107, message 112

Date: Sat, 21 Jul 2001 06:54:48 -0500
Subject: Popmart Levinas

Steve and all, 

Good to hear from you again. I want to write some more about Levinas and
Lyotard.  I was just taking a breather since you were out of town.

There have been several posts now that mentioned Transavantgardism. Can
anyone tell me more about this art movement?  Who were its main artists?
What kind of work did they do? I tried some time back to find out more
about Transavantgardism and came up empty.

Lyotard is certainly critical about this movement.  He writes: "There is
an irrefutable sign of this common disposition: it is that for all those
writers nothing is more urgent than to liquidate the heritage of the
avant-gardes.  Such is the case, in particular, of the so-called

It appears to me that observers of what is loosely termed pop culture
tend to fall between two extremes.  At the one extreme, there are the
corporate cheerleaders who argue for market populism. Corporations are
simply giving the people what they want. Critics who argue that the
media is tasteless are simply practicing a form of elitism. Instead, the
marketplace represents our true democracy at work.  The people vote with
their credit cards.

At the other extreme are the heirs to the Frankfort Institute. They
argue that the culture industry socially constructs commodification and
desire, foisting it on passive target markets to manipulate them for a

My argument would be that the reality usually falls somewhere in between
these two extremes and for those of us on the left who want to
understand pop culture it is not enough to critique it from above. It is
necessary to dig in and understand it from below to truly understand its
potential at times to surprise and shock us and even make us become more

I have been reading C.L.R. James recently.  I find him a very
interesting figure and, perhaps, I'll talk about him more in a later
post.  Anyway, back around 1950 he wrote a manuscript eventually
published posthumously as  "American Civilization."  In it, he said that
in order to understand the potential for radical change in society we
need to examine more closely popular culture.  Writers like Hemingway,
Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Steinbeck (remember this was the fifties!)
provide only limited insight.  Instead, it would be better to look at
films, comics, and music to really grasp what is going on.

I recognize this view has its own limitations, but I would be perverse
enough to argue that "The Simpsons" and "South Park" are more
avant-garde than Damien Hirst, and certainly have had a much greater


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