Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-08-27 - 8:06 a.m.

Listened to the Arditti SQ complete Webern yesterday – I usually pick two or three works rather than trying to swallow it whole. I read K Bailey’s analysis of the String Trio and this opened my eyes to the originality of her placing of this composer. She sees him as applying sonata form to serial materials – and indeed as he matures the variant of sonata form used gets earlier rather than later. Of course she enjoys the irony that those who thought they were influenced by his approach missed the retro dimension of his oeuvre.

I also ‘saw’ where the rose vision-thing slots in – I was skimming through Griselda Pollock’s Vision and Difference plus R Krauss’s introductory article where she puts the vision-thing at the end of a stream of Freudian influence. It’s best to start with Kant and the idea that art works by resonating with the system we use to make sense of the world. The vision-thing thesis suggests that bits of the core Freudian narratives – about the spectator and what’s seen – are embedded in the high level art system. Certain subjects are rendered in certain ways and powerfully engage our attention because they replicate and place us in a core Freudian configuration.

My response to this is two-fold. The first would be to ask whether Judith Butler disengaged the system in the 1990s with queer theory? My second would be to look at the agenda followed by all the various artists who were in Video Acts – they looked to me as if there was a lot of rewiring going on. In simple terms they were following an ‘out of the box’ agenda and maybe they managed to get out of the vision-thing box.

More generally, I have been thinking about schemata and realism – a kind of three phase model – in which the first phase is the classical period where the core compositional schemata are developed and deployed. I have been playing with the thought that the switch from abstract expressionism to minimalism/conceptualism/performance about 40 years ago was the start of the third phase – where schemata are back on the agenda but in a different way.

The realist stance is to say that schemata are delusory and that if you try hard enough the artist can engage with the world without them and display how things really are. On this pattern the absex took themselves to be realists – expressing themselves without schemata. (Well maybe the ‘without schemata’ doesn’t apply to Rothko and Newman.) Is there a common thread across the second phase – was there a broad ‘realist’ stream between 1840 and 1960?

I thought that Ravel and Stravinsky made a good contrast at last night’s Prom and I especially enjoyed the quote that the commentator brought up about Ravel being a swiss watch-maker. I thought the compositional background to the Tombeau de Couperin came across well – what Ravel was trying to say at the end of the First World War and why. There was a time when I played around a lot with the minuet from the TdC – in fact I even think I may have used it as the basis for another piece.

I loved the soloist in the Strav Violin Concerto – ever since hearing Tasmin Little at Leamington Hastings I have been drawn more and more to this voice. But I couldn’t help thinking about the contrast between Stravinsky and Shostakovitch and the 20s and 30s – in the wake of having heard and seen The Nose at Lichfield. The latter seems to be so enormously alive whereas the Stravinsky pieces from the same time aren’t.

In terms of my so-called second phase one can certainly say that in the 20s Ravel, Stravinsky and Webern had crossed a threshold and half heartedly abandoned different kinds of realist aesthetics – one impressionist and two expressionist. Shostakovich is about to enter the debate about realism – in particular socialist realism.

Within this debate, Adorno configures the Hollywood machine in Kantian terms – he suggests that the way Hollywood (as an exemplar part of the culture industry) structures offerings to resonate with the audience is the Kantian structure of the individual transposed to the social plane. The socialist realists have a similar ambition – with a few minor modifications.

I have started to get interested in kitsch – it seems to me to be a term which is used first by Adorno and then by Greenberg – as part of his apparatus for elevating the absex. Kitsch is a kind of intense bad aesthetics which is unreal. But once the realist agenda is over its quite ok eg in pop art – maybe because you can use it to expose the schemata and get out of the box.

James flies out for Odessa today – he’ll be there for a month. When he comes back he’ll be going to St Anthony’s Oxford for two years on money from the social science research council.

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