RIP Vladimir Bukovsky (1942 – 2019)

Vladimir Bukovsky was a Russian human rights activist and Soviet dissident.

The Soviet Story (2008), Bukovsky is the one with the bizarre shirt

I am a child of the Cold War and I can still remember where I was when the Berlin wall fell.

I used to be much more sympathetic to the left, growing older has made me lean more to the right. You know what they say:

“If at age 20 you are not a Communist then you have no heart. If at age 30 you are not a Capitalist then you have no brains.” […]

One of the greatest cognitive dissonances of the 20th century is the continuous attraction of communism, this dream of justice and equality (embodied by Sartre (Dirty Hands) , Che Guevara and the hippies) and the paradoxical contrast with the actual gruesome fiasco of the first communist system (and all subsequent communist systems). And yet, it’s not hard to see why communism, this Opium of the Intellectuals, holds such a powerful attraction at a time when the earth, a finite cake, is being greedily devoured which results in polluted air, polluted water and polluted nature, essential resources that should be common and free to everyone. That’s why I call myself a ‘commonist’ sometimes.

Back to the topic. The dissident Bukovsky, the man who wrote a pamphlet with the title Manual on Psychiatry for Dissidents (1974) at a time when thousands of dissidents were locked up in psychiatric hospitals all over the Soviet Union. This manual instructed potential victims of political psychiatry how to behave during interrogation to avoid being diagnosed as mentally ill

Bukovsky is interviewed prominently in the documentary film The Soviet Story (2008), featured on YouTube without subtitles for the parts in Russian language. The film has its flaws I’m sure, and it was financed by a right-leaning grouping of European political parties but it is nevertheless of interest.

There is for example the analysis by George Watson of the Völkerabfälle-episode and there is Françoise Thom‘s dictum that “nazism [is] an ideology based on false biology and communism is based on false sociology“.

RIP Nick Tosches (1949 – 2019)

Nick Tosches  was an American writer, music critic, biographer, a jack of all trades.

I admit that although he had had an entry on my encyclopedia since 2008, I didn’t really know Nick Tosches.

He seems to have been a bit of a drug head, as Burroughs had been before him.

He was into country music and rock, a bit of a rockist it would appear.

He died relatively young.

I give you “Erebos” [above], a spoken word track from Fuck The Living Fuck The Dead (2004).

RIP Harold ‘western canon’ Bloom (1930 – 2019)

Harold Bloom was an American literary critic.

Bloom interviewed by Charlie Rose on ‘The Western Canon’

He is perhaps best known for his book The Western Canon, to its supporters a work defending art for art’s sake, the absoluteness of aesthetic value and literary genius; to its detractors a defense of elitism and dead white males. This makes Bloom is a cultural critic in the tradition of Matthew Arnold who stated that “[culture is] the best that has been said and thought in the world” (Culture and Anarchy, 1869).

I discovered Bloom in the early 2000s in a period I was researching the nobrow concept.

His death has been a good occasion to dig into the university library and bring home The Western Canon and The Anxiety of Influence.

That last book has two remarkable poetic texts, “It Was a Great Marvel That He Was in the Father without Knowing Him” and “Reflections upon the Path“. That second page-length text I have been unable to identify.

The bulk of today’s research went to The Western Canon, it is arguably Bloom’s best-known work and it has had relevance outside of the lit crit world.

The notion of a canon has also recently shown itself the object of a political debate in Flanders, the region I live and where the right (NVA) has managed to include it into to the policy of the Jambon Government The opposition (the left) was against it. The culture war fought in our region is one akin to the clash of civilizations of Huntington, more specifically the west and how it tries to come to to terms with the renewed religiosity in the form of Islam.

That Bloom’s canonization of 26 authors was an apolitical process can be read on page 4:

“I am not concerned with . . . the current debate between the right-wing defenders of the Canon, who wish to preserve it for its supposed (and nonexistent) moral values, and the academic-journalistic network I have dubbed the School of Resentment, who wish to overthrow the Canon in order to advance their supposed (and nonexistent) programs for social change.”

If you’re not familiar with Bloom and what to catch up quickly, you may want to check the interviews Bloom gave to Charlie Rose.

Here [above] is one in which he makes a couple of amusing and astute observations on the western canon and its detractors:

“If multiculturalism meant Cervantes, then who could protest? [but] they are asking us to read extremely inadequate Chicano writers.”

and

“That ridiculous metaphor we now call ‘empowerment‘, which is cheerleading as far as I can tell.”

As can be deduced from these quotes, Bloom considered political correctness an enemy of the literary criticism trade.

RIP Charles ‘death of modern architecture’ Jencks (1939 –2019)

Charles Jencks was an American cultural and architectural theorist best-known for playing a decisive role in the historiography of postmodernism by publishing the book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (1977) more than fifty years ago.

 Koyaanisqatsi (1982) featuring footage of Pruitt–Igoe

He was not the first to play a role in this historiography, Robert Venturi, who died in 2018, had published Learning from Las Vegas (1972) before him.

For me, Jencks’s death was a good occasion to score a copy of The Language of Post-Modern Architecture at my university library.

I got hold of a first edition, which is important because it features the introduction which is not part of subsequent editions (it’s not, for example, in the 2002 edition which I also lent).

This introduction is the one which reflects on the adequacy of the new term postmodernism in these words:

“The phrase ‘post-modern’ is not the most happy expression one can use concerning recent architecture. It is evasive, fashionable and worst of all negative – like defining women as ‘non-men’.”–p. 9

The second section of the book, titled “The death of modern architecture” has a poignant criticism on modern architecture, more particular a criticism of Purist ‘living machine‘ Corbusier style architecture. The critical analysis of this type of architecture, which reminds me of the progressivism-skeptic discourse of John Gray states:

“[The] Purist style, […] was meant to instil […] corresponding values in the inhabitants. Good form was to lead to good content, or at least good conduct; the intelligent planning of abstract space was to promote healthy behavior. Alas, such simplistic ideas, taken over from philosophic doctrines of Rationalism, Behaviourism and Pragmatism, proved as irrational as the philosophies themselves. Modern architecture, as the son of the Enlightenment, was an heir to its congenital naivities […] These shortcomings are now well known, thanks to the writings of Ivan IllichJacques EllulE. F. SchumacherMichael Oakeshott and Hannah Arendt.”–p.10

This second section also contrasts the “not the most happy” genesis of the term postmodernism with the happiness of being able to determine the exact moment of the “death of modern architecture”:

“Modern architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri on July 15, 1972 at 3:32 p.m. (or thereabouts) when the infamous Pruitt–Igoe scheme, or rather several of its slab blocks, were given the final coup de grâce by dynamite.”–p.9

Jencks was not the first to criticize modern architecture and certainly not the last. “Machines for living” schemes such as the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, for various critics, including Tom Wolfe, illustrated both the essential unlivability of Bauhaus-inspired box architecture, and the hubris of central planning.

Incidentally, the death of modern architecture coincides with the death of the avant-garde.

But enough.

I leave you with a fragment of Koyaanisqatsi (1982) which features footage of Pruitt–Igoe and of its demolition (above).

RIP Ginger ‘Cream’ Baker (1939 – 2019)

Ginger Baker showing off 😉

Ginger Baker was an English drummer best known for his work with Cream (“Sunshine of Your Love“, 1967).

Sunshine of Your Love” (1967). which sounds a lot like Jimi Hendrix

More importantly, he also played with Fela Kuti on Fela’s London Scene (1971), Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1971), Live! (1972) and Stratavarious (1972):

Fela’s London Scene ( 1971)
Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1971)
Live! (1972)
Stratavarious (1972)

He also recorded two albums with Bill LaswellHorses & Trees (1986) and Middle Passage (1990):

From Horses & Trees (1986)
Middle Passage (1990)

RIP Vlasta Chramostová (1926 – 2019)

Vlasta Chramostová was a Czech actress perhaps best-known for her part in The Cremator (1969), one of several Central European films that dealt with the Holocaust.

The Cremator is featured in Film as a Subversive Art (1974).

The Cremator (1969)

In this film, Vasta plays Lakmé, the wife of the delusional cremator who prepares for the endlösung.

Below is the OST by Zdeněk Liška.

OST to The Cremator (1969)

From top to bottom: Metaphor (1972) by Hawkes, Shipwreck With Spectator (1979) by Hans Blumenberg, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936) by I. A. Richards, A Grammar of Metaphor (1958) by Brooke-Rose and Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960) by Blumenberg.

Studies in metaphorology

It’s good to live in a city.

From the UA library on 3/10/19:

From top to bottom: Metaphor (1972) by Hawkes, Shipwreck With Spectator (1979) by Hans Blumenberg, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936) by I. A. Richards, A Grammar of Metaphor (1958) by Brooke-Rose and Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960) by Blumenberg.

RIP Sid Haig (1939 – 2019)

Sid Haig was an American actor known for his parts in Jack Hill’s exploitation fare (Spider Baby (1968), Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974)). He also had a part in THX 1138 (1971), the science fiction film directed by George Lucas in which in a dystopian future the populace is controlled through mandatory use of drugs that suppress emotions.

Spider Baby (1968)

Cult Movie Stars (1991) describes Haig as:

“Ugly, ruddy faced, usually bald, and occasionally bearded — he looks like an original member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention — Haig has been a seedy presence in low-budget, sex- and action-packed drive-in movies since the mid-sixties.”

Above is Spider Baby (1968) in which Haig is Ralph, one of three inbred, demented, and dangerous siblings. Ralph is a sexually advanced, but mentally deficient simpleton who moves through the house via the dumb-waiter. Unable to speak, Ralph communicates with only grunts and leers.

The siblings are introduced by their guardian as:

“Well, no. It’s more than a retardation. It’s sort of a regression, a progressive deterioration of the mental faculties, a rotting of the brain, so to speak. It begins in late childhood and progresses rapidly, ultimately resulting in physical deformity, rather like the last stages of paresis […] The unfortunate result of … inbreeding.”

The full film is on YouTube.