Thursday, July 26, 2007

My take on Hilton Kramer: Journal Entry1982


Hilton Kramer has resigned as art critic for the NYT and announced the appearance of a new review: The "New Criterion." In reading the publisher's introduction, I detected a familiar tone. When I came to names from "Commentary" and the "National Review", the source was plain.
There have been several articles and reviews on music in "Commentary" recently. They have taken a critical tack I've found odd and unsettling. Not criticism of individual works, but generic criticism. Attacks on jazz, on popular music, on the dilution of the teaching of "serious" (European concert) music in the curricula of American conservatories and schools of music. This seems to be a pose of writers and intellectuals, politically right-wing, with an active agenda to "correct" modern culture, which they are sure has gone miserably astray.

They are "anti-... ": anti-communist, anti-populist, anti-democratic, anti-soviet, anti-liberal (the last of whom, by design or unconsciously, are cast as the handmaidens of Marxism).

They are authoritarian elitists.

The new thing here is this emphasis on controlling culture. The arts, literature, music, theater; all are seen through a kind of backwards Marxist lens, busily purveying hidden social programs. The real purpose of criticism, it seems, is to expose the hidden social agenda, which, by their lights, is the matrix and context of the work, then to demonstrate the political/economic wrong-headedness of that context. The work itself is but a means or foil for the serious business of promoting political and social orthodoxy. Art is taken seriously, the way Marxist criticism takes it seriously--not for its own sake (whatever that may mean), not for the meaning or importance inherent in any particular work, but for the place a work occupies in the social-political matrix of which it is both example and creator-advocate.

This new-conservative, neo-classical-authoritarian criticism begins with its own dogmatic orthodoxy, but an orthodoxy that is clear and formally articulated only on the political-social level.

In other words, it's not about art, it's about politics. Art held up to political ideology.

Their problem is, they can't deal with art. It's too slippery. Like a guerrilla army in the hills. So the New Authoritarian eliminates the enemy by a master stroke; it transforms by magic thinking, art, artists, and all their supporters, into pure ideological terms. For ideological battles the Authoritarian's rhetorical weapons are well honed.

It's characteristic of the these guys to be more eager to attack the supporters of the arts than the artists or their work. They're realists. They know where the money is. And in the White House, having not the slightest idea what any of this is about, they have no mere sympathizer, but a crusading general.

... and that was 1982. Twenty-five years. A quarter of a century they've had to dig in, when anyone who was paying attention could damn well read the writing on the wall.

What I didn't see then... was how they would come to attack science with the same ideological chain saws.

Science and the arts are, as long as each remain committed to their very different callings, bedfellows, co-conspiriters--equally at risk in an authoritarian world.

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