Friday, July 06, 2007


Ward Churchill is not the only (soon to be ex-) ivory tower dweller who is assaulting the public complacency with subversive essays spitting in the face of our most widely accepted public myths. One of his fellow underminers is an art teacher at Dickinson College named Crispin Sartwell. He had already shown where his heart truly lies by co-editing the revealingly titled Exquisite Rebel: The Essays of Voltairine de Cleyre -- Feminist, Anarchist, Genius. But Sartwell knows how to appeal to the timid fantasizing geeks on the web before he starts brainwashing them. Consider this from the very first page of his latest book, Six Names of Beauty:
"The Avengers" was a British show, half spy adventure, half surrealist cinema. The lead female character ... was Mrs. Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg. ... She often wore skin-tight leather jumpsuits a la Catwoman.... And of course Diana Rigg was beautiful, all cheekbones and slim curves. At twelve I believed I was in love with her, and I pictured us together -- not having sex, but just talking and perhaps sharing a chaste kiss.
Perhaps one result of all those summers I spent on my grandparents' farm was a graphically informed awareness, even at twelve, that there was a whole lot more to look forward to sexually than chaste kisses. Yet this boring vision still seems to animate (so to speak) Sartwell's emotive gushiness. His latest enthusiasm is for the bizarre, virtually actionless, YouTube "campaign commercials" of Mike Gravel. This is not because Gravel, the Democrats' answer to Ron Paul, appeals to Sartwell's political tendencies with his anti-Iraq War and anti-Drug War and anti-income tax positions. No, it is because his speechless, wordless "ads" appeal to Sartwell's aesthetic ennui:
Mike Gravel is to political advertising what Ralph Waldo Emerson is to the essay, Walt Whitman to poetry, Jackson Pollock to painting, 50 Cent to bullet wounds. He is the avant garde of the new artpolitical era. ...

These are Dadaist campaign ads, as revolutionary in their context as Duchamp's urinal....

In American politics, language has been so emptied of meaning that silence is the only remaining medium of expression.
Sartwell's anarchist war against any message at all is on full display in the Los Angeles Times at "Mike Gravel's ripple effect". Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has helpfully posted the two videos in question at "Moaning In Glorious Epiphanic Pain", along with some meta-critical remarks, including:
One might wonder why someone who seems bent on running a campaign as performance art did not take advantage of the debates by, for instance, staring silently into the camera when asked a question, and then, if the moderator tried to move on to someone else, saying: Excuse me, I haven't finished yet.
The commenters thereupon pile Pelion upon Ossa by supposedly learned references to poetry:
Note how Gravel's candidacy is itself a commentary upon Eliot's veiled Arthurian reference to how "The nymphs are departed" (175 and 179). Rather than simply aligning his own political views with Eliot's jeremiad and noting that America is the Waste Land, he inserts himself into the poem as the "heir" to the American "throne."
and to comparatively recent Presidential scheming:
Nixon reckoned that, if he appeared irrationally aggressive, it would terrify the other side into concessions.... Gravelian Madman theory goes one step further. Not only would his opponent be unable to predict Gravel's potential countermoves, he wouldn't even be able to predict his objectives. A Gravelian stance in negotiating with Iran might be, say, to move a carrier battle group into the Arabian Sea before demanding that Iran cease production of expanded polystyrene, rubber pipe gaskets and canvas deck shoes. ...
That last poster, by accident, has stumbled closer to understanding the essence of Gravel's endeavor. His ads are not Art, or Literary Reference, but fulfillment of the market demands of those who Really Decide Things For You:
The President in particular is very much a figurehead -- he wields no real power whatsover. ... His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it. ... Very very few people realize that the President and the Government have viturally no power at all, and of these few people only six know whence ultimate political power is wielded.
--Douglas Adams, 1979
Perhaps, some day, I may tell you the web sites of my associates, the surprising other three men and two women who really know. But probably not. Would it not be needlessly cruel to expose you to truths you are not prepared to handle? Even Gravel's tangenital obscurantism may reveal too much.

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