Dumpster/Fire: Traces of Burning Man

With guiding principles like self-reliance and self-expression, and a focus on an inclusive community of free exchange (decommodified gift economy), the event and culture of Burning Man is a great example of the phenomenon referred to as “contemporary spirituality.” Much of my research is concerned with relationships between religious communities/traditions and the ecological systems with which they interact. Insofar as it involves a massive amount of people (upwards of 80,000) converging on a desert ecosystem (Nevada’s Black Rock Desert) and turning it into a city oriented around the values of contemporary spirituality, the Burning Man event is a good example of the kind of phenomena I study. Basically, I want to understand the environmental ethics of contemporary spirituality, and Burning Man seems like a good case to study.

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Politicize Aesthetics, Don’t Aestheticize Politics

It’s worth remembering the following passage from Walter Benjamin’s classic essay on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

“Fiat ars—pereat mundus” says fascism, expecting from war, as Marinetti admits, the artistic gratification of sense perception altered by technology.  This is evidently the consummation of l’art pour l’art.  Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for Olympian gods, has now become one for itself.  Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own alienation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure.  Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism.  Communism replies by politicizing art. (p. 122)

Benjamin, Selected Writings, vol. 3, 1935-1938. (Edmund Jephcott and Howard Eiland, Trans.). Harvard University Press, 2002.

The moral of the story is that the simple implosion of politics and aesthetics is equivocal.  Smooshing them together isn’t inherently beneficial.  The distinction between aestheticized politics and politicized aesthetics is crucial.  The same holds true for the relationship between aesthetics and ethics, a relationship that just about everybody has thought of in terms of the portmanteau, “aesthethics.”  On that note, I’m interested to see how the implosion of the aesthetic and the ethical is figured in the new anthologyAesth/Ethics in Environmental Change: Hiking through the arts, ecology, religion and ethics of the environment, edited by Sigurd Bergmann, Irmgard Blindow, and Konrad Ott (LIT Verlag 2013).

Picasso on Fakes

I heard the following story from Haj Ross, a friend and teacher.  I don’t know it’s origin…it might be a fake.

Picasso is painting in his studio, when an art dealer comes to see him.

The dealer says, “Monsieur Picasso, I have just bought this painting, which was said to be a genuine original. But just to be sure, and in order not to perpetrate any fraud, I have brought to you for authentication.”

Picasso casts a brief glance at it and says, “It’s a fake.”

This is a great loss for the dealer, for he is an honest man. But he carries on, and in four months, he returns with another painting.

Picasso glances at it too, and then says, “It’s also a fake.”

“But cher maître!” expostulates the dealer. “When I visited you last summer at your atelier in Cape d’Antibes, I saw you working on this very canvas. How can you now tell me that it is fake?’

Picasso shrugs. “I often paint fakes.”