Klaus Theweleit: «Art and Shock — The Reversed Reality»

in Album – On/around the work of Urs Fischer, Yves Netzhammer, Ugo Rondinone and Christine Streuli, 2007, aux Presses du Réel

pp.89-106, Klaus Theweleit, «Art and Shock — The Reversed Reality»
«Black humor, sarcasm, obscenity, and shock were once used, in the arts, to subvert political and moral conformity. But what effect do these strategies still have today? Comparatively the popular media machinery produces more intense stimuli and binds psychic energies: in talk shows, the psychopathology of everyday life has become entertainment, in the tabloïds, political transformations surface as events abbreviated into images, and in films, historical traumas appear as well-narrated, comforting stories. Klaus Theweleit explores a current dilemma, and discovers points of departure in the underground comics of 1960s and 1970s San Francisco. Where satirical tactics contribute to a loosening of the social body, and pornography is encountered as means of critical cognition.» Introduction par Daniel Kurjakovic
«The most enlightened, hallucinatory view of the world of the second half of the twentieth century, especially the American world and all its insanities, was developed by a closely knit group of American comic artists from San Francisco in the 1960s. What Robert Crumb, Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, Gilbert Shelton, and around twenty other cartoonists brought to paper in this city around the mid 1960s in their self-produced and distributed comic books, at first in black and white, and then in color, can today be seen as a collection that violated basically all existing taboos that had existed until then in America —especially when it came to the representation of things sexual. Or as the author Patrick Rosenkranz termed the work of this San Francisco comics underground, America’s only real revolution during the twentieth century. A fan’s exaggeration or a justified evaluation? That’s one question. It is no question that these comics had exactly the effect they wanted: they quickly tore down all forms of sexual restriction, not just for the generation of those directly participating in San Francisco, inadequately described as Hippies, a culture of notorious drug eaters that in the course of the dissolution of conditioned body limits and personality structures also dissolved the structure of the love object; the claim to personal possession in the sexual realm disappeared for around a decade from the behavioral repertoire of a large part of the first American post-war generation, as a whole understood as a great opening. « Open up your mind »: bodies and their perceptive apparatuses opened to an uncensored representation of all conceivable or inconceivable forms not just of the sexual, but also in life in general. Aldous Huxley’s drug book The Doors of Perception, provided the name for a musical flagship of the changing drug and sex culture: The Doors.» ….

«But, hardly anyone born after 1980 knows these comic artists and their work: not even who are particulary interested in questions of the popular culture underground. Somehow an obliterating wave seems to have crashed on top of these works and this phase of our « culture ».
This raises various questions: about the origin of the American Puritanism that is today again so dominant. Did it simply resurrect? Furthermore, the question of the tenability, or as one says today, sustainability of such « revolutions » in artistic realms. There is the question of the decreasing effectiveness of taboo violations, legal violations, outlawness, racy anarchy. To be more precise: is the power of such shock today basically used up? Are transgressions and taboo violations that work with shock still effective in any way as artistic strategies? Who is reached by transgression in the age of a general hardboiledness, when the « forbidden » is omnipresent in the media? What has changed in the perceptual apparatus of the younger generation? What role is played by the sexual, and what role is played by the arts and by the media through which it comes to us? »

[...] The loss of a whole series of religious and social prescriptions, which massively decreased the pressure on single individuals to conform in the course of the 1970s to the 1990s, of course implies a changed relation to the whole complex of « transgression ». [...] The paths created by tearing down restrictive walls are not just populated and expanded by the prophets or practitioners of « new freedoms », but also  by the producers, traders and sellers of garbage. There is no social, affective transformation that does not have its point of interface with the market: the marketplace of ideologies and economic market. Standing at each breakthrough (percée) are not just the prophets, poets, experimenters and dreamers, but also gangsters who check the new gaps for what can be financially milked; who are quickly on hand with new products, who seems to satisfy the ensemble of new « needs », but in fact just exploit them; usually, or almost always with the well-trained use of new technologies. In 1980s and 1990s this primarily took the form of new media technologies. In the rougher (rugueux) forms of their application, we can regularly find an aggressively anti-artistic structure, whether intended or not —that’s what characterizes their potential criminality. As I said, I don’t think the transgressions of the underground comics have lost their power of humor. Their artistic verve, their accurate analytics, their sparkling drive towards liberation from constant idiocy all remain fully unbroken. [...] The criminality [of the new media technologies products] lies elsewhere, in abolishing the beholder’s (spectateur) capacity for distinction caused by a constant overdose of « bad shit »; stupid, violent fucking around, torture without consequences [...]; The perceptive apparatuses of many of today’s youth are pasted over, bombarded with endless amounts of « bad shit » —sometimes at a very small age. Many have no orientation in their ability to take up « sexuality » or « violence », and thus in the psychological processing of human relationships. So, they react with numbness (engourdissement), or identification with the agressor. A large part of today’s twenty to thirty year olds (never mind the younger ones) live in a state of excessive emotional demands transported by the media.
It is not the forbidden « suppressed » (refoulés) that comes out in these media productions. No, the notion and/or the fact of the « suppressed » plays almost no role in their psyché. They know all the crap (merde), they carry it about with them in their minds and are now either dependent on its consumption (addicted) or bored; that is, they are out of its reach and push aside « the stuff ». But as consequence they do not really look when media comes before them in the cloak of agressive transgression, or to be more precise, attacks them. The reasonable ones just pass by it, or check it off in the category « that’s crazy nonsense, leave me alone with that ». While the addicts notice indeed that there is a potential here that could criticize my behavior, my addiction; so out with it and in with the next violent porn movie. It at least underscores (souligne) my state as one of normality: for everyone I know consumes it like me —Hot! (with our heart pounding in your pants). The other there, artistically « good things », in contrasts, just want to convince me that I’m a gaga. (And they might well be right. To hell with it. « Intellectuel crap ». I’m too stupid for it. Ha ha. We all agree.)
This would also mean that shock material that is exquisite in terms ot quality does not reach either the relatively rational beholders or the passive-dependent rest, apart from a small circle of artistic schooled or crafty people. The criminality of those serving the market users has guaranteed that the perception of the artistic quality of such product among the young generation has all but died out. The agressive liberatory aspect that was there at a certain historical moment has not been censored away this time. On the contrary. It’s been taken to the extreme and made cheaply available to everybody. In particular, the organs of perception have been capped for all those towards which these arts, the underground comics, could direct themselves. Their « revolutionary potential » si simply overlooked (oublié). This is true of most productions today that rely on breaking rules. (s’appuient sur des protocoles de rupture). Where there is no (fixed) psychologically anchored canon of rules, nothing can be properly « violated ». Unless, if the fuses blow, we call the referee an asshole: primitivist, autodestructive.

What to do? The painter Blalla W. Hallmann [...] drew  a special conclusion: raising the dose of transgression to such an extent that just looking away doesn’t work; because  what is already visible in his images on first glance demolishes in a single second the massive overall (ensemble) « understanding » that we lug (trimbalons) about as a kind of protection. So a « second look » has to be risked. Hallmann’s cycle of Hitler pictures from the 1990s might just show a « way ». Hallmann concisely shows that Hitler cannot be shown without pornography. Pornography not as material for masturbation, but as a coginitive instrument, even if crude one. But it was also done by the comix artists in their way. [...] It is not fake to paint Hitler fucking a pig; what is fake is giving a prominent actor a mustache and Hitler costume and letting him spea « original » Hitler sentence. [...] Works that are only acceptable at the price of theirteve definition whether this is understood as indiivual or « social », but I do not see a fundamental theoretical difference between psychic appearances in the individual or social groups. The psychological mechanisms approach one another, only their intensity differs. I would indeed distinguish the hallucinatory clarity frome psychosis, more precisely: from the state of acute psychotic phases. The first leads to a kind of beatitude (as in the late Nietzsche), the latter to serious illness (as also present in Nietzsche). For an artist, there is a gradual transition; the balance that success or failure depends upon. With too little intensity the transgression cannot be achieved; with too much, it threatens to become self-devouring. The transgressive artist verges (est au bord) more closely than ever before on psychosis.»
[Si le raisonnement est intéressant, les peintures Blalla W. Hallmann sont loin d’être convaincantes. Elles n’ont pas ce que dit l’auteur à propos de la production des années 60 et 70: «an artistic verve, accurate analytics, a sparkling drive towards liberation from constant idiocy».
Steve Wood