Sunday, July 09, 2006

Desire & Capital: Detour into a Communist Country

In the Dziga Vertov Group's Pravda (1970), there's a segment where Vera Chytilova speaks as though she's answering an interview question (though it's not a talking heads segment aimed at the camera), and 'Vladimir' says, "Rosa, if you haven't had time to learn Czech, nevermind, it's still the same thing. Chytilova talks like Arthur Penn or Antonioni, and not like a Chinese worker in a Shanghai movie studio." The film (and Godard, and Gorin) mean this as a criticism, as Pravda is a cine-essay on the decaying influence of capitalism and rightist revisionism within Czechoslovak society of the time. (The youths are indicted for dancing all through the spring of '68...) It's something of a stupid judgment, but then again not entirely without a point--after all, who does get to make films in any given society? If Godard's point is that Czechoslovakia is crumbling to capitalism & revisionism from inside and out, then perhaps a state-sponsored film industry is producing filmmakers who will aggravate this development. A moment later, 'Vladimir' intones, "Perhaps in the end it would be best to stop making films and to let others make them." That Daisies is a great film is pretty clear to me and to many people, I am sure, so now the prospect of watching Pravda offers us a retrospective question today: if Czechoslovakia is indeed crumbling because it is not Marxist enough, is it worth attacking and even foregoing the work of the state-sponsored film industry's talents in order to find and cultivate new talents who will further the proletarian revolution instead? (This question is meaningful only if you're sympathetic to Marxism to begin with, I guess.) If so, what do we do with the talents like Chytilova? "Re-educate" them, as the bright lure of Capital has warped their original learnings ... ?

In The Aesthetic Dimension, Herbert Marcuse argues that great art, true art, is inherently tied to revolutionary interests, in that its transhistorical truths offer a vision of life & humanity that go beyond class existence and (in historical terms, in material terms) would therefore advance the class struggle because they offer a "counter-consciousness," something of a utopian impulse. So if Marcuse were an interlocutor with Godard & Gorin here, he'd probably say that Chytilova's work--because it is demonstrably great by some valid criteria--is justified because it is a great artwork and thus gives the viewer something human to latch onto. Godard & Gorin might counter that Chytilova's aestheticism, and her supposedly high aesthetic accomplishment are beside the point altogether--that what matters is that as a 'cultural worker' she demonstrates no desire to further the revolution. Perhaps they, like the Czechoslovakian state, would also attack the feast scene in Daisies--all the gleefully wasted food, a sign of capitalist fantasy and consumerist frenzy indeed! Marcuse is interested in what an artwork can do for a viewer (but he's vague about it), the Dziga Vertov Group is interested in what forms an artwork and its producer take in the constant and precarious struggle between revolution and counter-revolution--taking neither subjectivity nor nuance into account at their peril.

I don't agree with either "side" in this artificial debate I've set up, but simply used them to employ a certain dialogue where I find myself stuck--because the question underriding all else is, how do art and the world relate, and what do we do about it!? And while I may not make a very good Marxist, I do see myself as trying to be critical of the economic and political state of the world, which means that fundamentally I am critical of capitalism. I'm not even sure if we can really polarize it this way, but, when it comes to politically and aesthetically sensitive writing on art, is there a choice that has to be made between Marcuse (or, the properties of the artwork) and DVG (or, the conditions of artistic production)?