kitsch is never done for

Posted on June 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

From Daniel Tiffany’s endlessly interesting book on kitsch:

The vehemence of the modernist campaign against kitsch demonstrates that, beneath the current associations with mediocrity and harmless pleasure, kitsch has always functioned as an irresistible locus of moral and aesthetic taboos: triviality, hedonism, fakery, but also—somewhat incoherently—homosexuality and fascism.Unresolved in the wake of high modernism, the anxiety about the pleasures (and dangers) of kitsch continues to assert itself in forceful, though perhaps less absolute, ways. If radicalism in the arts implies—at least in part—reorienting the viewer towards whatever appears to be vacuous, trifling, indulgent, or worthless, then kitsch still marks an elusive frontier: to equate art and kitsch, or to deliberately produce kitsch. as if it were art, flirts even now with artistic suicide, with the self-destruction of art. 

Kitsch in its original formulations is said to be the antithesis of “true” art—what Greenberg calls “synthetic art.”  More bluntly, he states, “Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. … Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious.”  Broch declares simply, “Kitsch represents falsehood (it is often so defined, and rightly so).”  For certain modernists, the spurious nature of kitsch is inseparable from its mimeticism (which Greenberg calls a “surplus of realism”), in contrast to modernist abstraction.  Whatever the terms of comparison (between kitsch and “true” art), the basic attitude towards kitsch adopted by the modernists who defined it is riddled with condescension. It is crucial, however, to emphasize that the term “kitsch” has been used historically by only a restricted segment of society, the intelligentsia. What the elite calls “kitsch” may in fact conform to the basic criteria of “art” for many people. Thus the person who consumes and enjoys kitsch is never “the person who uses the word ‘kitsch.’”  From a sociological perspective, then, kitsch is an aesthetic category suspended between those who control its public name (to destructive ends) and those for whom it has no name (or who prefer not to use its public name), between those who refer to it with contempt and those who enjoy it without irony, reservation, or shame. This polarized structure reinforces the fundamental terms of misidentification and uncertainty surrounding kitsch: Is it art or not? But also, is it true or false, authentic or fake? Kitsch is thus not simply a particular kind of artifact but an artifact imagined and judged in divergent ways by communities in conflict with one another.


Acknowledging the interdependence of elite culture and the adversarial potential of popular culture inevitably engages Peter Bürger’s conception of the historical avant-garde as a movement integrating art and life, vanguardism and populism. 16 From this perspective, kitsch may eventually be regarded not as the nemesis of the avant-garde (in Greenberg’s formulation) but as a baffling mutation of Dada, a development marking the collapse of the iconic—and unstable—opposition between avant-garde and kitsch.

Questions on the digital world –AI, the ‘uncanny valley’ of extreme mimicry, etc.–cry out in the noisy void.