"Everything is dosage" - The Buck Stops Here

"Every work of art is an uncommitted crime," Theodore Adorno writes. Rather than murder people, Freud says of Dostoyevsky, he wrote novels of murders. "Any novel, poem, painting, or musical composition that does not destroy itself," Jean Genet writes," that is not constructed as a blood sport with its own head on the chopping block - is a fraud."

"I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book," Richard Wright comments about Native Son, the novel that argues that Bigger Thomas had to kill to be alive, "no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears."

In fact, governments and zealots of one kind or another do see works of art to be criminal. The list of banned books is long, and it is difficult to think of a well-known work that has not been censored. Fifteen years after its publication, J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye was the most banned book in the country. During that period, there were three efforts to ban the song, "Dixie."

Art may be what you like, but what you don't like is rarely just bad art. Even trash may threaten the status quo. (Dirt, Christian Enzenberger notes, is merely matter out of place.) Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl threatened morality. (I can't kiss a woman's breast on screen, Marlon Brando notes of an earlier time in film, but I can cut it off with a sword.)

What you don't like may also be threatening enough to be considered criminal. Homecoming, a film strongly critical of the Bush administration and the Iraq war, which premiered on Showtime late last fall, has been unable to get theater distribution. Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago was banned in the Soviet Union and the English reader may not have understood why. The Russian reader could not miss it. In the first scene of the book, a passer-by sees a funeral procession and asks who are they burying. Zhivago is the answer. Zhivago - living in Russian.

In 2004, Steve Katz, an artist and co-founder of Critical Art Ensemble, was arrested under the Patriot Act for having scientific equipment, which he uses for his art, but which the FBI argues is for bombs. He is still under indictment. Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers, a film about the Algerian Revolution, was banned by the FBI, which feared it might be an instruction manual for revolutionaries. It has only recently been re-released.

At the end of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim hears a panel discuss the purpose of art. Art, he is told, teaches us how to order in French restaurants; gives color to otherwise white walls; and describes blow-jobs artistically. We know this art well, and seek it out. We go to it for information, instruction, escape, pleasure, fantasy, catharsis (putative), wisdom, experience. If we are to live in the world, however, we need the art that were it not art would be a crime, even if there are those who say it is.

We can't fool ourselves. The crime is not to see the world for what it is and what we are in it. (The Arabs invented the zero, Patti Smith sings, but they are nothing to us.) How much art may help us understand the world may be measured by Nietzsche's comment about history. Everything is dosage, he writes. May not the same be said of a community paper?
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Volume 2, Issue 8, Posted 1:01 PM, 04.10.06