Emergent Forms of Other Belief

The Crisis Theme that seems to be the default, unchangeable background of everything these days can be exhausting. None of us seems to know how to handle social media – is it for self-promotion? sharing opinions? business? the fck is a status update? connecting instead of conversing – beyond obsessive attention to it or turning it off completely. That the tools have been created to make other people rich appears to be a mere byproduct, but is it? Do I need to read an article on it that my friends agree with to believe that? Every news item from the Dunce-in-chief to climate change to what’s wrong with the Democratic party to health care to guns hermetically seals us in a state of doubtful knowing. And like quicksand, if you try to get out of it too desperately, you’re only pulled back all the more. For those who insist on creating, it can be be double-trouble: your battle is not to react against but still ‘do something.’ What does that mean?

Friend of the blog Jed Perl lays out in an inadvertent cautionary tale in this Rauschenberg review, The Confidence Man of American Art:

It was as a genre-buster—an artist who crossed boundaries and cross-pollinated disciplines—that Rauschenberg was embraced in the 1960s. More than fifty years later, there are more and more artists who seem to believe, as he apparently did, that art is unbounded. The only difference is that our contemporaries—figures such as Jeff Koons, Isa Genzken, and Matthew Day Jackson—have traded his whatever-you-want for an even more open-ended and blunt whatever. A creative spirit, according to the argument that Rauschenberg did so much to advance, need not be merely a painter, a photographer, a stage designer, a printmaker, a moviemaker, a collagist, an assemblagist, a writer, an actor, a musician, or a dancer. An artist can be any or all of these things, and even many of them simultaneously. The old artisanal model of the artist—the artist whose genius is grounded in the demands of a particular craft—is replaced by the artist who is often not only figuratively but also literally without portfolio, a creative personality-at-large in the arts.

One can argue that there are historical precedents for this view. Picasso enriched both his painting and his sculpture by working back and forth between the two disciplines. And the work that Picasso did in the theater certainly precipitated significant shifts in his painting.

Just so, and there is much more. And I do not come to praise Rauschenberg or to bury him. One point can be that, for better or worse, he imagined himself and what he was doing. Sure he was affected by his culture and the times in which he lived. But Jed is correct – the question is where the question (whatever it is) takes the artist. If it runs you back into into the insufferable quandary of boredom or futility, it wasn’t the right question. We can work our way through this time, as others have other times, but not by taking it on directly. Okay maybe, if you’re Zola. But you’re not. So don’t do that at all. Ignore it? Abdication is consent. Also – nothing will change. That’s one reason to like the ‘confidence man’ citizen’s arrest of Rauschenberg. It’s a hefty charge. But that’s okay – you don’t need to [first] accept any of the givens about anyone or thing in order to get somewhere. And this is not about progress, anyway. It’s about getting to all some of that other space, all around you, that seems inaccessible. That’s what can be frustrating – and it’s not even true. It’s just a thing someone has created and you’ve allowed to be in your way, that you need to [yes] use your discipline to think beyond. And [yes] to make something.

Image: Portrait of Apollinaire as a Premonition, by Giorgio de Chiricio, 1914

Away IV

So, if you’re scoring at home, you’ll see that we’ve taken the family up from the south to NYC. And as an airport avoidance system, we arrived by train.

A few things first: a sleeper room runs about the same expense as four plane tickets, plus, as noted above, no airport, which means no parking or driving in, or a cab into the city. Amtrak arrives right into Penn Station.

It’s an overnight trip, and a sleeper includes meals in the dining car – you only pay for wine or beer. Sleeping on our modern US train system in no way resembles sleeping or a modern train system, especially anywhere south of the Northeast corridor; the tracks are rickety and pale in comparison to the pristine state of our roads. This could change in five years with some major investment and high-volume use as the cities along the route are already connected. A high-speed route connecting the same network of towns and cities a la the TGV is easily imagined and only a question of will and prohibitively expensive gasoline.

South of DC, the trains are pulled by diesel engines; in the nation’s capitol they switch to electric, which powers the Acela line and the rest of the commuter lines around the region. One aspect of the new, high efficiency electrical grid that you hear about, the one we desperately need, is that it could be arranged along high-speed rail lines it would need to power. Then it could branch out from there. 

Now off to real bagels, museums and friends, in no particular order.

Take my Train… Please

Been noticing the Acela advertisements across the banner of the NYT. It seemed like a good time to note the formerly diverted attention being paid to Amtrak. One hopes this is just the beginning of significant funding.

Good news for rail supporters. Last Friday, Vice President Joe Biden and 12 members of Congress gathered at Union Station in Washington, D.C. to discuss prioritizing transit. Standing outside in front of an Amtrak passenger car (whose aesthetically displeasing exterior reinforced the message for much needed funding), a purposeful Biden made the case for his favorite mode of transportation:

“Amtrak is a national treasure, For too long we haven’t made the investments we needed to make it as safe, as reliable, as secure as it can be. That ends now.”

I love how Republicans counter with charges of “wasteful spending!” Apparently, an interstate highway has a capacity of about 2,000 cars/hour and thereafter begins to resemble a parking lot.

The South seems so very far away from the rail-connected cities of the Northeast. Because it is. But you can still take the Silver Meteor between Boston and Miami, and the Silver Crescent from NY to New Orleans and many points in between. The line switches from diesel to electric at DC, then you can take commuter lines in various directions. In addition, the drive between Richmond and Atlanta is very long and hardly enjoyable. And in one direction, you arrive in a city where you really don’t need a car. Would be great if Atlanta (originally called Terminus, as it was the place where many train lines ended) became known as a place people left their cars.

We’ve planned an upcoming trip to NYC by train. When you price the four airline tickets, getting to the airport, parking, then the trip into the city from La Guardia vs. arriving directly into Penn station, the prices are comparable. Maybe the more people do this, the more trains they’ll add to the route, ultimately moving the price downward.

Plus, besides being able to leave my shoes on until I want to take them off, it should be fun. And it you get to see all those backyards otherwise hidden from view.