I was Literally not Going to Write This Post Today

If I read/hear the word “literally” used to draw emphasis to a phenomenon, my head is literally going to explode.

Alright, you have probably heard the trite use of the word “literally” endorsed from celebrities and rock stars, to journalists and media moguls; but I think it is time to stand up and reconsider the use of the word literally as a way to emphasis and clarify our reliance on clichés and metaphors.

I wasn’t going to write a post about this topic. In fact, I have been jotting down a list of chapter ideas for a non-fiction book regarding the use of popularly accepted idioms such as “like,” “really,” and so forth in order to, perhaps, start a new blog. I firmly think that these words betray something unique about our experience in this world as it is right now. I think it betrays what Jean-François Lyotard first named the “Postmodern Condition” in which all of our experiences are kept at a relative distance form ourselves—obviously I am oversimplifying for the sake of brevity, but you get the point.

In an earlier post, I analyzed the use of the word “like” as a part of speech that frames actions, happenings, occurrences and experiences in a way that keeps those phenomena at a distance from our own lives. So much so that we must then use hyperbolic words such as “really” and “seriously” to bring that simulated experience (the “like”) closer to us.

Here is an example from my post:

Bill: “What’s up? What did you do today?”
Gill: “Oh, nothing much. We, you know, like, threw the football around a bit. Man, once, Lill threw it really hard and I had to run superfast to, like, just catch it, you know?! That was crazy.”

It comes down to our basic social function in this world: communicating our experiences and lives to another human being. But if we cannot grasp the fundamental description of life experiences that happen to our own person, then we will find a way to make up for that, let’s call it, gap in proximity or happening.

My point of focus today is the word “literally,” and I think it fulfills three social functions:

  1. It acknowledges the trite overuse—and universal knowledge of this overuse—of a cliché and amends its overuse by attempting to make the cliché a real occurrence.
  2. It removes the abstract object of metaphor (a comparison without using “like” or “as”), and replaces it with a real thing.
  3. It makes the experience closer, more alive, more Real, more True.

Okay, I literally just went to The Atlantic Monthly‘s website and scanned four articles for the word “literally”. I found one use of it in the comment section (yes, it aids my point). So, let’s dissect his or her’s little sentence with and without the word “literally”

“So the point is, you literally *cannot* escape at this point”
“So the point is, you *cannot* escape at this point”

The commenter is discussing Google, Facebook and Technologies hold on our lives. Yes, yes, it’s horrible—he types across a wi-fi network. The author’s point is that we cannot escape from technology. So, why is he or she using the word literally? The sentence functions perfectly without it, right? Well, kind of.

TechThe author is using an absolute idea. To his or her absolutist point: you cannot escape technology. Well, but, you probably can. There is no way for this author to account for all cases of occurrences where someone attempted to escape the Internet’s grasp and succeeded. Because, let’s face it, no one has that knowledge. It’s impossible to know. In our postcolonial era, claiming that you have absolute knowledge is a logical fallacy, and this author is aware of that fallacy. So, what the author does is place the word “literally” in front of the fallacy in order to emphasize the absolutism of the word “*cannot*”. The irony is that the use of the word “literally” implies that the author cannot prove this fact, so without the word “literally” the sentence becomes closer to a type of Truth.

Here is my final argument: it is not that the sentence needs the word “literally” to emphasize the absolutism; rather, it is that the reader needs the word “literally” to verify and communicate something unique to our time and space. As far as I’m concerned that intangible thing that the reader needs is capitalized Truth. And Truth over the Internet is very, very, really, super-hard to come by because it is unverifiable. Truth over the Internet is intangible. It is the very thing that we are seeking when we type “How do I…” on Google, but then scan three sources before believing the top result.

Sure, this could be simple cynicism and mistrust of knowledge, but I am not about to write off the social predominance of the word “literally” by news media corporations, pundits, documentary film makers, learned individuals, and average Americans. It cannot be that simple.

So, I ask you to aid me in my quest for Truth, and let’s reconsider our use of the word “literally” before we speak or write. Hmmmm, I didn’t even discuss the use of metaphor vs. literally, but that’s for a different post.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

(Edited: To add to my point, I found this a few minutes ago by one of my favorite writers, Derek Thompson: “That other websites don’t do this, or (less likely, but possibly) literally cannot afford to pay writers anything is unfortunate, but it is much more complex than gross exploitation”. Sheesh. “Literally” is literally everywhere!)

Advertisements

The Croatian Communion of Cookies and Coffee

They smuggled cookies everywhere, like children sneaking JuJuBees into a movie theater within the lining of their jackets.

During my last visit, her parents brought a package of cookies to a mountain top cafe where we opened them quietly while the Fraulein was in the kitchen watching for our Café au laits and macchiatos. The restaurant provided cookies. They were individually wrapped, laying leisurely on the saucer, and shaped like spoons to better scoop our cappuccino foam, but it was so impersonal. So individual. Those German wafers were held singularly in captivity, annexed from the true communal nature of their existence. And so they stayed that way throughout our respite.

MountainMaybe it was a survival strategy, or perhaps it was culture, but those cookies that the cafe provided always found their way into her and her mother’s stylish Croatian purses. They were rescued refugees, just like their now owners, and deserved a good home with friends and family to support their struggle for freedom.

Later on, I would recognize those mountain top wafers looking comfortable, yet a bit apprehensive, on the porcelain plate that came out of the fridge during our coffee conversations. Now, finally out of their plastic coffins, they were free to live with their fellow cookie, joyously preoccupied with idle conversation and gossip, exempt of the existential knowledge of their basic function: to be eaten.

I never quite grasped eating cookies and coffee after climbing a mountain. I thirsted for water, Powerade, Gatorade, something that would aid me in my climb, something that Michael Jordan endorsed. Something that promised the replenishment of my electrolytes. So I sat at the cafe sweltering in the tight mountain air, that much closer to the sun, sipping coffee and lightly snacking on the orange chocolate wafers that supposedly bridged the language gap between all of us.

Because of all this, now I crave sugary confections with my coffee. I search through the empty spaces of cupboards. I peer in pantries. I open the fridge, hoping that a cookie has miraculously appeared during my absence.

Cupboard, pantry, fridge. Cupboard, pantry fridge.

Sometimes I vary the routine, but it still yields the same result. The very definition of insanity. It didn’t used to be this way. I took my coffee with cream. No sugar. Half & Half. Breve. But I stayed far away from sugary morsels that usually accompanied coffee to the tables of bourgeois homes.

At her parent’s home—after the soup, salad, and meat course, each course with its own set of dishes and silverware—we had coffee.

Small, white porcelain cups with gold etching encircling the rim would escape the small dishwasher along with their matching saucer, but for only a moment to be used and immediately shoved back in once the discussion dried up. They were the unfortunate ones that barely saw the light of day.

As for the lucky ones, first there was the shiny, metal cream dispenser that sat in the fridge perpetually full, as though magic had replenished it. The only sign of use a slight drip languidly trailing down its spout, or the surfacing and eventual receding of condensation as it was lifted from its natural home within the chilled refrigerator and out into the open Swabian June air.

The other fortunate son was the cookie plate. It was white with blue, sometimes maroon, etching that showed a distant farmhouse of what may have been a Croatian or Bosnian countryside. It looked breakable. As though one more cookie heaved on its lightness would bring it down with a smash on the table. But it never did.

Bday CakeThe chilled plate contained at the very least three variations of sweets, which, like the cream, were replenished through either magic or a craft of secrecy that no guest would, could or should ever puncture for the very lack of decency that knowing might betray. These cookies never failed to appear whenever or wherever coffee was served.

And we endlessly drank coffee. The coffee-stained, glass pot in their kitchen was kept warm throughout the morning, but one never drank coffee alone. It had other functions than fuel for individual achievements. It prodded discussions. It cajoled tears and remembrances. It told our futures.

Like the day before I flew home from Stuttgart airport to Minneapolis, I was the last one to empty the coffee pot at 9pm at night. Her mother smiled at me a smile that squished her eyes and tightened her lips, and then she said in a broken English mixture of Croatian, Bosnian and German accents that now it will be my turn to host.

A flood of images and lingering questions corrupted me: how will I get these people to Minnesota? Where will they stay? How will our families communicate? My mother is infamous for her passive aggressive nervousness and judgmental facial expressions, and her mother’s overbearing nature crams the air with an anxious eagerness that bemoans the fortunes and struggles of two piqued immigrant refugee daughters who no longer need her; and not one son, nor the promise of a grandson, to delightfully and thanklessly devour her food or drink her drink.

WineThat favor, and slight responsibility, fell upon me. And drink I did:

One shot of home-made plum Slavonian vodka before eating.

“Živjeli. Prost. Cheers.”

One glass seltzer water during dinner.

One more shot of home-made plum vodka before the main course.

“Živjeli. Prost. Cheers.”

One cup of coffee. Cream. No sugar. With cookies and cakes for dessert.

One German bier with her father after the table is cleared, with salted snacks emerging from cupboards.

“Živjeli. Prost. Cheers.”

One more German bier, if her father was feeling talkative.

“Živjeli. Prost. Cheers.”

I have been spoiled by the attentiveness of a mother whose only heterosexual daughter has brought home a boyfriend from across the Atlantic Ocean. The first boyfriend they have had the pleasure of hosting and being introduced to in over a decade. The pressure was grand. It was bulky. Fat, yet dexterous.

It tied our tongues. It spoke up in between the silences or the lost moments of translation. It coughed when I nodded in agreement to a word or phrase I did not understand. And it eventually wore her and her parents out.

They would have liked my coffee. I make it four cups at a time in a metal, double-lined coffee press. I ground it one pound at a time and kept it in an airtight container. I would have had snacks ready. Confections of the American breed. Oreos, perhaps. Sugar cubes for her and her father.

I could imagine hearing the dismissal of apologies for mismatched coffee mugs while I poured. A lingering disapproval as I offered cream from the Land O’ Lakes container. The subtle noise the plastic flap the Oreo cookie wrapping made each time we wanted one would be like a siren warning us that something isn’t quite right. Something is mismatched. One of these things is not like the other.

But that moment never arrived.

So, now I’ll continue my search for cookies, and pour myself another cup of coffee while I write about a distant land and a distant way of life. A life without the constant hum of American television, or the hopelessly forlorn pride of single parents, or an inharmonious collection of dishes that betray an utter unpreparedness for guests, or the clenched beauty of traditions that are to be cherished and passed on with force against reluctance.

I’ll pour myself another cup of coffee, and consider what I’ve gained and what I have lost.

I’ll pour myself another cup of coffee, and ruminate on how my past informs my future.

But first, just to make sure there are no cookies, I’ll check the pantry again.

A Collision of Inspiration from the Telly

I have had this note in my iPhone since August 5th, and it is the right time to go on about it.

It was a Monday, and I had the afternoon off. I had finished class that morning, my workout in the afternoon, and I was correcting assignments before my next job while a television program called “Last of the Summer Wine” was softly playing in the background—wonderful show, by the way. And, yes, I feel like an old man admitting to my liking of this show, but I have a small inclination toward British comedies.

So, the quick joke between two characters began thus:

“Do you realize how long people are buried?”

With a witty rejoinder that followed:

“The same way as short people, I imagine.” [insert artificial laughter]

The question was initially promoted with a philosophical air, but fell short where it landed in the ears of the bourgeois—who usually have little to do with philosophy. Well, it brought me to a halt.

So much so that I turned off that glowing-radioactive-entertainment-box and stared off into the distance—which, if you have not done, you should on a regular basis. That question was a very profound moment that collided tremendously with a bit of self-reevaluation that has recently surfaced in my life. Namely that once I die, I am dead forever.

State FairNow, yes, I know, “put it on a friggin’ t-shirt and shut up”. But it isn’t about life. It isn’t about living in the moment and this Carpe Diem or YOLO stuff. It was immense. It was just so profoundly quiet and immense. Perhaps because it was the day before my birthday. Perhaps it was because an important person just stepped altogether out of my life. I just don’t know.

Things haven’t really changed. I haven’t jumped out of a plane, or driven my car really fast, but something has clicked. By now, you might have surmised that I am an atheist. Go ahead, I’ll give you some time to recollect all the subtle (and not so subtle) stereotypes you can muster. Okay. I’ll proceed. I would describe myself, since announcing and embracing the whole atheism thing many years ago, as a navel-gazing atheist. I’m not one to argue or fight or push my interpretations of life onto others. No. I will wholly share my opinion if asked, but if you find God in a phone booth, a flower petal, or the death and life of a loved one, that’s cool. Just don’t treat me like I have some incurable (or curable) deficiency or disease.Light

But here’s where things alter a bit. And it’s with that day: August 5th, and all the collisions that came with it. I don’t care anymore. And I don’t know what that precisely means yet. But it feels earthy. And it feels bigger than I can grasp. And that is profoundly frustrating.

This might sound like I’m asking for support or help through a difficult period of my life, but I’m not, and yet I am. I’ll briefly explain in metaphor, lest this late-night post get too blustery:

I want something different. I want something to start. I want a push, a pull, an overflowing, a deluge, an effrontery, a chain-reaction, and I want to be beautifully ready for it. I want to embrace it. I want to be pulled under. I want to fight hard because I must. I want to sing loud because I can. I want money: to play with, to give, to have, to love, to flourish, to work for me, to buy gifts for others, to put in a paper cup of a blind man, to fill my pant pockets, to fly to India for Holi. I want knowledge to knock me over with its weight. I want friends who call and demand attention. I want my burdens to feel like gifts.

And I can only do this with the knowledge that some day I will die. And when I get off this planet, it will still spin: people will still swear, eat, f*ck, burp, run, bite their fingernails, cough loudly during a film, wake up hungover, ignore those near them for a phone call, survive terrible diseases, orgasm alone, yell “surprise!” in unison, hug their children in public, and cry from laughter.

The cool part is that all this is happening right now…

The Bird and The Conclusion: Finishing my Daughter’s Story

As is often my want on this blog, I will tell a story about parenting. My daughter is six years old and she’s pretty goofy—which is fine by me. But there is something she seems to take quite seriously: telling the Truth—with a capital “T”.

Last weekend, my daughter and I were walking home from a trip to the local park and she noticed a robin hopping around the soccer field. I identified the bird, and she started telling a story. The story began in this way:

“One time, when I was at Nana’s (her maternal grandmother), mommy opened up the door and a bird flew in. ‘Cause there’s a nest there.”

“And…” I said, in wanting of the rest of the story.

(No response)

“So, who caught it?” I asked.

“I don’t remember” she says as she follows the white grass along the soccer border.

“Well, make it up,” I added emphatically.

“But, I don’t remember!”

“Well, you have to have a conclusion. You can’t leave me guessing. You have to leave the story with the reader.”

“Okay. Mommy caught it! And Nana! And Booboo (her maternal grandfather)! And Laura (her aunt)! But that’s not what really happened,” she makes sure to add.

“Yeah, but it’s a way better story. And it has an ending.”

I was struck by this realization: not what we are all telling stories (I mention that a lot on this blog!), but that I want her to tell me a good story. And I want her to be able to tell a good story. In less colloquial terms: I want her to be an orator, an interesting person, someone who understands the essence of an action and its affect; and that’s a story.

jumpstagramThat is how we sell ourselves. That is how we wake up in the morning. That is what gets us to bed at night. What story are we telling? How are we telling it? Can we sleep because of it? Or does it keep us awake all night? Is it the one where the guy gets the girl? Is it the one where they are happy? or sad? Is it the one where the girl becomes famous? the guy fights crime? Which one? How are you justifying your life? your decisions? your thoughts?

No matter what it all begins with a single step. And then another. And then another. And then you look back, often way in the distance, and if you are lucky and someone is listening to you, then you have the privilege of saying: “One time, way back there, this happened…”

Thanks everyone for being that person listening.

Halt Your Enthusiasm!

I am here in Germany visiting my gf, and I happen to be here when the city of Mainz is celebrating their annual Johannisnacht festival. Last night was the final night, and it was celebrated in style with a 15-minute firework display, which my gf and I watched from Theodor-Heuss Bridge that links Wiesbaden and Mainz.

Johannisnacht 1On the first night of the festival, Friday night, my gf and I walked to the city center where the festivities were held and ate a bit of food and had a beer or two. That was the night I learned my first lesson in Germany enthusiasm: Wait until the song, event, phenomenon, is completely finished before celebrating. I am quiet serious. That Friday night we enjoyed a few songs from an all too impressive Black Sabbath cover band playing at one end of the festivities. Being a Sabbath fan from my teenage years, I sang along and cheered whenever I was struck with excitement. And for this, I received some good ol’ fashion German upbraiding: the stare! First, yes, I was the only one clapping… of which my gf informed me I was, um, premature in my celebration (soooo American, she says). And then I got a stare. The stare from an older German gentleman whose fun I was apparently ruining. Lesson learned.

Three night later and I am about to test my new found knowledge at the final celebratory night. It was tough. It was tough for this red-blooded “didn’t-know-how-American-he-was-until-fireworks-came-out” guy NOT to “oooh,” “aaah,” and cheer every time some pretty colors burst over the Rhine. So, I was quiet. I stood and listened to some sparsely hasty, yet hushed, German excitement over the larger fireworks. But for the most part, the collection of citizens in the photos below didn’t make as sound during the whole fiery procession.

Only one dared to make a sound. As an acute cluster of fireworks dissipated, one promisingly remarkable firework shot forth into the sky. As the dormant firework traveled upwards, I heard from a man on my right as the rocket shot high, a barely audible remark; a lovely admission of the pretense of excitement echoed in the most German way possible. A small, yet significant, word was uttered in an almost official tone: “Jawohl…”.

Fireworks 1Fireworks 2

Fireworks 3Fireworks 4

Jawohl. You’re damn right, “Jawohl”.

Who Has Choice?

There is currently a wonderfully written article on The Atlantic Monthly‘s website entitled, “Put Your Shirts Back On: Why Femen is Wrong,” by Uzma Kolsy that I urge all of you to read. But my post isn’t about Uzma’s writing. It is about the comment section.

First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. ...

First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. November 1857.

I love reading articles from The Atlantic—possibly because they are free and often deal with topical cultural/gender/racial issues. But what is often times more revealing, and interesting, than the articles themselves are the comments made by The Atlantic‘s readers. First, let’s acknowledge something: all of those leaving comments must sign in somehow; whether that is through Facebook, Gmail, or whatever online system the kids use these days to remember their friends’ birthdays. They must take the time to sign in and leave a comment. So, it is with some effort and time that they devote to their often inane and dimwitted comments. Okay. Have I lost you yet? I’ll get to my point in a moment.

The article concerns Femen‘s activity regarding Muslim/Islamic culture—and their assumptions about a monolithic, oppressed Muslim female who must be represented, spoken for, and rescued (if you do not know who Femen is, please follow my .org or wiki link). Uzma argues that Femen’s “core flawed presumption” is that “Muslim women are oppressed because Islam is inherently oppressive” (Kolsy). She goes on to write that instead of removing their shirts and presumably speaking for, i.e. representing, Muslim women, they should donate their time to Muslim charities and social organizations. Her bulk argument is that the Femen organization is not helping Muslim women by considering them “unfree” or “oppressed,” but rather they are, first, bringing negative and fallacious attention on Islam, and secondly making Orientalist, racist and sexist presumptions about a women’s right to “choose” the hijab, or any other clothing.

Now, I have “cherry picked” two incendiary comments from the article to diagnose, and I realize that not all people think this way, but I wanted to mention that I am aware of that bias. I would also like to acknowledge that by highlighting these quotes I realize I am bringing a type of promotion or fame to these ideas—which I certainly do not promote or champion. Here are two comments made by readers of the Atlantic article in question:

1) “Muslim women are not making choices. They are making choices within a very limited set circumscribed by men, or by their mothers or other women who have a vested interest in the system.”

2) “If the Muslim women of the world did remove their hijabs in solidarity, you know exactly what would have happened to most of them: they would be beaten, if not murdered. Whipped back into compliance by men who are cowards and cannot trust their own wives to fend off the advances of another man.”

Now, here comes the controversy: I agree with point one, but on the condition that it be changed to “no one is making choices”. “Choice,” for me, is a highly contentious term. Many of us take it for granted that we have “choice” or that we feel the necessity to exercise some conception of “choice” on a daily basis, e.g. I “choose” to write this late at night instead of sleeping, even though I know I have to get up early (I will refrain from using ironic, and rather annoying, quotes from now on). But the problem is that a division wedges itself between those who have choice, i.e. those free to act, think, vote, etc., and those without choice, i.e. those oppressed by some larger force like culture, class, religion, etc. But the thing is: we are ALL influenced by immutable social forces, such as ulture, class, religion, gender, etc.; these things ALL enforce our decisions, actions, and lives.

Let’s be obvious for a moment. Do you wear glasses? Yes? Then you have a different mindset than someone who does not. Thought about corrective surgery? Investigated the price? Someone with 20/20 has not. Think about your glasses? Their care and cleanliness? Do you think about wearing contacts when you pick out sunglasses? A person with 20/20 has not had these thoughts. “Sure,” you say, “that’s biological”. Right. Okay… Guys, where do you buy your underwear? Target? Walmart? Is it Hanes? or Fruit of the Loom? Have you ever bought a single pair of Calvin Klein underwear at Macy’s for the price of four pairs of Hanes? No? You should. Because you have that choice.

Choose.

Choose…

Here’s where it gets sticky. You don’t have that choice, but you think you do because a nice mix of consumerism and late capitalism is an empowering and entitling narcotic. The danger is when that entitlement bleeds over into politics, ethics, gender, sexuality, etc. That you think you have choice is all that matters to Ronald McDonald, underwear factory owners, or managers at Target or Walmart. Even if you try to prove to me that you have choice, you are doing so out of a condition—sure, go buy the Calvin’s, gentlemen, you will love them! That condition is that you are trying to prove something to me, so the action is a necessary one, not chosen. Even a seemingly random act has a causal condition. But when we use the term choice, we are isolating a phenomenon in order to distinguish that act from others as important. We are telling a story. You are selecting, most often unconsciously, what information to exclude and what to include based on your experiences and the inherit desire for social acceptance. And that story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning isolates and solidifies the cause, the middle is the detail-y bit, and the end, well, the end is our moral justification—”I may have done something wrong, but here is why I did it. Do not condemn me“.

I find the use of the term choice abhorrent and despicable when used to distinguish one group from another as those possessing choice and those not possessing it. In its most casual and vulgar form it is employed to justify personal morality, and isolate and punish the other individual’s failure to achieve—”I have been able to do this, therefore you are able to do this. If you do not, then that is your choice“. This example ranges from arriving to work on time, living a healthy lifestyle, to earning a degree. Rather than choice, I prefer the terms desire and decisions. These terms allow for social influences and a range of numerous possibilities—as opposed to the either/or of choice. As far as I am concerned, choice is an absolute: either everyone has it or no one does. There is no way to clearly distinguish between those who have choice and those who do not. By creating that distinction to judge others lives of which we often know very little, we reveal the forces that have shaped our own morality; and more often than not, we reveal our bigotry, our fears, our hatred, and our ignorance. Just as some of those individuals making comments on Uzma Kolsy’s article have done.

The Aura and the Art Museum

This post has been inspired by a fellow blogger, one Peter Galen Massey. Recently, he and I had a reply-style discussion that mentioned the value of art and Walter Benjamin‘s interpretation of “aura”. This discussion has inspired my reconsideration of Benjamin’s work, and my own recent visit to the Art Institute of Chicago—where a Picasso exhibit is currently featured.

MonetSo, let’s start with the basics. Walter Benjamin, an exiled German Jewish philosopher, critic, historian, etc. wrote a significant essay entitled, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. (Here’s a link to the pdf). Benjamin defined something he called “aura”. This “aura” is a work of art’s unique presence in time and space. So, one would feel this “aura” if one viewed Monet‘s original Lily Pad paintings. It is akin to authenticity, except “aura” is a thing (for lack of a better term) that the original art work possesses (due to its history, its changes in ownership, its chemical changes, etc.). The thing is that this “thing” that the original work of art possesses can not be felt/interpreted/experienced by a subject, e.g. you, if it is a copy. So, that Mona Lisa on your coffee mug does not possess “aura”. You dig?

You know why? Because, as Benjamin states, “that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art” (221 of Illuminations). So, any replica loses this “aura”. Only the original possesses an “aura”. (In an exchange of letters between Georg Lukács and Benjamin, Lukács told Benjamin that he was (paraphrasing here) not Marxist enough. I totally understand that now). And with that, let me make a bold statement: that aura stuff is bull**it.

Works of art are locked up behind gates, guarded by numerous security guards, and under constant surveillance. You know why? Aura. Those paintings represent a movement, a theory, a statement, a something; but, Man must eat first, before he or she contemplates art. So, we set aside our earned $30 and stand in line to enter our local Art Institute that houses works of art that should make us feel something (aura, perhaps?). And we see said art, and, lo and behold (!), it produces this feeling! “Yes, I am inspired! I will paint! I will draw! I will siiiiing!” But what inspires this inspiration? Is it aura? No. I will not grant mysticism to oil on canvas, nor charcoal on paper. What inspires us is our own expectation: the room, the lighting, the locks, the guards, the waiting, the entrance fee, etc.; that is what produces this so called “aura”. We don’t need to know about aura to feel this feeling. It is already in our collective consciousness simply by the fact that these works of art are placed in special spaces that are reserved just for them. This grants them an “aura,” not some mystical pronouncement or terminology. It is a collective will to place a value on certain objects (reification…), a value that does not exist, that is what makes these objects special and elite.

PicassoInside the Picasso exhibit, housed under a long wooden table with glass mounted on top, there were roughly a dozen early sketches of Picasso’s before he began painting a series of portraits featuring the infamous Minotaur. These sketches were unfinished and meant to be understood and valued as such. As I walked around the table, I noticed that I was in a room full of people looking at drawings of a Minotaur f*cking a lady, or sometimes two ladies. And I thought this odd. My second thought was: this Picasso guy is a hornball! Drawing pictures of bestiality and such. What a silly fellow! I laughed a bit out loud and caught the eye of my gf who was earnestly studying the sketches, as though she was imagining the burgeoning genius that was Picasso furiously creating this bestial sketch. She shook her head at me and walked on.

After the museum we stopped at ye old coffee shop and discussed “art”. My gf called me cynical due to my slight scoffing at Picasso’s Porn. I took offense. The last thing I am is cynical, my dear reader (a philistine, most likely. But, cynical? far from it). Her defense to my above accusation of Picasso is that he is a genius. My reply was that Picasso was a man. And the sketches of porn he was drawing proves that he eats, sh*ts, loves, f*cks, and drinks just like any other man. Period. He does not possess a gift or genius, he is a man with significant artistic skill, important social connections, and the right social conditions provided so that he could develop that skill and those connections. Punkt. Full stop—as my lady would say.

My point here is not to argue that art and its value is good or bad. No. Our esteem for art reflects our own cultural value. And our culture values art. It shows that despite decades of simulacra, postmodernism, mechanical reproduction, Mickey Mouse, far too many Transformers films, and thousands of $10 Monet Lily Pad prints adorning hundreds of college dorm walls so that some girl will think some boy is smart yet sensitive in the hopes that she will have sex with him, we still value art. It is one of the best ways in which we know how to reproduce and share the human experience. It is one of the best ways to demonstrate to past and future generations that creativity is valued in our society. It is one of the best ways to inspire passion, beauty, love, hate, honor, envy, morality, sex, lust, war, happiness, frustration, etc. And it is one of the best ways to communicate our Truth. Even if it is a sketch of a Minotaur f*cking a lady… or two.