Doublewoke: The Next Countercultural Explosion

Recently searching neighborhood live theater in Chicago as I was passing through, I stumbled across 5 or 6 venues online without much searching at all. All but one featured tales of the suffering engendered by white privilege. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed at the narrowness of theme (no knock on Chicago per se, whose beautiful people and cultural vitality continue to amaze). Don’t get me wrong. I sympathize with the underlying politics of “woke” culture. My “doublewoke” (or woke against woke) conceit is not a full renunciation of wokeness, but an encouragement to take the next turn, to take the potential for good that lies slumbering in the woke movement and wake it up to a brand new day.

I start with the assumption that the “woke” set and I share a long-term progressive ideal of a society that is equal and open, uninhibited, comfortable with diversity, and rich in human contact. But I fear the machinery of “woke” is going about it in the least efficient way, relying on two shaky strategies. First, it relies too heavily on negative reinforcement; i.e., search the people you encounter not for the good that is in their hearts but for any faux pas, past or present, that can be used to scarlet letter them as racist, sexist, etc. Sure, no one is perfect, but this approach suggests that we can right the ship with sufficient shaming and scolding. Unfortunately, shaming as a means of betterment just doesn’t work. Self-loathing among black men becomes a subject of academic scrutiny from time to time, and the consensus is always that self-loathing does not help their lot. Self-loathing, which Freud might call the introjected form of shaming, does not build character for blacks and does not build character for whites. Shaming may not be the intent, but if this is the reception you get from all who fall outside the “already woke” category, which includes many ordinary people who might otherwise be allies, you might reconsider your rhetorical strategy. Save the accusatory tone for the select few malicious racists who deserve it, and discard your broad brush with the other solid waste. Using the broad brush always places the “us versus them” line at a spot that gives far too much to the other side.

The other shaky strategy is dividing people by race, gender, etc., instead of by ideology. We should be bringing black, white, gay, straight, etc., together in a rainbow coalition to fight for that progressive vision mentioned above. The enemy is not white, black, male, or any other such demographic grouping. The enemy (at least the short-term enemy, as there are no long-term enemies, for, like it or not, we all travel the spaceship earth together) should be defined ideologically, as those whose ideas continue to lock in the disequilibriums of late capitalism. The woke folks, however, too often represent the struggle as if it were women against men, black against white. They too often suggest we should vote for, value, or pronounce someone guilty or innocent based on skin color or sex organs or gender. Drawing the battle lines along race or gender is counterproductive if your goal, again, is that “society that is equal and open, uninhibited, comfortable with diversity, and rich in human contact.” By drawing battle lines between and building walls around specific genders and races, you are impeding, not advancing, the long-term progressive vision.

Despite the problems that woke culture has in engaging all but the choir, it is rapidly becoming hegemonic in the arts. I suspect that my experience searching venues in Chicago is not unique. Wokeness can no longer claim any countercultural banner. It is, for all practical purposes, the Establishment in arts and humanities. But once any establishment becomes fixed in place, conditions are ripe for the next countercultural movement – in this case the “woke against woke” movement. It will begin in satire, and we may indeed see such a beginning in works such as those of the fictitious Titania McGrath, who turned out the be spiked columnist, Andrew Doyle. First subject wokeness to satire – but without giving any succor to conservatives. Indeed, conservatives must also be subject to the barb, else the movement is not countercultural at all but merely reactionary. When the satire starts to hit – who knows – it may trigger a Cambrian explosion in the arts, where after a (woke) period of narrower and narrower definitions of “acceptable,” the dam bursts open. Rather than circling the wagons around race and gender, restricting who can write what, suddenly everyone is encouraged to artistically explore everyone else’s point of view, everyone participating in every culture in a frenzy of mutual celebration not unlike the middle panel of Hieronymous Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.”

It will be a new Age of Aquarius. Thus spoke its prophet.

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Peñalta: Pulling faces from stone

Museo Casa de Diego Rivera

“Asomo” (2018), Peñalta
.                                                                         “Mira” (2015), Peñalta

 

 

Peñalta’s website

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Images of Quijote

Walking the streets of Guanajuato, Mexico, I happened to pass the Museo Iconográfica de Don Quijote on free entry day. Why not? Maybe I was just in the right mood, but what I found inside was astonishing. So many beautiful representations of the Knight of the Sad Countenance! The first room was a nice introduction, and the next two rooms had me near tears. Powerful variations. Romantic (a la Goya), realist, existentialist, things in the German expressionist vein. And the color palettes of the paintings. Pastel patches reminiscent of Paris, burnt orange-red Mexican backdrops, everything. Sculptures in subdued classical and overwrought baroque. Then more paintings – cartoonish ones, sci fi ones, ones that seem to emerge from graphic novels or from a pulp fiction romance of the American West. Weird cubist ones, soft rounded figures in a naïve folk style. And the spaces. Beside the classical museum-format rooms, a Spanish-style courtyard braced by rock solid columns formed a center, with a room to the side like a topsy-turvy chapel. Then a postmodern painting, opaque in meaning, and a modernist sculpture, stretched, fragmented, monumental in size but struggling with itself for coherence. So many shades of Cervantes’s character that all of human nature and human history and human paradox seemed expressed through this one man, imaginary but so multifaceted and universal that one suspects he is more real than the shadowy, ephemeral beings who pop into being and evaporate into nothing after 60 or 80 years. And the art itself. It was as if Don Quijote were a perfect lens through which all of the styles and periods and possibilities of art came into focus. I didn’t notice if any famous artists were curated here (although I later heard that they were indeed) because I was too absorbed in the images to bother to look for the temporal names of the creators.

The only weakness, from my point of view, was the lighting. Given the magnificent range and beauty of the pieces, the lighting did not maximize the power and nuance of the objets d’art, nor of the architectural space itself, to best effect. Also, I would have liked to see a bit more of Sancho, maybe more reflections on Sancho detached from his master.

Despite the niches for improvement, this small museum was one of a handful of my favorites from around the world. I could spend all day there going deeper and deeper into the thought and emotion, the pain and the beauty of lived experience, as conjured up by the madman of La Mancha. At the very least, anyone interested in all the possibilities of portraiture should make a pilgrimage to this beautiful city and this museum.

(Forgive the low-end cell phone photography.)

             

     

 

    

    

     

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The Nation’s Apology for Carlson-Wee

The long-established progressive magazine, The Nation, recently created a stir by publishing an Anders Carlson-Wee poem about homelessness, and then apologizing for doing so on the grounds that the poem contained inappropriate language (i.e., language that might be offensive to those demographic groups among the homeless that Carlson-Wee tries to identify with in the poem).

As a long-time liberal, it is demoralizing to see what liberalism has become. God forbid that a poet should use language deemed inappropriate by the cultural police. God forbid that artists should ever creatively identify with people of backgrounds other than themselves. God forbid that any one of us should ever try to put ourselves in the shoes of other races or demographics. Guard those boundaries between races and other demographic groups! Where Bull Connor conservatives failed, today’s liberals may yet succeed!

The whole event is a nice, tight summary of where liberals went wrong and gave up the moral high ground on matters of race. Or, as my grandmother used to say (my brackets added), “When you drive the devil from the front door [Bull Connor], he comes in the back [identity politics].”

Links in

The Atlantic

The New York Times

The Nation 

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