Author Archives: Rose

The Masses

For me, the most compelling part of the Raymond Williams reading was the idea that “there are in fact no masses, but only ways of seeing people as masses” (12).  The idea of ‘those people,’ the American ones who are ignorant, uneducated, obese, etc. is an extremely prevalent notion, yet so unconscious that I have never considered how preposterous it is.  Williams makes the point that this ways of seeing others in fact rose out of industrialism.  More specifically, “the improvement in communications…created unbridgeable divisions between transmitter and audience, which…led to the audience being interpreted as an unknown mass” (12).  (As a side-note, this assumed connection between technological advances and social relations seems very parallel to Marx’s point about a society’s mode of production dictating the social relationships that exist within it.)

To continue to follow Williams’ point: he sees the depiction and the common mass of people as a conspiracy used by the rich to reach and appeal to other people.  In Williams’ words, “the lowness of taste and habit, which human beings assign very easily to other human beings, was assumed [by those whose money gave them access to the new communication techniques], as a bridge” (12).

I appreciated the Williams reading because I think it encompassed the idea of equality in a much more rounded, realistic way.  Rather than calling on a revolution to “raise up” the “lower” classes to the levels of the bourgeoisie by educating “them,” Williams is saying that people are all capable and interesting.  There are certain advantages of industrialization that can make life better for everyone, but these are what Arnold would call “machinery,” rather than the goal in and of themselves.  In other words, there is not some ideal cultural peak towards which everyone should climb, rather, culture is in everyday, ordinary experience, which is taken to be worthwhile for all rather than some of the population.

These ideas have an interesting relationship to Arnold’s ideas on “sweetness and light.”  According to Arnold, the point of culture is “the study and pursuit of perfection,” and the “endeavour, also, to make it prevail” (9-10).  This perfection is that “which consists in becoming something rather than in having something, in an inward condition of the mind and spirit, not in an outward set of circumstances” (12).  Arnold seems to be describing culture as an ideal for the individual.  I think he would agree with Williams that there is no “mass,” just a machinery for seeing people in this way.

The Glamour-Gaze

I am interested in the phenomenon of glamour, as described by John Berger in the final essay of Ways of Seeing.  He claims that glamour has to do not with “happiness as judged from the outside by others” (132).  It entails that “you are observed with interest but you do not observe with interest;” thus the subject’s distant gaze which “look[s] out over the looks of envy” (132-3).  I want to explore exactly how this one-sided looking works, how it can be manufactured, its implications for the looker, and its implications for social relations between real people.  I am interested in looking at several prominent people who have consciously fabricated their own glamour, such as Andy Warhol.  I may also explore ideas about voyeurism to consider the ways in which people observe each other.  I will ultimately focus on some particular glamour-image, which could be a real person (like Warhol), a genre of advertising, or perhaps some archetypal cinematic character.

Self-Consciousness: A Result, not a Guiding Principle, of the Historical Process

In “The German Ideology,” Marx is adamant that history must stem from real, concrete existence rather than from ideas.  He criticizes what he claims is a predominant German construction of history, emanating from Hegel.  I am a little bit familiar with Hegel’s idea of the Absolute Spirit form a previous course.  My understanding, in the realm of aesthetics at least, is that Hegel sees art (and history) and following a trajectory in which human consciousness is key.  Works of art have developed over the years to reflect how humans conceive of their own consciousness.  Thus the pyramids reflect an emphasis on man’s external relationship to the world, while Gothic cathedrals reflect an emphasis on the internal.

Marx admits to being very influenced by Hegel, in more ways than one.  First, Hegel put forth a teleological view of history.  Marx agrees, and also agrees with the idea of one age building on the ideas of the past in a logical way.  Marx says, “the sensuous world…[is] a product of industry and of the state of society…the result of the acticity of a whole succession of generations, each standing on the shoulders of the preceding one” (45).

Second, Marx acknowledges that self-consciousness is indeed a dominant idea.  However, he distinguishes this thought by arguing that it is not an absolute, universal concept.  It is a theory or idea put forth by the ruling class, because “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas” (67).  Third, Marx believes considers himself to be taking Hegel at his own word, because he quotes Hegel as saying that he “‘has considered the progress of the concept only'” (70).

Marx situates self-consciousness in his own progression of history.  He lists several principles, the first of which is the existence of men who “must be in a position to live” (47).  In order to do this, they must produce “the means to satisfy [their] needs” (47).  Second, the satisfaction of needs will lead to new needs, and third, productivity will fuel increased population, fueling social relations and, in particular, the family.  Marx’s main point is the fourth principle: that “a certain mode of production…is always combined with a certain mode of co-operation, or social stage, and this mode of co-operation is itself a ‘productive force'” (49).  Here Marx is expanding on the idea put forth as central to the manifesto:  that a society’s mode of production dictates almost everything else about that society.

Self-consciousness grows out of these principles as part of social development out of “the necessity of intercourse with other men” (49).  Thus Marx is arguing the self-consciousness is not the guiding principle under which one or another mode of production might exist; instead, it grows out of industry and the development of society.

The Value of Individuality

The Communist Manifesto states very clearly that capitalism and industry affect all relationships in society in such a way that “all fixed, fast-frozen relations…are swept away” (212).  It is interesting to unpack this statement in terms of an individual’s uniqueness, or individuality.

In an industrial society, according to Marx, “specialized skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production,” and “differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class [because] all are instruments of labor, more or less expensive to use” (217).  The characteristics that are generally thought to distinguish people, such as “law, morality, religion,” are dismissed by Marx as “so many bourgeois prejudices” (220).  In other words, a capitalist industrial society leads to a class of workers that is devoid of individual human characteristics.  Instead, “capital is independent and has individuality” (224).

Communism seeks the “abolition of the distinction between town and country, of the family, of the carrying on of industries for the account of private individual…” (241).  These sound like extremely unappealing reforms, most likely because as a member of a capitalist society, I am in the habit of defining myself based on factors that essentially boil down to my capital.  For a communist society to work, each person has to radically reconceive him or herself.  Each person’s identity must relate to factors other than his or her capacity to be productive in a capitalist economy.

John Berger’s first essay sheds light on this topic.  Art images, or ‘works of art,’ serve as an interesting way to see the clash between an individual’s vision and a capitalist commodity.  Berger reflects that at some point in history, there was a realization that a work of art represents its subject and how its subject was seen, but also “the specific vision of the image-maker” (10).  Berger cites this awareness as resulting from “an increasing consciousness of individuality” (10).
Yet works of art have a market value, which also determines their social value.  In our capitalist culture, this value “depends upon its rarity, [which is] affirmed and gauged by the price it fetches on the market” (21).  The oddness of this system is that this market value is supposed to be “of reflection of [the art work’s] spiritual value” (21).  Berger points out that we are not a religious society, thus a ‘spiritual value’ does not hold much meaning.

Michael Casey begins to unpack the concept of “spirit” in his discussion of the Korda Che image.  His Introduction suggests that the “spirit” of that image “is founded in strongly held moral beliefs…[the image is used to frame] the conflict around a battle between good and evil” (20).  When Marx champions the abolition of bourgeois values and markers of individuality, does he instead want people to define themselves by a sense of morality?  This does not seem to be the case.  Furthermore, is it possible for artworks to indeed have a ‘spiritual value’ that is independent of any market value?  Berger’s discussion of Hals’ work suggests that there is, at it lies in the ability of an artist to capture some recognizable aspect of the ‘human experience.’