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This is an extra credit response. If you choose to do it, follow the same basic format as the other reading responses. A good response of the regular length (1-2 pages) will be worth the same amount of points as a regular reading response. If you choose to do a more in-depth response, you may earn more points than that (depending on the quality of your work).Write a 1-2 page response to the reading here on Canvas. This should provide both a summary and analysis of the reading. I will be grading this, not based on whether or not your analysis is right or wrong, but based on whether or not it is evident to me from your response that you both read and thought about the reading.These are two assignments, I am lazy to post twice. SO I put it in one file. The first one is BALDWIN. The second one is GREENBERG. Both are response.
james_baldwin___sonnys_blues.pdf

greenberg___avant_garde_and_kitsch.pdf

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AVANT-GARDE AND KITSCH
Clement Greenberg
ONE AND THE SAME civilization produces simultaneously two such different things s a poem by
T. S. Eliot and a Tin Pan Alley song, or a painting by Braque and a Saturday Evening Post cover.
All four are on the order of culture, and ostensibly, parts of the same culture and products of the
same society. Here, however, their connection seems to end. A poem by Eliot and a poem by
Eddie Guest — what perspective of culture is large enough to enable us to situate them in an
enlightening relation to each other? Does the fact that a disparity such as this within the frame of
a single cultural tradition, which is and has been taken for granted — does this fact indicate that
the disparity is a part of the natural order of things? Or is it something entirely new, and
particular to our age?
The answer involves more than an investigation in aesthetics. It appears to me that it is necessary
to examine more closely and with more originality than hitherto the relationship between
aesthetic experience as met by the specific — not the generalized — individual, and the social and
historical contexts in which that experience takes place. What is brought to light will answer, in
addition to the question posed above, other and perhaps more important questions.
A society, as it becomes less and less able, in the course of its development, to justify the
inevitability of its particular forms, breaks up the accepted notions upon which artists and writers
must depend in large part for communication with their audiences. It becomes difficult to assume
anything. All the verities involved by religion, authority, tradition, style, are thrown into
question, and the writer or artist is no longer able to estimate the response of his audience to the
symbols and references with which he works. In the past such a state of affairs has usually
resolved itself into a motionless Alexandrianism, an academicism in which the really important
issues are left untouched because they involve controversy, and in which creative activity
dwindles to virtuosity in the small details of form, all larger questions being decided by the
precedent of the old masters. The same themes are mechanically varied in a hundred different
works, and yet nothing new is produced: Statius, mandarin verse, Roman sculpture, Beaux-Arts
painting, neo-republican architecture.
It is among the hopeful signs in the midst of the decay of our present society that we — some of
us — have been unwilling to accept this last phase for our own culture. In seeking to go beyond
Alexandrianism, a part of Western bourgeois society has produced something unheard of
heretofore: — avant-garde culture. A superior consciousness of history — more precisely, the
appearance of a new kind of criticism of society, an historical criticism — made this possible.
This criticism has not confronted our present society with timeless utopias, but has soberly
examined in the terms of history and of cause and effect the antecedents, justifications and
functions of the forms that lie at the heart of every society. Thus our present bourgeois social
order was shown to be, not an eternal, “natural” condition of life, but simply the latest term in a
succession of social orders. New perspectives of this kind, becoming a part of the advanced
intellectual conscience of the fifth and sixth decades of the nineteenth century, soon were
absorbed by artists and poets, even if unconsciously for the most part. It was no accident,
therefore, that the birth of the avant-garde coincided chronologically — and geographically, too -with the first bold development of scientific revolutionary thought in Europe.
[…]
It has been in search of the absolute that the avant-garde has arrived at “abstract” or
“nonobjective” art — and poetry, too. The avant-garde poet or artist tries in effect to imitate God
by creating something valid solely on its own terms, in the way nature itself is valid, in the way a
landscape — not its picture — is aesthetically valid; something given, increate, independent of
meanings, similars or originals. Content is to be dissolved so completely into form that the work
of art or literature cannot be reduced in whole or in part to anything not itself.
[…]
The avant-garde’s specialization of itself, the fact that its best artists are artists’ artists, its best
poets, poets’ poets, has estranged a great many of those who were capable formerly of enjoying
and appreciating ambitious art and literature, but who are now unwilling or unable to acquire an
initiation into their craft secrets. The masses have always remained more or less indifferent to
culture in the process of development. But today such culture is being abandoned by those to
whom it actually belongs — our ruling class. For it is to the latter that the avant-garde belongs.
No culture can develop without a social basis, without a source of stable income. And in the case
of the avant-garde, this was provided by an elite among the ruling class of that society from
which it assumed itself to be cut off, but to which it has always remained attached by an
umbilical cord of gold. The paradox is real. And now this elite is rapidly shrinking. Since the
avant-garde forms the only living culture we now have, the survival in the near future of culture
in general is thus threatened.
We must not be deceived by superficial phenomena and local successes. Picasso’s shows still
draw crowds, and T. S. Eliot is taught in the universities; the dealers in modernist art are still in
business, and the publishers still publish some “difficult” poetry. But the avant-garde itself,
already sensing the danger, is becoming more and more timid every day that passes.
Academicism and commercialism are appearing in the strangest places. This can mean only one
thing: that the avant-garde is becoming unsure of the audience it depends on — the rich and the
cultivated.
Is it the nature itself of avant-garde culture that is alone responsible for the danger it finds itself
in? Or is that only a dangerous liability? Are there other, and perhaps more important, factors
involved?
II
Where there is an avant-garde, generally we also find a rear-guard. True enough -simultaneously with the entrance of the avant-garde, a second new cultural phenomenon
appeared in the industrial West: that thing to which the Germans give the wonderful name of
Kitsch: popular, commercial art and literature with their chromeotypes, magazine covers,
illustrations, ads, slick and pulp fiction, comics, Tin Pan Alley music, tap dancing, Hollywood
movies, etc., etc. For some reason this gigantic apparition has always been taken for granted. It is
time we looked into its whys and wherefores.
Kitsch is a product of the industrial revolution which urbanized the masses of Western Europe
and America and established what is called universal literacy.
Prior to this the only market for formal culture, as distinguished from folk culture, had been
among those who, in addition to being able to read and write, could command the leisure and
comfort that always goes hand in hand with cultivation of some sort. This until then had been
inextricably associated with literacy. But with the introduction of universal literacy, the ability to
read and write became almost a minor skill like driving a car, and it no longer served to
distinguish an individual’s cultural inclinations, since it was no longer the exclusive concomitant
of refined tastes.
The peasants who settled in the cities as proletariat and petty bourgeois learned to read and write
for the sake of efficiency, but they did not win the leisure and comfort necessary for the
enjoyment of the city’s traditional culture. Losing, nevertheless, their taste for the folk culture
whose background was the countryside, and discovering a new capacity for boredom at the same
time, the new urban masses set up a pressure on society to provide them with a kind of culture fit
for their own consumption. To fill the demand of the new market, a new commodity was
devised: ersatz culture, kitsch, destined for those who, insensible to the values of genuine culture,
are hungry nevertheless for the diversion that only culture of some sort can provide.
[…]
Kitsch’s enormous profits are a source of temptation to the avant-garde itself, and its members
have not always resisted this temptation. Ambitious writers and artists will modify their work
under the pressure of kitsch, if they do not succumb to it entirely. And then those puzzling
borderline cases appear, such as the popular novelist, Simenon, in France, and Steinbeck in this
country. The net result is always to the detriment of true culture in any case.
Kitsch has not been confined to the cities in which it was born, but has flowed out over the
countryside, wiping out folk culture. Nor has it shown any regard for geographical and national
cultural boundaries. Another mass product of Western industrialism, it has gone on a triumphal
tour of the world, crowding out and defacing native cultures in one colonial country after
another, so that it is now by way of becoming a universal culture, the first universal culture ever
beheld. Today the native of China, no less than the South American Indian, the Hindu, no less
than the Polynesian, have come to prefer to the products of their native art, magazine covers,
rotogravure sections and calendar girls. How is this virulence of kitsch, this irresistible
attractiveness, to be explained? Naturally, machine-made kitsch can undersell the native
handmade article, and the prestige of the West also helps; but why is kitsch a so much more
profitable export article than Rembrandt? One, after all, can be reproduced as cheaply as the
other.
[…]
All values are human values, relative values, in art as well as elsewhere. Yet there does seem to
have been more or less of a general agreement among the cultivated of mankind over the ages as
to what is good art and what bad. Taste has varied, but not beyond certain limits; contemporary
connoisseurs agree with the eighteenth-century Japanese that Hokusai was one of the greatest
artists of his time; we even agree with the ancient Egyptians that Third and Fourth Dynasty art
was the most worthy of being selected as their paragon by those who came after. We may have
come to prefer Giotto to Raphael, but we still do not deny that Raphael was one of the best
painters of his time. There has been an agreement then, and this agreement rests, I believe, on a
fairly constant distinction made between those values only to be found in art and the values
which can be found elsewhere. Kitsch, by virtue of a rationalized technique that draws on
science and industry, has erased this distinction in practice.
Left: Repin, Cossacks; Right: Piacsso,Woman with a Fan
Let us see, for example, what happens when an ignorant Russian peasant such as Macdonald
mentions stands with hypothetical freedom of choice before two paintings, one by Picasso, the
other by Repin. In the first he sees, let us say, a play of lines, colors and spaces that represent a
woman. The abstract technique — to accept Macdonald’s supposition, which I am inclined to
doubt — reminds him somewhat of the icons he has left behind him in the village, and he feels
the attraction of the familiar. We will even suppose that he faintly surmises some of the great art
values the cultivated find in Picasso. He turns next to Repin’s picture and sees a battle scene. The
technique is not so familiar — as technique. But that weighs very little with the peasant, for he
suddenly discovers values in Repin’s picture that seem far superior to the values he has been
accustomed to find in icon art; and the unfamiliar itself is one of the sources of those values: the
values of the vividly recognizable, the miraculous and the sympathetic. In Repin’s picture the
peasant recognizes and sees things in the way in which he recognizes and sees things outside of
pictures — there is no discontinuity between art and life, no need to accept a convention and say
to oneself, that icon represents Jesus because it intends to represent Jesus, even if it does not
remind me very much of a man. That Repin can paint so realistically that identifications are selfevident immediately and without any effort on the part of the spectator — that is miraculous. The
peasant is also pleased by the wealth of self-evident meanings which he finds in the picture: “it
tells a story. ” Picasso and the icons are so austere and barren in comparison. What is more,
Repin heightens reality and makes it dramatic: sunset, exploding shells, running and falling men.
There is no longer any question of Picasso or icons. Repin is what the peasant wants, and nothing
else but Repin. It is lucky, however, for Repin that the peasant is protected from the products of
American capitalism, for he would not stand a chance next to a Saturday Evening Post cover by
Norman Rockwell.
[…]
III
If the avant-garde imitates the processes of art, kitsch, we now see, imitates its effects. The
neatness of this antithesis is more than contrived; it corresponds to and defines the tremendous
interval that separates from each other two such simultaneous cultural phenomena as the avantgarde and kitsch. This interval, too great to be closed by all the infinite gradations of popularized
“modernism” and “modernistic” kitsch, corresponds in turn to a social interval, a social interval
that has always existed in formal culture, as elsewhere in civilized society, and whose two
termini converge and diverge in fixed relation to the increasing or decreasing stability of the
given society. There has always been on one side the minority of the powerful — and therefore
the cultivated — and on the other the great mass of the exploited and poor — and therefore the
ignorant. Formal culture has always belonged to the first, while the last have had to content
themselves with folk or rudimentary culture, or kitsch.
[…]
Where today a political regime establishes an official cultural policy, it is for the sake of
demagogy. If kitsch is the official tendency of culture in Germany, Italy and Russia, it is not
because their respective governments are controlled by philistines, but because kitsch is the
culture of the masses in these countries, as it is everywhere else. The encouragement of kitsch is
merely another of the inexpensive ways in which totalitarian regimes seek to ingratiate
themselves with their subjects. Since these regimes cannot raise the cultural level of the masses – even if they wanted to — by anything short of a surrender to international socialism, they will
flatter the masses by bringing all culture down to their level. It is for this reason that the avantgarde is outlawed, and not so much because a superior culture is inherently a more critical
culture. (Whether or not the avant-garde could possibly flourish under a totalitarian regime is not
pertinent to the question at this point.) As a matter of fact, the main trouble with avant-garde art
and literature, from the point of view of fascists and Stalinists, is not that they are too critical, but
that they are too “innocent,” that it is too difficult to inject effective propaganda into them, that
kitsch is more pliable to this end. Kitsch keeps a dictator in closer contact with the “soul” of the
people. Should the official culture be one superior to the general mass-level, there would be a
danger of isolation.
[…]

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