Brainiac Book Reviews: Beyond Aesthetics, by Stuart Sim
October 15, 2013
(Beyond Aesthetics: Confrontations With Poststructuralism and Postmodernism, by Stuart Sim. University of Toronto Press. 1992.)
All you people with short attention spans who can’t read more than the first sentence of anything can fuck off and die. I curse you. This is the first of a series of Brainiac Book Reviews, which will be like beacons of brilliance in a brain-dead world. Sometimes I’ll be in a good mood, and sometimes not.
Everyone who’s left, we’re going to talk about this book. Or rather, I’ll talk and you shut up till I’m finished. You’re the reader, so you read my text. My text is also reading you, because I have super powers as a writer and intellectual. My words could kill a sheep under the right circumstances.
If you opened this book randomly and read a bit of it, you’d probably go, “What the fuck is this bullshit?” That’s why you need me to explain it to you in simple terms.
Let’s start with the front cover. It’s got a chair, a glass of wine on the floor, and either a window with a tree outside or a picture of a tree. Very tricky. But I figured it out. It’s a picture, not a window, because there’s no part of it you can open and close. Ha! What’s it all mean? Beats me.
You should always read the back cover because it tells you something about the book and the author. The book is about the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, and somebody who isn’t French. It’s good to see the French getting into heavy egghead stuff, and probably they’re competing with the Germans. The Germans are pretty heavy, and you should read my series “Roots of German Philosophy”, elsewhere on this blog page. Personally, I think the French can duke it out with anyone, except in war. The back cover says, “Stuart Sim treats poststructuralism and postmodernism as forms of anti-aesthetics and contextualizes the movements within a longer-running tradition of anti-foundationalism and radical scepticism in Western philosophy.” I guess that’s okay. We’ll give it a try. Stuart Sim teaches English at the University of Sunderland, which is one of those small and not-very-good universities that they have a lot of in England.
Okay, so these Frenchmen are going to take us beyond aesthetics. And where will we end up, exactly? We’ll be looking around and saying, “Hey, what the fuck! We don’t got no fucking aesthetics! How are we supposed to make value judgments?” Is that good or bad? I don’t know. But you have to be brave to go there. Steve, who works in the warehouse, would say that it’s all shit, but he’s illiterate, so what are his value judgments worth anyway? We should at least try to go beyond aesthetics, just to show we made the effort. If it doesn’t work out, okay, whatever. We can come back. But you don’t know unless you try, right? This is what separates real people from unreal people.
The first chapter is called “The Limit of Philosophy?” It’s short, which helps. Lyotard is quoted as saying “I don’t give a damn.” I find that encouraging. The author, Stuart Sim, says, “The aim of this study is to maintain a sense of tension between the negative and positive readings of the two projects (poststructuralism/postmodernism and socialist/materialist critical theory).” I guess that’s the only way to find out which one is more fucked. This makes me think of those beggars who hold the door open for you at Burger King. They just want your money, and they’ll say anything socialist/materialist to get it. So I maintain the tension by doing the poststructuralist/postmodernist thing and telling them they don’t need money or food because it’s all in their mind.
Now let me say something about this Jacques Derrida fellow. He might be all right, although it’s hard to tell what the fuck he’s talking about, but everybody I ever met who is into him is a total wanker, and I wouldn’t trust their cooking either. Never eat food that has been prepared by a follower of Derrida. He might think that salmonella only happens to materialists and that if you deconstruct it, it can’t make you sick. As for Derrida himself, his main thing is “not quite philosophy on a path to nowhere.” So don’t pack a suitcase. You’re not going very far geographically, just beyond aesthetics. Professor Irwin Corey summed it up best, I think, when he said, “I feel more like I do now.”
In Chapter 2, we learn that poststructuralism is a philosophy of resistance. Down with totality! Derrida is edging toward Marxism of the Althusserian-structuralist variety, which is the worst kind because they never come right out and say they’re fucking Commies. “Any approval from that quarter for his oppositional, almost guerilla-like stance would be swiftly undercut, however, by recognition of the manifestly Nietzschean ‘eternal recurrence’, overtones of ‘interminability’.” I figured as much. So if you can use a bus transfer twice, do it, and fuck the Transit Commission. The bus isn’t worth $3 with all the rabble you get jammed in with who stink of garlic, and the drivers are way overpaid. The guys in the warehouse agree with me on this, but the foundationalist bosses don’t. Well, just wait till a fucking asteroid crashes into the earth and then see what good your foundationalist philosophy does you. The whole world will get deconstructed, and it’ll be postmodern, poststructural, post-industrial, and post-everything-else. Build an underground shelter and stock it with food. And have a gun. So I think maybe Derrida and his gang might be on the right track, even if the track stops at a station where the toilets don’t work. “The postmodernist philosopher’s task, as Lyotard sees it, is one of disruption.” Just don’t do that in court or you’ll get in trouble.
Chapter 3 is “Foundationalism and Antifoundationalism.” I’m going to be on the side of antifoundationalism for the time being because it has more syllables and sounds better. And I like to be against things, like high taxes on tobacco and alcohol, as well as all three levels of government. The author brings in Hume and Hegel. I wrote about Hegel in my series “Roots of German Philosophy”, so you know how I feel about him. I have no opinion whatsoever about Hume, although he’s probably a wimp, because I knew somebody else named Hume who was a wimp. The author tells us, “If radical scepticism almost inexorably moves down an antifoundational path, its negative critique leaving us with no fixed points of reference by which to construct systems of thought with any real sense of confidence, then dialectics and phenomenology, initially at least, seem to provide a resolution of the foundationalist dilemma.” But that’s if it moves that way. If it doesn’t, then what? Then I guess the foundationalists either have to resolve their dilemma another way or else just forget about it. If there’s no dilemma, they should be glad they got off easy this time. They just better not rely all the time on dialectics and phenomenology to bail them out, because I can say from experience that most of the time they’re useless. Take the Leafs, for instance. How far have they gotten in recent years with dialectics and phenomenology? Nowhere near a Stanley Cup, that’s for sure. They’re lucky if they make the playoffs. And they usually get beaten by the Bruins. This year they might do better, but we’ll just have to wait and see. (I don’t want to get e-mail on this. Don’t bother me.)
Chapter 4 is not too interesting. You can skip it. It’s called “Derrida and the Deconstruction of Metaphysics.” Now, as I said, I have nothing against Derrida personally. If he wants to deconstruct metaphysics, that’s his business, although I don’t see how that helps the world much. I’d rather go out on the street and deconstruct the heads of stupid Filipino boys who are always spitting. Do we really want to deconstruct metaphysics? How do you think the metaphysicians feel about that? They’d say it’s not very nice. Suppose somebody decided to deconstruct plumbing. What would happen? All the plumbers would be out of work, and there’d be so toilets or sinks. I’d rather see Derrida go after those OPSEU bastards — the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which is controlled by a cabal of militant lesbian bitches. They have their offices on Wellesley Street, and the door is always locked, and there’s a sign that says, “This is a scent-free building.” In other words, they don’t want men smelling like men and women smelling like women. They want to obliterate gender distinctions to maintain their power. One time I went to their front door and blew cigar smoke through the crack. That was cool! Anyway, at the end of the chapter we find out that “metaphysics shakes but does not fall,” which is good news for those who have to make a living from it.
Chapter 5 is better as it has violence. It’s called “Derrida as Critic.” The author quotes from Harold Bloom, who refers to “the violent truth of reading.” So reading should be violent. Just make sure you’ve paid for the book. And don’t get into a fight with an obnoxious tranny nigger in the library, or you’ll get thrown out like I did. Later we are told that, according to Derrida, this violence is the act of displacement, whereby we are wrenched away from contemplation of the text and its particular narrative sequence. So somebody tears the book out of your hands while you’re reading. But that hardly ever happens. Derrida should’ve watched NHL hocky. Then he’d know something about violence. People love it. On the other hand, they wouldn’t understand somebody taking a book away from somebody else. So this chapter is a bit weird.
Chapter 6 is called “Hartman, the Pun and Deconstructive Criticism.” This is supposed to be funny. Take this, for example: “Staying within the bounds of syntax may be a tacit admission by deconstructionists of an inescapable binary relationship within discourse — determinacy/indeterminacy.” I’m not sure which word is the pun (maybe “syntax” as “sin tax”), but it’s kind of funny, maybe slightly. Not as funny as this one, though: What’s a paradox? Answer: two doctors. Ha!
In Chapter 7 we get into “Lyotard and the Politics of Postmodernism.” Lyotard says, “Philosophy is the West’s madness,” which is the smartest thing anyone has said so far. This guy predicted that those slitty-eyed Chinese Commie bastards would be stealing our secrets by computer hacking. He also says, “The little narrative remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention.” He treats it as a subversive tactic in the war against the totalitarianism of metanarrative. Just like me! Like for instance, all this bullshit about native Indians being the victims of the white man is a typical bogus metanarrative. The little narratives (like mine) tell us about the drunken Indians you meet on the street. Lyotard would’ve loved my books, especially Excrement and Putrid Scum. Also, he was not a Commie, and he favored unionization of prostitutes. The author only seems to like Lyotard a little bit. I wish he would like him more. And I wish he would send me $100 for reviewing his book.
Chapter 8 is about “The Differend and Genres of Discourse.” It’s boring but short. Sim accuses Lyotard of having dark motives and not getting us past aesthetics, but I disagree because by this point I am way beyond aesthetics. And what dark motives? Sim doesn’t say. It think he’s jealous because Lyotard’s writing has “zing” and his doesn’t. Derrida has no “zing” either. I’ve got more than all of them put together. I’ve even gotten death threats. (Check out “Why It Is Okay To Kill Baby Seals”, elsewhere on this blog page.)
Chapter 9 is about “Svelteness and the War on Totality.” Okay, so you have to be in good shape so you can put on a skin-tight anti-foundationalist hero suit. Sim says, “Svelteness lies at the heart of Lyotard’s theory of agonistics.” Which reminds me: why are there no bondage magazines with extremely skinny models? Somebody should do something about that.
Chapter 10 is about “Baudrillard and the Politics of Simulation and Hyperreality.” Baudrillard has a lot to say about American culture. He thinks breakdancing is a form of useless self-absorption. But in a footnote he says, “Breakdancing can spur the postmodern consciousness to some of its wilder flights of fancy in the search for models of svelte behavior.” I don’t know about that. I always thought of it as something else the ghetto darkies could do with their bodies that didn’t involve work. Baudrillard is way more interesting than Derrida. He asks, “How far can we go in the extermination of meaning, how far can we go in the non-referential desert form without cracking up and, of course, still keep alive the esoteric charm of disappearance?” That makes me think of those two Parks Department workers in Winnipeg who were photographed sleeping on the grass. Did they think no one would notice or care? The union, of course, would protect them from being fired. I think Baudrillard is being ironic and that he would agree with me that the thing to do is grab the top people in the union and just kill them. He also thinks no one has a reason to live in New York because it’s so fucked up with people doing stupid, pointless things and taking them seriously. Now, he’s making value judgments here, but I’ll let him, just this once. “Everything he sees only confirms his belief in the death of aesthetics.” But was that before or after they cleaned up 42nd Street? I liked it better before, with all the porn shops I used to patronize. The street had a special smell. Not a nice smell, but special. And aesthetic. On the other hand, Baudrillard says that the really important realities are to be found in Manhattan and the Pacific coast. They’re fucked, of course, but in a postmodern way, and Baudrillard acknowledges this without making any value judgments because you can’t do that if you’re beyond aesthetics. Or else he sort of likes all the rottenness, the same way degenerate Goths like to drink blood. The concept is getting fuzzy here, but you should just roll with it.
Meanwhile, Lyotard says, “Nostalgia born of the immensity of the Texan hills and the sierras of New Mexico: gliding down the freeway, smash hits on the Chrysler stereo, heat wave.” Yeah, that’s nostalgia, all right. Now get ready for a real shocker: “Post-aesthetics is born in a catastrophic and violent break with authority, and it describes a world where art is dead, not only because its critical transcendence is gone, but because reality itself, entirely impregnated by an aesthetic which is inseparable from its own structure, has been confused with its own image.” I couldn’t have said it any better. For instance, look at live theatre in Toronto. What are the big shows? I Love Lucy, Cats, Les Miserables, The Wizard of Oz. Hey, get with it! This is 2013. Doesn’t anyone have any fresh ideas? Hell, no. Just play it safe with corny, old shows. Don’t even consider something daring like “Shakespeare For White Trash”, my brilliant series of Shakespeare rewrites. (Search the blog page.) On the other hand, there are some old shows that they should bring back on TV, but they’re afraid to — like Amos and Andy. Now there was a great show. Political correctness is the one big metanarrative that should be destroyed, and all the poststructuralists should attack it, and if a few innocent people get killed by mistake, I’m willing to look the other way. In this chapter we also learn that jogging is postmodern, but I think that’s only true if the joggers are wearing headphones.
The last chapter is “Limits, Beyonds, and Surface Radicalism.” The author seems to be saying that all this poststructuralism is okay to talk about, but it isn’t likely to change anything. But it will certainly continue to provide employment for academics who are either for it, against it, or are unwilling to say as long as they don’t have tenure yet.
In the back of the book is a very long list of books that the author has apparently read. Hey, man, if you have actually read 140 books on poststructuralism, I fear for your sanity. I think it’s okay to read a couple, but people should read a variety of things. A reading diet like this is bad for you. But there are a lot of academics like this author. I wish they’d get abducted by aliens, and then when the aliens did their mind-scan thing and absorbed all that stuff, they’d be so fucking confused they’d go back to Tau Ceti-4 and leave us alone.
Beyond Aesthetics was not the best book or the worst book I ever read, and I neither recommend it nor not-recommend it, as I’m afraid that either way I’d be in an argument that would go nowhere with some jerk I’d rather smack with a wet fish.
Copyright@ 2013 by Crad Kilodney. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reminder: my French book, Villes Bigrement Exotiques, is still in print. Published by Le Dilettante (Paris). Destined to be a collector’s item, like all my other books.