You are on page 1of 8

AVANTGARDEANDKITSCH

ONEANDTHESAMEcivilizationproducessimultaneouslytwosuchdifferentthingsasapoembyT.
S.EliotandaTinPanAlleysong,orapaintingbyBraqueandaSaturdayEveningPostcover.Allfour
areontheorderofculture,andostensibly,partsofthesamecultureandproductsofthesamesociety.
Here,however,theirconnectionseemstoend.ApoembyEliotandapoembyEddieGuestwhat
perspectiveofcultureislargeenoughtoenableustosituatetheminanenlighteningrelationtoeach
other?Doesthefactthatadisparitysuchasthiswithintheframeofasingleculturaltradition,whichis
andhasbeentakenforgranteddoesthisfactindicatethatthedisparityisapartofthenaturalorder
ofthings?Orisitsomethingentirelynew,andparticulartoourage?

Theanswerinvolvesmorethananinvestigationinaesthetics.Itappearstomethatitisnecessaryto
examinemorecloselyandwithmoreoriginalitythanhithertotherelationshipbetweenaesthetic
experienceasmetbythespecificnotthegeneralizedindividual,andthesocialandhistorical
contextsinwhichthatexperiencetakesplace.Whatisbroughttolightwillanswer,inadditiontothe
questionposedabove,otherandperhapsmoreimportantquestions.

Asociety,asitbecomeslessandlessable,inthecourseofitsdevelopment,tojustifytheinevitability
ofitsparticularforms,breaksuptheacceptednotionsuponwhichartistsandwritersmustdependin
largepartforcommunicationwiththeiraudiences.Itbecomesdifficulttoassumeanything.Allthe
veritiesinvolvedbyreligion,authority,tradition,style,arethrownintoquestion,andthewriterorartist
isnolongerabletoestimatetheresponseofhisaudiencetothesymbolsandreferenceswithwhichhe
works.InthepastsuchastateofaffairshasusuallyresolveditselfintoamotionlessAlexandrianism,
anacademicisminwhichthereallyimportantissuesareleftuntouchedbecausetheyinvolve
controversy,andinwhichcreativeactivitydwindlestovirtuosityinthesmalldetailsofform,alllarger
questionsbeingdecidedbytheprecedentoftheoldmasters.Thesamethemesaremechanicallyvaried
inahundreddifferentworks,andyetnothingnewisproduced:Statius,mandarinverse,Roman
sculpture,BeauxArtspainting,neorepublicanarchitecture.

Itisamongthehopefulsignsinthemidstofthedecayofourpresentsocietythatwesomeofus
havebeenunwillingtoacceptthislastphaseforourownculture.Inseekingtogobeyond
Alexandrianism,apartofWesternbourgeoissocietyhasproducedsomethingunheardofheretofore:
avantgardeculture.Asuperiorconsciousnessofhistorymoreprecisely,theappearanceofanew
kindofcriticismofsociety,anhistoricalcriticismmadethispossible.Thiscriticismhasnot
confrontedourpresentsocietywithtimelessutopias,buthassoberlyexaminedinthetermsofhistory
andofcauseandeffecttheantecedents,justificationsandfunctionsoftheformsthatlieattheheartof
everysociety.Thusourpresentbourgeoissocialorderwasshowntobe,notaneternal,"natural"
conditionoflife,butsimplythelatestterminasuccessionofsocialorders.Newperspectivesofthis
kind,becomingapartoftheadvancedintellectualconscienceofthefifthandsixthdecadesofthe
nineteenthcentury,soonwereabsorbedbyartistsandpoets,evenifunconsciouslyforthemostpart.It
wasnoaccident,therefore,thatthebirthoftheavantgardecoincidedchronologicallyand
geographically,toowiththefirstbolddevelopmentofscientificrevolutionarythoughtinEurope.

True,thefirstsettlersofbohemiawhichwasthenidenticalwiththeavantgardeturnedoutsoonto
bedemonstrativelyuninterestedinpolitics.Nevertheless,withoutthecirculationofrevolutionaryideas
intheairaboutthem,theywouldneverhavebeenabletoisolatetheirconceptofthe"bourgeois"in
ordertodefinewhattheywerenot.Nor,withoutthemoralaidofrevolutionarypoliticalattitudes
wouldtheyhavehadthecouragetoassertthemselvesasaggressivelyastheydidagainsttheprevailing
standardsofsociety.Courageindeedwasneededforthis,becausetheavantgarde'semigrationfrom
bourgeoissocietytobohemiameantalsoanemigrationfromthemarketsofcapitalism,uponwhich
artistsandwritershadbeenthrownbythefallingawayofaristocraticpatronage.(Ostensibly,atleast,it
meantthismeantstarvinginagarretalthough,aswewillbeshownlater,theavantgarderemained
attachedtobourgeoissocietypreciselybecauseitneededitsmoney.)
Yetitistruethatoncetheavantgardehadsucceededin"detaching"itselffromsociety,itproceededto
turnaroundandrepudiaterevolutionaryaswellasbourgeoispolitics.Therevolutionwasleftinside
society,apartofthatwelterofideologicalstrugglewhichartandpoetryfindsounpropitiousassoon
asitbeginstoinvolvethose"precious"axiomaticbeliefsuponwhichculturethusfarhashadtorest.
Henceitdevelopedthatthetrueandmostimportantfunctionoftheavantgardewasnotto
"experiment,"buttofindapathalongwhichitwouldbepossibletokeepculturemovinginthemidst
ofideologicalconfusionandviolence.Retiringfrompublicaltogether,theavantgardepoetorartist
soughttomaintainthehighlevelofhisartbybothnarrowingandraisingittotheexpressionofan
absoluteinwhichallrelativitiesandcontradictionswouldbeeitherresolvedorbesidethepoint."Art
forart'ssake"and"purepoetry"appear,andsubjectmatterorcontentbecomessomethingtobe
avoidedlikeaplague.

Ithasbeeninsearchoftheabsolutethattheavantgardehasarrivedat"abstract"or"nonobjective"art
andpoetry,too.TheavantgardepoetorartisttriesineffecttoimitateGodbycreatingsomething
validsolelyonitsownterms,inthewaynatureitselfisvalid,inthewayalandscapenotitspicture
isaestheticallyvalid;somethinggiven,increate,independentofmeanings,similarsororiginals.
Contentistobedissolvedsocompletelyintoformthattheworkofartorliteraturecannotbereduced
inwholeorinparttoanythingnotitself.

Buttheabsoluteisabsolute,andthepoetorartist,beingwhatheis,cherishescertainrelativevalues
morethanothers.Theveryvaluesinthenameofwhichheinvokestheabsolutearerelativevalues,the
valuesofaesthetics.Andsoheturnsouttobeimitating,notGodandhereIuse"imitate"inits
Aristoteliansensebutthedisciplinesandprocessesofartandliteraturethemselves.Thisisthe
genesisofthe"abstract."(1)Inturninghisattentionawayfromsubjectmatterofcommonexperience,
thepoetorartistturnsitinuponthemediumofhisowncraft.Thenonrepresentationalor"abstract,"if
itistohaveaestheticvalidity,cannotbearbitraryandaccidental,butmuststemfromobedienceto
someworthyconstraintororiginal.Thisconstraint,oncetheworldofcommon,extrovertedexperience
hasbeenrenounced,canonlybefoundintheveryprocessesordisciplinesbywhichartandliterature
havealreadyimitatedtheformer.Thesethemselvesbecomethesubjectmatterofartandliterature.If,
tocontinuewithAristotle,allartandliteratureareimitation,thenwhatwehavehereistheimitationof
imitating.ToquoteYeats:

Noristheresingingschoolbutstudying
Monumentsofitsownmagnificence.

Picasso,Braque,Mondrian,Miro,Kandinsky,Brancusi,evenKlee,MatisseandCzannederivetheir
chiefinspirationfromthemediumtheyworkin.(2)Theexcitementoftheirartseemstoliemostofall
initspurepreoccupationwiththeinventionandarrangementofspaces,surfaces,shapes,colors,etc.,to
theexclusionofwhateverisnotnecessarilyimplicatedinthesefactors.Theattentionofpoetslike
Rimbaud,Mallarm,Valry,luard,Pound,HartCrane,Stevens,evenRilkeandYeats,appearstobe
centeredontheefforttocreatepoetryandonthe"moments"themselvesofpoeticconversion,rather
thanonexperiencetobeconvertedintopoetry.Ofcourse,thiscannotexcludeotherpreoccupationsin
theirwork,forpoetrymustdealwithwords,andwordsmustcommunicate.Certainpoets,suchas
MallarmandValry(3)aremoreradicalinthisrespectthanothersleavingasidethosepoetswho
havetriedtocomposepoetryinpuresoundalone.However,ifitwereeasiertodefinepoetry,modern
poetrywouldbemuchmore"pure"and"abstract."Asfortheotherfieldsofliteraturethedefinition
ofavantgardeaestheticsadvancedhereisnoProcrusteanbed.Butasidefromthefactthatmostofour
bestcontemporarynovelistshavegonetoschoolwiththeavantgarde,itissignificantthatGide'smost
ambitiousbookisanovelaboutthewritingofanovel,andthatJoyce'sUlyssesandFinnegansWake
seemtobe,aboveall,asoneFrenchcriticsays,thereductionofexperiencetoexpressionforthesake
ofexpression,theexpressionmatteringmorethanwhatisbeingexpressed.

Thatavantgardecultureistheimitationofimitatingthefactitselfcallsforneitherapprovalnor
disapproval.ItistruethatthisculturecontainswithinitselfsomeoftheveryAlexandrianismitseeksto
overcome.ThelinesquotedfromYeatsreferredtoByzantium,whichisveryclosetoAlexandria;and
inasensethisimitationofimitatingisasuperiorsortofAlexandrianism.Butthereisonemost
importantdifference:theavantgardemoves,whileAlexandrianismstandsstill.Andthis,precisely,is
whatjustifiestheavantgarde'smethodsandmakesthemnecessary.Thenecessityliesinthefactthat
bynoothermeansisitpossibletodaytocreateartandliteratureofahighorder.Toquarrelwith
necessitybythrowingabouttermslike"formalism,""purism,""ivorytower"andsoforthiseitherdull
ordishonest.Thisisnottosay,however,thatitistothesocialadvantageoftheavantgardethatitis
whatitis.Quitetheopposite.

Theavantgarde'sspecializationofitself,thefactthatitsbestartistsareartists'artists,itsbestpoets,
poets'poets,hasestrangedagreatmanyofthosewhowerecapableformerlyofenjoyingand
appreciatingambitiousartandliterature,butwhoarenowunwillingorunabletoacquireaninitiation
intotheircraftsecrets.Themasseshavealwaysremainedmoreorlessindifferenttocultureinthe
processofdevelopment.Buttodaysuchcultureisbeingabandonedbythosetowhomitactually
belongsourrulingclass.Foritistothelatterthattheavantgardebelongs.Noculturecandevelop
withoutasocialbasis,withoutasourceofstableincome.Andinthecaseoftheavantgarde,thiswas
providedbyaneliteamongtherulingclassofthatsocietyfromwhichitassumeditselftobecutoff,
buttowhichithasalwaysremainedattachedbyanumbilicalcordofgold.Theparadoxisreal.And
nowthiseliteisrapidlyshrinking.Sincetheavantgardeformstheonlylivingculturewenowhave,
thesurvivalinthenearfutureofcultureingeneralisthusthreatened.

Wemustnotbedeceivedbysuperficialphenomenaandlocalsuccesses.Picasso'sshowsstilldraw
crowds,andT.S.Eliotistaughtintheuniversities;thedealersinmodernistartarestillinbusiness,and
thepublishersstillpublishsome"difficult"poetry.Buttheavantgardeitself,alreadysensingthe
danger,isbecomingmoreandmoretimideverydaythatpasses.Academicismandcommercialismare
appearinginthestrangestplaces.Thiscanmeanonlyonething:thattheavantgardeisbecoming
unsureoftheaudienceitdependsontherichandthecultivated.

Isitthenatureitselfofavantgardeculturethatisaloneresponsibleforthedangeritfindsitselfin?Or
isthatonlyadangerousliability?Arethereother,andperhapsmoreimportant,factorsinvolved?

II

Wherethereisanavantgarde,generallywealsofindarearguard.Trueenoughsimultaneouslywith
theentranceoftheavantgarde,asecondnewculturalphenomenonappearedintheindustrialWest:
thatthingtowhichtheGermansgivethewonderfulnameofKitsch:popular,commercialartand
literaturewiththeirchromeotypes,magazinecovers,illustrations,ads,slickandpulpfiction,comics,
TinPanAlleymusic,tapdancing,Hollywoodmovies,etc.,etc.Forsomereasonthisgigantic
apparitionhasalwaysbeentakenforgranted.Itistimewelookedintoitswhysandwherefores.

KitschisaproductoftheindustrialrevolutionwhichurbanizedthemassesofWesternEuropeand
Americaandestablishedwhatiscalleduniversalliteracy.

Priortothistheonlymarketforformalculture,asdistinguishedfromfolkculture,hadbeenamong
thosewho,inadditiontobeingabletoreadandwrite,couldcommandtheleisureandcomfortthat
alwaysgoeshandinhandwithcultivationofsomesort.Thisuntilthenhadbeeninextricably
associatedwithliteracy.Butwiththeintroductionofuniversalliteracy,theabilitytoreadandwrite
becamealmostaminorskilllikedrivingacar,anditnolongerservedtodistinguishanindividual's
culturalinclinations,sinceitwasnolongertheexclusiveconcomitantofrefinedtastes.

Thepeasantswhosettledinthecitiesasproletariatandpettybourgeoislearnedtoreadandwritefor
thesakeofefficiency,buttheydidnotwintheleisureandcomfortnecessaryfortheenjoymentofthe
city'straditionalculture.Losing,nevertheless,theirtasteforthefolkculturewhosebackgroundwasthe
countryside,anddiscoveringanewcapacityforboredomatthesametime,thenewurbanmassesset
upapressureonsocietytoprovidethemwithakindofculturefitfortheirownconsumption.Tofill
thedemandofthenewmarket,anewcommoditywasdevised:ersatzculture,kitsch,destinedforthose
who,insensibletothevaluesofgenuineculture,arehungryneverthelessforthediversionthatonly
cultureofsomesortcanprovide.
Kitsch,usingforrawmaterialthedebasedandacademicizedsimulacraofgenuineculture,welcomes
andcultivatesthisinsensibility.Itisthesourceofitsprofits.Kitschismechanicalandoperatesby
formulas.Kitschisvicariousexperienceandfakedsensations.Kitschchangesaccordingtostyle,but
remainsalwaysthesame.Kitschistheepitomeofallthatisspuriousinthelifeofourtimes.Kitsch
pretendstodemandnothingofitscustomersexcepttheirmoneynoteventheirtime.

Thepreconditionforkitsch,aconditionwithoutwhichkitschwouldbeimpossible,istheavailability
closeathandofafullymaturedculturaltradition,whosediscoveries,acquisitions,andperfectedself
consciousnesskitschcantakeadvantageofforitsownends.Itborrowsfromitdevices,tricks,
stratagems,rulesofthumb,themes,convertsthemintoasystem,anddiscardstherest.Itdrawsitslife
blood,sotospeak,fromthisreservoirofaccumulatedexperience.Thisiswhatisreallymeantwhenit
issaidthatthepopularartandliteratureoftodaywereoncethedaring,esotericartandliteratureof
yesterday.Ofcourse,nosuchthingistrue.Whatismeantisthatwhenenoughtimehaselapsedthe
newislootedfornew"twists,"whicharethenwatereddownandservedupaskitsch.Selfevidently,
allkitschisacademic;andconversely,allthat'sacademiciskitsch.Forwhatiscalledtheacademicas
suchnolongerhasanindependentexistence,buthasbecomethestuffedshirt"front"forkitsch.The
methodsofindustrialismdisplacethehandicrafts.

Becauseitcanbeturnedoutmechanically,kitschhasbecomeanintegralpartofourproductivesystem
inawayinwhichtrueculturecouldneverbe,exceptaccidentally.Ithasbeencapitalizedata
tremendousinvestmentwhichmustshowcommensuratereturns;itiscompelledtoextendaswellasto
keepitsmarkets.Whileitisessentiallyitsownsalesman,agreatsalesapparatushasneverthelessbeen
createdforit,whichbringspressuretobearoneverymemberofsociety.Trapsarelaideveninthose
areas,sotospeak,thatarethepreservesofgenuineculture.Itisnotenoughtoday,inacountrylike
ours,tohaveaninclinationtowardsthelatter;onemusthaveatruepassionforitthatwillgivehimthe
powertoresistthefakedarticlethatsurroundsandpressesinonhimfromthemomentheisoldenough
tolookatthefunnypapers.Kitschisdeceptive.Ithasmanydifferentlevels,andsomeofthemarehigh
enoughtobedangeroustothenaiveseekeroftruelight.AmagazineliketheNewYorker,whichis
fundamentallyhighclasskitschfortheluxurytrade,convertsandwatersdownagreatdealofavant
gardematerialforitsownuses.Noriseverysingleitemofkitschaltogetherworthless.Nowandthenit
producessomethingofmerit,somethingthathasanauthenticfolkflavor;andtheseaccidentaland
isolatedinstanceshavefooledpeoplewhoshouldknowbetter.

Kitsch'senormousprofitsareasourceoftemptationtotheavantgardeitself,anditsmembershavenot
alwaysresistedthistemptation.Ambitiouswritersandartistswillmodifytheirworkunderthepressure
ofkitsch,iftheydonotsuccumbtoitentirely.Andthenthosepuzzlingborderlinecasesappear,such
asthepopularnovelist,Simenon,inFrance,andSteinbeckinthiscountry.Thenetresultisalwaysto
thedetrimentoftruecultureinanycase.

Kitschhasnotbeenconfinedtothecitiesinwhichitwasborn,buthasflowedoutoverthecountryside,
wipingoutfolkculture.Norhasitshownanyregardforgeographicalandnationalculturalboundaries.
AnothermassproductofWesternindustrialism,ithasgoneonatriumphaltouroftheworld,crowding
outanddefacingnativeculturesinonecolonialcountryafteranother,sothatitisnowbywayof
becomingauniversalculture,thefirstuniversalcultureeverbeheld.TodaythenativeofChina,noless
thantheSouthAmericanIndian,theHindu,nolessthanthePolynesian,havecometoprefertothe
productsoftheirnativeart,magazinecovers,rotogravuresectionsandcalendargirls.Howisthis
virulenceofkitsch,thisirresistibleattractiveness,tobeexplained?Naturally,machinemadekitschcan
undersellthenativehandmadearticle,andtheprestigeoftheWestalsohelps;butwhyiskitschaso
muchmoreprofitableexportarticlethanRembrandt?One,afterall,canbereproducedascheaplyas
theother.

InhislastarticleontheSovietcinemainthePartisanReview,DwightMacdonaldpointsoutthatkitsch
hasinthelasttenyearsbecomethedominantcultureinSovietRussia.Forthisheblamesthepolitical
regimenotonlyforthefactthatkitschistheofficialculture,butalsothatitisactuallythedominant,
mostpopularculture,andhequotesthefollowingfromKurtLondon'sTheSevenSovietArts:"...the
attitudeofthemassesbothtotheoldandnewartstylesprobablyremainsessentiallydependentonthe
natureoftheeducationaffordedthembytheirrespectivestates."Macdonaldgoesontosay:"Whyafter
allshouldignorantpeasantspreferRepin(aleadingexponentofRussianacademickitschinpainting)
toPicasso,whoseabstracttechniqueisatleastasrelevanttotheirownprimitivefolkartasisthe
former'srealisticstyle?No,ifthemassescrowdintotheTretyakov(Moscow'smuseumof
contemporaryRussianart:kitsch),itislargelybecausetheyhavebeenconditionedtoshun'formalism'
andtoadmire'socialistrealism.'"

Inthefirstplaceitisnotaquestionofachoicebetweenmerelytheoldandmerelythenew,asLondon
seemstothinkbutofachoicebetweenthebad,uptodateoldandthegenuinelynew.The
alternativetoPicassoisnotMichelangelo,butkitsch.Inthesecondplace,neitherinbackwardRussia
norintheadvancedWestdothemassespreferkitschsimplybecausetheirgovernmentsconditionthem
towardit.Wherestateeducationalsystemstakethetroubletomentionart,wearetoldtorespecttheold
masters,notkitsch;andyetwegoandhangMaxfieldParrishorhisequivalentonourwalls,insteadof
RembrandtandMichelangelo.Moreover,asMacdonaldhimselfpointsout,around1925whenthe
Sovietregimewasencouragingavantgardecinema,theRussianmassescontinuedtoprefer
Hollywoodmovies.No,"conditioning"doesnotexplainthepotencyofkitsch.

Allvaluesarehumanvalues,relativevalues,inartaswellaselsewhere.Yettheredoesseemtohave
beenmoreorlessofageneralagreementamongthecultivatedofmankindovertheagesastowhatis
goodartandwhatbad.Tastehasvaried,butnotbeyondcertainlimits;contemporaryconnoisseurs
agreewiththeeighteenthcenturyJapanesethatHokusaiwasoneofthegreatestartistsofhistime;we
evenagreewiththeancientEgyptiansthatThirdandFourthDynastyartwasthemostworthyofbeing
selectedastheirparagonbythosewhocameafter.WemayhavecometopreferGiottotoRaphael,but
westilldonotdenythatRaphaelwasoneofthebestpaintersofhistime.Therehasbeenanagreement
then,andthisagreementrests,Ibelieve,onafairlyconstantdistinctionmadebetweenthosevalues
onlytobefoundinartandthevalueswhichcanbefoundelsewhere.Kitsch,byvirtueofarationalized
techniquethatdrawsonscienceandindustry,haserasedthisdistinctioninpractice.

Letussee,forexample,whathappenswhenanignorantRussianpeasantsuchasMacdonaldmentions
standswithhypotheticalfreedomofchoicebeforetwopaintings,onebyPicasso,theotherbyRepin.In
thefirsthesees,letussay,aplayoflines,colorsandspacesthatrepresentawoman.Theabstract
techniquetoacceptMacdonald'ssupposition,whichIaminclinedtodoubtremindshimsomewhat
oftheiconshehasleftbehindhiminthevillage,andhefeelstheattractionofthefamiliar.Wewill
evensupposethathefaintlysurmisessomeofthegreatartvaluesthecultivatedfindinPicasso.He
turnsnexttoRepin'spictureandseesabattlescene.Thetechniqueisnotsofamiliarastechnique.
Butthatweighsverylittlewiththepeasant,forhesuddenlydiscoversvaluesinRepin'spicturethat
seemfarsuperiortothevalueshehasbeenaccustomedtofindiniconart;andtheunfamiliaritselfis
oneofthesourcesofthosevalues:thevaluesofthevividlyrecognizable,themiraculousandthe
sympathetic.InRepin'spicturethepeasantrecognizesandseesthingsinthewayinwhichhe
recognizesandseesthingsoutsideofpicturesthereisnodiscontinuitybetweenartandlife,noneed
toacceptaconventionandsaytooneself,thaticonrepresentsJesusbecauseitintendstorepresent
Jesus,evenifitdoesnotremindmeverymuchofaman.ThatRepincanpaintsorealisticallythat
identificationsareselfevidentimmediatelyandwithoutanyeffortonthepartofthespectatorthatis
miraculous.Thepeasantisalsopleasedbythewealthofselfevidentmeaningswhichhefindsinthe
picture:"ittellsastory."Picassoandtheiconsaresoaustereandbarrenincomparison.Whatismore,
Repinheightensrealityandmakesitdramatic:sunset,explodingshells,runningandfallingmen.There
isnolongeranyquestionofPicassooricons.Repiniswhatthepeasantwants,andnothingelsebut
Repin.Itislucky,however,forRepinthatthepeasantisprotectedfromtheproductsofAmerican
capitalism,forhewouldnotstandachancenexttoaSaturdayEveningPostcoverbyNorman
Rockwell.

Ultimately,itcanbesaidthatthecultivatedspectatorderivesthesamevaluesfromPicassothatthe
peasantgetsfromRepin,sincewhatthelatterenjoysinRepinissomehowarttoo,onhoweverlowa
scale,andheissenttolookatpicturesbythesameinstinctsthatsendthecultivatedspectator.Butthe
ultimatevalueswhichthecultivatedspectatorderivesfromPicassoarederivedatasecondremove,as
theresultofreflectionupontheimmediateimpressionleftbytheplasticvalues.Itisonlythenthatthe
recognizable,themiraculousandthesympatheticenter.Theyarenotimmediatelyorexternallypresent
inPicasso'spainting,butmustbeprojectedintoitbythespectatorsensitiveenoughtoreactsufficiently
toplasticqualities.Theybelongtothe"reflected"effect.InRepin,ontheotherhand,the"reflected"
effecthasalreadybeenincludedinthepicture,readyforthespectator'sunreflectiveenjoyment.(4)
WherePicassopaintscause,Repinpaintseffect.Repinpredigestsartforthespectatorandspareshim
effort,provideshimwithashorecuttothepleasureofartthatdetourswhatisnecessarilydifficultin
genuineart.Repin,orkitsch,issyntheticart.

Thesamepointcanbemadewithrespecttokitschliterature:itprovidesvicariousexperienceforthe
insensitivewithfargreaterimmediacythanseriousfictioncanhopetodo.AndEddieGuestandthe
IndianLoveLyricsaremorepoeticthanT.S.EliotandShakespeare.

III

Iftheavantgardeimitatestheprocessesofart,kitsch,wenowsee,imitatesitseffects.Theneatnessof
thisantithesisismorethancontrived;itcorrespondstoanddefinesthetremendousintervalthat
separatesfromeachothertwosuchsimultaneousculturalphenomenaastheavantgardeandkitsch.
Thisinterval,toogreattobeclosedbyalltheinfinitegradationsofpopularized"modernism"and
"modernistic"kitsch,correspondsinturntoasocialinterval,asocialintervalthathasalwaysexistedin
formalculture,aselsewhereincivilizedsociety,andwhosetwoterminiconvergeanddivergeinfixed
relationtotheincreasingordecreasingstabilityofthegivensociety.Therehasalwaysbeenononeside
theminorityofthepowerfulandthereforethecultivatedandontheotherthegreatmassofthe
exploitedandpoorandthereforetheignorant.Formalculturehasalwaysbelongedtothefirst,while
thelasthavehadtocontentthemselveswithfolkorrudimentaryculture,orkitsch.

Inastablesocietythatfunctionswellenoughtoholdinsolutionthecontradictionsbetweenitsclasses,
theculturaldichotomybecomessomewhatblurred.Theaxiomsofthefewaresharedbythemany;the
latterbelievesuperstitiouslywhattheformerbelievesoberly.Andatsuchmomentsinhistorythe
massesareabletofeelwonderandadmirationfortheculture,onnomatterhowhighaplane,ofits
masters.Thisappliesatleasttoplasticculture,whichisaccessibletoall.

IntheMiddleAgestheplasticartistpaidlipserviceatleasttothelowestcommondenominatorsof
experience.Thisevenremainedtruetosomeextentuntiltheseventeenthcentury.Therewasavailable
forimitationauniversallyvalidconceptualreality,whoseordertheartistcouldnottamperwith.The
subjectmatterofartwasprescribedbythosewhocommissionedworksofart,whichwerenotcreated,
asinbourgeoissociety,onspeculation.Preciselybecausehiscontentwasdeterminedinadvance,the
artistwasfreetoconcentrateonhismedium.Heneedednottobephilosopher,orvisionary,butsimply
artificer.Aslongastherewasgeneralagreementastowhatweretheworthiestsubjectsforart,the
artistwasrelievedofthenecessitytobeoriginalandinventiveinhis"matter"andcoulddevoteallhis
energytoformalproblems.Forhimthemediumbecame,privately,professionally,thecontentofhis
art,evenashismediumistodaythepubliccontentoftheabstractpainter'sartwiththatdifference,
however,thatthemedievalartisthadtosuppresshisprofessionalpreoccupationinpublichadalways
tosuppressandsubordinatethepersonalandprofessionalinthefinished,officialworkofart.If,asan
ordinarymemberoftheChristiancommunity,hefeltsomepersonalemotionabouthissubjectmatter,
thisonlycontributedtotheenrichmentofthework'spublicmeaning.OnlywiththeRenaissancedothe
inflectionsofthepersonalbecomelegitimate,stilltobekept,however,withinthelimitsofthesimply
anduniversallyrecognizable.AndonlywithRembrandtdo"lonely"artistsbegintoappear,lonelyin
theirart.

ButevenduringtheRenaissance,andaslongasWesternartwasendeavoringtoperfectitstechnique,
victoriesinthisrealmcouldonlybesignalizedbysuccessinrealisticimitation,sincetherewasno
otherobjectivecriterionathand.Thusthemassescouldstillfindintheartoftheirmastersobjectsof
admirationandwonder.EventhebirdthatpeckedatthefruitinZeuxis'picturecouldapplaud.

Itisaplatitudethatartbecomescaviartothegeneralwhentherealityitimitatesnolongercorresponds
evenroughlytotherealityrecognizedbythegeneral.Eventhen,however,theresentmentthecommon
manmayfeelissilencedbytheaweinwhichhestandsofthepatronsofthisart.Onlywhenhe
becomesdissatisfiedwiththesocialordertheyadministerdoeshebegintocriticizetheirculture.Then
theplebianfindscourageforthefirsttimetovoicehisopinionsopenly.Everyman,fromtheTammany
aldermantotheAustrianhousepainter,findsthatheisentitledtohisopinion.Mostoftenthis
resentmenttowardcultureistobefoundwherethedissatisfactionwithsocietyisareactionary
dissatisfactionwhichexpressesitselfinrevivalismandpuritanism,andlatestofall,infascism.Here
revolversandtorchesbegintobementionedinthesamebreathasculture.Inthenameofgodlinessor
theblood'shealth,inthenameofsimplewaysandsolidvirtues,thestatuesmashingcommences.

IV

ReturningtoourRussianpeasantforthemoment,letussupposethatafterhehaschosenRepinin
preferencetoPicasso,thestate'seducationalapparatuscomesalongandtellshimthatheiswrong,that
heshouldhavechosenPicassoandshowshimwhy.ItisquitepossiblefortheSovietstatetodothis.
ButthingsbeingastheyareinRussiaandeverywhereelsethepeasantsoonfindsthenecessityof
workinghardalldayforhislivingandtherude,uncomfortablecircumstancesinwhichhelivesdonot
allowhimenoughleisure,energyandcomforttotrainfortheenjoymentofPicasso.Thisneeds,after
all,aconsiderableamountof"conditioning."Superiorcultureisoneofthemostartificialofallhuman
creations,andthepeasantfindsno"natural"urgencywithinhimselfthatwilldrivehimtowardPicasso
inspiteofalldifficulties.Intheendthepeasantwillgobacktokitschwhenhefeelslikelookingat
pictures,forhecanenjoykitschwithouteffort.Thestateishelplessinthismatterandremainssoas
longastheproblemsofproductionhavenotbeensolvedinasocialistsense.Thesameholdstrue,of
course,forcapitalistcountriesandmakesalltalkofartforthemassestherenothingbutdemagogy.(5)

Wheretodayapoliticalregimeestablishesanofficialculturalpolicy,itisforthesakeofdemagogy.If
kitschistheofficialtendencyofcultureinGermany,ItalyandRussia,itisnotbecausetheirrespective
governmentsarecontrolledbyphilistines,butbecausekitschisthecultureofthemassesinthese
countries,asitiseverywhereelse.Theencouragementofkitschismerelyanotheroftheinexpensive
waysinwhichtotalitarianregimesseektoingratiatethemselveswiththeirsubjects.Sincethese
regimescannotraisetheculturallevelofthemasseseveniftheywantedtobyanythingshortofa
surrendertointernationalsocialism,theywillflatterthemassesbybringingallculturedowntotheir
level.Itisforthisreasonthattheavantgardeisoutlawed,andnotsomuchbecauseasuperiorculture
isinherentlyamorecriticalculture.(Whetherornottheavantgardecouldpossiblyflourishundera
totalitarianregimeisnotpertinenttothequestionatthispoint.)Asamatteroffact,themaintrouble
withavantgardeartandliterature,fromthepointofviewoffascistsandStalinists,isnotthattheyare
toocritical,butthattheyaretoo"innocent,"thatitistoodifficulttoinjecteffectivepropagandainto
them,thatkitschismorepliabletothisend.Kitschkeepsadictatorinclosercontactwiththe"soul"of
thepeople.Shouldtheofficialculturebeonesuperiortothegeneralmasslevel,therewouldbea
dangerofisolation.

Nevertheless,ifthemasseswereconceivablytoaskforavantgardeartandliterature,Hitler,Mussolini
andStalinwouldnothesitatelonginattemptingtosatisfysuchademand.Hitlerisabitterenemyof
theavantgarde,bothondoctrinalandpersonalgrounds,yetthisdidnotpreventGoebbelsin1932
1933fromstrenuouslycourtingavantgardeartistsandwriters.WhenGottfriedBenn,anExpressionist
poet,cameovertotheNazishewaswelcomedwithagreatfanfare,althoughatthatverymoment
HitlerwasdenouncingExpressionismasKulturbolschewismus.ThiswasatatimewhentheNazisfelt
thattheprestigewhichtheavantgardeenjoyedamongthecultivatedGermanpubliccouldbeof
advantagetothem,andpracticalconsiderationsofthisnature,theNazisbeingskillfulpoliticians,have
alwaystakenprecedenceoverHitler'spersonalinclinations.LatertheNazisrealizedthatitwasmore
practicaltoaccedetothewishesofthemassesinmattersofculturethantothoseoftheirpaymasters;
thelatter,whenitcametoaquestionofpreservingpower,wereaswillingtosacrificetheircultureas
theyweretheirmoralprinciples;whiletheformer,preciselybecausepowerwasbeingwithheldfrom
them,hadtobecozenedineveryotherwaypossible.Itwasnecessarytopromoteonamuchmore
grandiosestylethaninthedemocraciestheillusionthatthemassesactuallyrule.Theliteratureandart
theyenjoyandunderstandweretobeproclaimedtheonlytrueartandliteratureandanyotherkindwas
tobesuppressed.UnderthesecircumstancespeoplelikeGottfriedBenn,nomatterhowardentlythey
supportHitler,becomealiability;andwehearnomoreoftheminNaziGermany.
WecanseethenthatalthoughfromonepointofviewthepersonalphilistinismofHitlerandStalinis
notaccidentaltotherolestheyplay,fromanotherpointofviewitisonlyanincidentallycontributory
factorindeterminingtheculturalpoliciesoftheirrespectiveregimes.Theirpersonalphilistinism
simplyaddsbrutalityanddoubledarknesstopoliciestheywouldbeforcedtosupportanyhowbythe
pressureofalltheirotherpoliciesevenwerethey,personally,devoteesofavantgardeculture.What
theacceptanceoftheisolationoftheRussianRevolutionforcesStalintodo,Hitleriscompelledtodo
byhisacceptanceofthecontradictionsofcapitalismandhiseffortstofreezethem.AsforMussolini
hiscaseisaperfectexampleofthedisponsibilitofarealistinthesematters.Foryearshebenta
benevolenteyeontheFuturistsandbuiltmodernisticrailroadstationsandgovernmentowned
apartmenthouses.OnecanstillseeinthesuburbsofRomemoremodernisticapartmentsthanalmost
anywhereelseintheworld.PerhapsFascismwantedtoshowitsuptodateness,toconcealthefactthat
itwasaretrogression;perhapsitwantedtoconformtothetastesofthewealthyeliteitserved.Atany
rateMussoliniseemstohaverealizedlatelythatitwouldbemoreusefultohimtopleasethecultural
tastesoftheItalianmassesthanthoseoftheirmasters.Themassesmustbeprovidedwithobjectsof
admirationandwonder;thelattercandispensewiththem.AndsowefindMussoliniannouncinga
"newImperialstyle."Marinetti,Chirico,etal.,aresentintotheouterdarkness,andthenewrailroad
stationinRomewillnotbemodernistic.ThatMussoliniwaslateincomingtothisonlyillustratesagain
therelativehesitancewithwhichItalianFascismhasdrawnthenecessaryimplicationsofitsrole.

Capitalismindeclinefindsthatwhateverofqualityitisstillcapableofproducingbecomesalmost
invariablyathreattoitsownexistence.Advancesinculture,nolessthanadvancesinscienceand
industry,corrodetheverysocietyunderwhoseaegistheyaremadepossible.Here,asineveryother
questiontoday,itbecomesnecessarytoquoteMarxwordforword.Todaywenolongerlooktoward
socialismforanewcultureasinevitablyasonewillappear,oncewedohavesocialism.Todaywe
looktosocialismsimplyforthepreservationofwhateverlivingculturewehaverightnow.

1.Theexampleofmusic,whichhaslongbeenanabstractart,andwhichavantgardepoetryhastriedsomuchtoemulate,is
interesting.Music,Aristotlesaidcuriouslyenough,isthemostimitativeandvividofallartsbecauseitimitatesitsoriginalthe
stateofthesoulwiththegreatestimmediacy.Todaythisstrikesusastheexactoppositeofthetruth,becausenoartseemstous
tohavelessreferencetosomethingoutsideitselfthanmusic.However,asidefromthefactthatinasenseAristotlemaystillbe
right,itmustbeexplainedthatancientGreekmusicwascloselyassociatedwithpoetry,anddependeduponitscharacterasan
accessorytoversetomakeitsimitativemeaningclear.Plato,speakingofmusic,says:"Forwhentherearenowords,itisvery
difficultorecognizethemeaningoftheharmonyandrhythm,ortoseethatanyworthyobjectisimitatedbythem."Asfaraswe
know,allmusicoriginallyservedsuchanaccessoryfunction.Once,however,itwasabandoned,musicwasforcedtowithdraw
intoitselftofindaconstraintororiginal.Thisisfoundinthevariousmeansofitsowncompositionandperformance.

2.IowethisformulationtoaremarkmadebyHansHofmann,theartteacher,inoneofhislectures.Fromthepointofviewof
thisformulation,Surrealisminplasticartisareactionarytendencywhichisattemptingtorestore"outside"subjectmatter.The
chiefconcernofapainterlikeDaliistorepresenttheprocessesandconceptsofhisconsciousness,nottheprocessesofhis
medium.

3.SeeValry'sremarksabouthisownpoetry.

4.T.S.EliotsaidsomethingtothesameeffectinaccountingfortheshortcomingsofEnglishRomanticpoetry.Indeedthe
Romanticscanbeconsideredtheoriginalsinnerswhoseguiltkitschinherited.Theyshowedkitschhow.WhatdoesKeatswrite
aboutmainly,ifnottheeffectofpoetryuponhimself?

5.Itwillbeobjectedthatsuchartforthemassesasfolkartwasdevelopedunderrudimentaryconditionsofproductionandthat
agooddealoffolkartisonahighlevel.YesitisbutfolkartisnotAthene,andit'sAthenewhomwewant:formalculture
withitsinfinityofaspects,itsluxuriance,itslargecomprehension.Besides,wearenowtoldthatmostofwhatweconsidergood
infolkcultureisthestaticsurvivalofdeadformal,aristocratic,cultures.OuroldEnglishballads,forinstance,werenotcreated
bythe"folk,"butbythepostfeudalsquirearchyoftheEnglishcountryside,tosurviveinthemouthsofthefolklongafterthose
forwhomtheballadswerecomposedhadgoneontootherformsofliterature.Unfortunately,untilthemachineage,culturewas
theexclusiveprerogativeofasocietythatlivedbythelaborofserfsorslaves.Theyweretherealsymbolsofculture.Forone
mantospendtimeandenergycreatingorlisteningtopoetrymeantthatanothermanhadtoproduceenoughtokeephimselfalive
andtheformerincomfort.InAfricatodaywefindthatthecultureofslaveowningtribesisgenerallymuchsuperiortothatofthe
tribesthatpossessnoslaves.