The Worst Critic In The History Of The World
January 8, 2015 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Artist, The Toast contributor, adult movie star, and all-round very sharp guy Zak Smith talks about the absolute worst way possible to do art criticism. Zak Smith previously.
posted by Joakim Ziegler (64 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
This will be a great visual read. Zak Smith is awesome.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 4:35 PM on January 8, 2015


"Mr. O' Toole, you forgot your flask."
posted by clavdivs at 4:39 PM on January 8, 2015


Zak also just put out a mind-blowing RPG supplement called A Red & Pleasant Land. It bends and warps D&D until it resembles the logic from Alice in Wonderland. (Also, the cloth-bound book is an artifact worth having in itself.)
posted by graymouser at 4:41 PM on January 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


If you're all tl;dr just look at the art, then, you degenerate.
posted by dhartung at 4:41 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


For super fun irony, do a find/replace of "Max Nordau" to "Zak Smith" in that article, change every mention of "art" to "roleplaying games", and see how little of it becomes invalid/incoherent.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:42 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


<80s-damage> Reading this, I can't stop thinking about George Will. </80s-damage>
posted by benito.strauss at 4:43 PM on January 8, 2015


Good stuff. And some fantastic art.

Personally I'm quite fond of Goethe's 3 questions:

What was the artist trying to do?
Where they successful at that?
Was it worth doing?

Given the way subjectivity works I'm sure they can be used to generate duff opinions as easily as any other formula, but trying to answer then should at least generate a more interesting discussion in the process.
posted by Artw at 4:43 PM on January 8, 2015 [26 favorites]


graymouser: "Zak also just put out a mind-blowing RPG supplement called A Red & Pleasant Land. It bends and warps D&D until it resembles the logic from Alice in Wonderland. (Also, the cloth-bound book is an artifact worth having in itself."

Oh, wow, that looks interesting. I wonder if there are any more images online. I might need that, although it's semi-pricey.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:44 PM on January 8, 2015


Joakim Ziegler - zak s. retweeted this vine link which is a very quick flip through. charlotte stokely posted these pictures[page mnsfw] which show a pretty neat looking page.

as it happens just earlier today i was pouring over one of his pieces of mandy. i wish i had the money to hang one in my house.
posted by nadawi at 4:55 PM on January 8, 2015


If you're all tl;dr just look at the art, then, you degenerate.

Guilty as charged :D
posted by surazal at 4:55 PM on January 8, 2015


Artw, yes, I and a few friends talked late into the night on this one time and came to a similar conclusion.

It's very, very hard to declare art "invalid," essentially declare something not art. And art you like and don't like is highly subjective. But asking whether the artist was successful in what they set out to do is about as close to an objective measure of whether art is good or bad as we could arrive at.

And of course that too is a matter of opinion, but while you're not likely to convince someone they don't like Artist X, you may be able to get them to agree that Artist X had a goal Y in piece Z, and they did not in fact achieve that, as evidenced by A, B, and C. It becomes a much more manageable discussion about things artists do, techniques, and so on, rather than high-stakes Ideas about Art.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:56 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean, seriously, this is what Zak Smith gets up to when he thinks nobody's looking. Character is who you are in the dark, etc.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:57 PM on January 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


nadawi: "as it happens just earlier today i was pouring over one of his pieces of mandy. i wish i had the money to hang one in my house."

What do his pieces go for, anyway? I've seen many I've liked, but never any prices, which is usually not a good sign...
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:57 PM on January 8, 2015


The man sure knows his art history.

He has also been part of an ongoing and rather poisonous kerfuffle about whether or not the art in roleplaying games could and ought to do better by women than it has historically. People who say that you know, it'd be nice to have a smaller fraction of women in RPG art be highly sexualized have come under ruthless harassment. Think of it as a Gamergate in miniature. I know some of the people who regularly, REGULARLY, get demonized as evil feminist killjoys because of this, who receive torrents of hate for being prudish, censorious harridans who want to ruin art and creativity, veritable Nazis. From supporters of Zak Smith.

"The frequent cry that 'we can do better' sounds so upbeat"....

I see what he did there.

The man sure knows his art history, though.
posted by edheil at 5:01 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


last time i looked into it they were $20-30k.
posted by nadawi at 5:01 PM on January 8, 2015


edheil: "He has also been part of an ongoing and rather poisonous kerfuffle about whether or not the art in roleplaying games could and ought to do better by women than it has historically. People who say that you know, it'd be nice to have a smaller fraction of women in RPG art be highly sexualized have come under ruthless harassment. Think of it as a Gamergate in miniature. I know some of the people who regularly, REGULARLY, get demonized as evil feminist killjoys because of this, who receive torrents of hate for being prudish, censorious harridans who want to ruin art and creativity, veritable Nazis. From supporters of Zak Smith."

I had no idea about this, that kind of sucks. But is it him who's doing this, or his supporters?

I will say that given that he's an actual porn star, and his girlfriend, many of his friends, and most of the models for his art also are porn stars, he might have a somewhat skewed perspective on sexualized art in general, what most women would think about it, and so on. Not an excuse, but maybe something of an explanation.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:05 PM on January 8, 2015


Joakim Ziegler, I'm not familiar with all the evidence for what he has done, what he hasn't done, what people supporting him have done with or without his approval. I have no idea how to sort it out. I just know what happens when women criticize him, or he criticizes them. And it's never pleasant.

It looks like Pope Guilty knows the whole situation better than I do.
posted by edheil at 5:09 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I found this article pretty fun and interesting, highlighting an interesting and nefarious character I hadn't heard of before (I didn't realize that the Nazi's philosophy regarding "degenerate" art was so embodied by Nordau). Then, I got to this part:
If your ethic is “I may not agree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it while I also try to make sure no-one hears you and I never address your defense of it” you may believe in free speech but you don’t believe in the thing free speech is for. You don’t believe in the honing and improving of ideas through collision with other ideas—or, as we call it, thinking. [...]

Are you reading this and feeling strawmanned? Then quote where you think the part I got wrong is, and say what you think. And then I write something, and you write back, and I write back, and you write back and we keep going and we learn. Demonstrate belief in the possibility of human progress rather than in what progress does for you. That is how you would prove me wrong.
Urk. This is uncomfortably close to a bunch of tropes that are super-common among various internet reactionary (usually anti-feminist among other stuff) movements like #Gamergate, including sea-lioning and treating the deletion of abusive or derailing blog comments as tantamount to Fahrenheit 451.

And then I read through some of the links that Pope Guilty posted...
posted by mhum at 5:32 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


He's a smart abrasive asshole who won't back down and has been the subject of an abortive hate campaign for what he or maybe someone he goes out with did, or might have done, or look whatever what side are you ON ANYWAY right here on this forum.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:35 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Joakim Ziegler: "I had no idea about this, that kind of sucks. But is it him who's doing this, or his supporters?"

Well, from Pope Guilty's link, we have screenshots of G+ posts like this and this (oh hey, I know that site). I can't vouch for their authenticity, though.
posted by mhum at 5:37 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Pope Guilty's link is to Paul Ettin's tumblr. It's like linking to a Hatfields page about the McCoys.
posted by graymouser at 5:40 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


the link Sebmojo posted is pretty good, if tedious reading - not the fpp, the comments. it's a lot of back and forth and a lot of frankly bullshit charges against him that have been disproved. also, those porn stars he hangs out with are hardcore nerds who have spoken at length about the abuse they've suffered at the hands of those accusing zak s. of bad behavior. you can really fall down a rabbit hole tracing it all back and finding all the competing tales. i will say that it is overly simplistic to say that he's a bad actor against a bunch of innocents. to get you started with the "other side," mandy morbid discussing some of this from her point of view as his partner and as a disabled female nerd.

...or we can get back to discussing the fpp.
posted by nadawi at 5:50 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Seriously. How many times do we need to bring up Zak S' weird D&D nerd fights on Mefi?

I have played D&D with Zak Smith. He was thoroughly friendly. He's smart and calls people out on their bullshit. Apparently that's enough for people from Something Awful to talk about you till the end of time.
posted by chunking express at 5:53 PM on January 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also Red and Pleasant Land is amazing. Alice in Wonderland, Dracula and D&D. There are lots of pictures on his blog if you look at the EAT ME tag. Lots of cool art.
posted by chunking express at 5:55 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you can't see the irony in Zak Smith talking about how dehumanizing and attacking people for disagreeing over art is wrong- if you can't see how his own well-documented behavior, no matter how inconvenient that documentation may be for people who want to see only good in him, is reflected in his well-deserved castigation of Nordau- then I don't know what to tell you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:58 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


lol
posted by Sebmojo at 5:59 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


And then I read through some of the links that Pope Guilty posted...

which I haven't done. I was over reading the actual article in question from which I got this ...

So this is the worst critic ever. Pretty close to objectively. When your criticism’s main impact is that it not only leads to the wholesale destruction of the kinds of works of art that formed the entire wellspring of the next hundred years of cultural production and the exile, imprisonment and sometimes even murder of the artists who made it but, in addition to all that, actually and measurably subverted all the broader societal goals you yourself claimed to seek in every country where your ideas were implemented for decades to come simply by taking your literal meaning, you know you did criticism completely wrong.

Funny and sharp and relevant even if the person who wrote it is ... complicated.
posted by philip-random at 6:02 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you can't see the irony in Zak Smith ...

Wake up, sheeple!

Here is Zak Smith talking about women in gaming art, and how to make that better, in his own words.
posted by chunking express at 6:07 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


fuck yeah yves tanguy!
posted by en forme de poire at 6:09 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Erol Otus weeps
posted by clavdivs at 6:12 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Metafilter:
A. Stuff I don’t like is probably made by people who have something wrong with them.
B. Stuff I don’t like probably mostly appeals to people who have something wrong with them.
C. There are no possible good reasons to like or make what I don’t like.
D. The stakes are incredibly high.
E. I refuse to check any of this.

posted by Daily Alice at 6:21 PM on January 8, 2015 [15 favorites]


Okay, see, look at this. Here's the link that you posted that's supposed to make me think Zak is a good guy:

Here is Zak Smith talking about women in gaming art, and how to make that better, in his own words.

And here's Zak in the first paragraph of text on that page:
If any friend of Chris Longhurst is reading this--please please recognize you have a responsibility to both potatocubed and the wider RPG community to try to convince Chris Longhurst to seek professional therapy of some kind.
Gee, what a nice guy. That's in no sense soliciting harassment- the thing that people who don't let Zak being a smart, creative sort who's empathic and nice as long as you agree with him get in the way of remembering that he's also a giant asshole have repeatedly documented him doing.

And that's the core of it- Zak is a person who appeals to a lot of decent folks because he has a lot of good ideas and qualities and is tremendously creative. And he uses those qualities as a shield to get people to take his side and dismiss the people who point out that if you pay close attention to him, and when he thinks nobody knows its him (there's a reason he used a psuedonym to write The Dongion), he behaves like a serious asshole. There's a lot of invalid criticisms of him (I've seen people shit on him for tattooing his girlfriend's health issues on his arm for quick reference, for example), but that doesn't invalidate the fact that he acts like a real asshole sometimes, and it's important not to ignore that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:21 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The man sure knows his art history.

Given that this whole thing basically amounts to an extended sophomoric "Ha ha! People in the past sure were wrong about stuff! Good thing we've got it all figured out now!" punctuated by a shit-ton of anachronism and misreading, I don't see where you're getting that idea. Not that Nordau is worth actually defending, or worth reading in the first place for anyone but cultural historians, but it's pretty clear from this post that Smith doesn't understand 19th-Century psychology or aesthetics, or (especially) moral philosophy, well enough to do anything but guffaw discomprehendingly at the "gibberish" and then congratulate himself on his righteousness. (And some of the things he quotes, like the bits about Ruskin, are genuinely funny, which is something I certainly never suspected Nordau of before.)

It all seems motivated by a kind of cheap consequentialism, wanting to be able to condemn Nordau for Nazism — a move made familiar by Nietzsche's worst readers and one that is at best hasty and poorly justified.

Anyhow, I got interested enough to spend five seconds searching for a more intelligent take on Nordau and found "Liberalism, Nationalism, and Degeneration: The Case of Max Nordau" by P.M. Baldwin a good read:
Most of his pronouncements on the value and future appeal of various artists are directly the contrary of received opinion today. These were, however, the judgments not of an uncomprehending philistine, but of a rationalist who, although aesthetically perceptive and often appreciative of degenerate art for exclusively artistic reasons, was repulsed by the moral and social tendencies which he thought found expression there. Curiously, his ability to portray his subject accurately stood in almost direct proportion to his disagreement with its implications. He was astoundingly well read and up to date. He was familiar with Kierkegaard, for example, at a time when the name was scarcely known; his treatment of Nietzsche came so early in the public career of that thinker, following the first of Brandes's Copenhagen lectures by four years, that it helped, ironically enough, to popularize his philosophy.
posted by RogerB at 6:24 PM on January 8, 2015 [22 favorites]


I mean, fuck, mhum upthread LITERALLY POSTED SCREENSHOTS OF ZAK SMITH SOLICITING INTERNET HARASSMENT OF SOMEBODY. You cannot in good faith deny that that is a thing he does.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:26 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


These were, however, the judgments not of an uncomprehending philistine, but of a rationalist who, although aesthetically perceptive and often appreciative of degenerate art for exclusively artistic reasons, was repulsed by the moral and social tendencies which he thought found expression there. Curiously, his ability to portray his subject accurately stood in almost direct proportion to his disagreement with its implications.

Not seeing how this contradicts what Zak is saying?

Pope Guilty, you've been licking that sore for six months now; I submit that there is nothing there worth more than an hour's attention and whatever's there is either gone for good, or there to stay.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:27 PM on January 8, 2015


[Folks, the links to this guy's history are here, we've discussed them before, and it does not need to become the focus of this thread. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 6:28 PM on January 8, 2015 [14 favorites]


It all seems motivated by a kind of cheap consequentialism, wanting to be able to condemn Nordau for Nazism — a move made familiar by Nietzsche's worst readers and one that is at best hasty and poorly justified.

I thought he was making a clear point around how an ideological stance can be weaponised. There's a bullet point list and everything:

A. Stuff I don’t like is probably made by people who have something wrong with them.
B. Stuff I don’t like probably mostly appeals to people who have something wrong with them.
C. There are no possible good reasons to like or make what I don’t like.
D. The stakes are incredibly high.
E. I refuse to check any of this.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:47 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


IDK about any of all this sound and fury, but I wish I still lived in New York so I could go see this show at the Neue Gallerie.
posted by Sara C. at 7:05 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Think I'm going to make a notecard to carry around as a reminder to myself:

A. Stuff I like is probably made by people who have something wrong with them.
B. Stuff I don't like probably mostly appeals to people who have nothing wrong with them.
C. There are many possible good reasons to like or make what I don't like.
D. The stakes are incredibly high.
E. Who has the time to check on all of this, since literally everything is predicated by an ancient and impossible-to-follow history of attacks and ripostes, all of which have varying and debatable claims to being on the right or just side of history.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 7:08 PM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah but whoever invented banana yogurt is obviously a sociopath.
posted by Sara C. at 7:23 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


If you read this and disagree and run off to Metafilter or Redditt or Twitter or Facebook and complain there rather than bringing concerns directly to me—you are doing exactly what Max Nordau would’ve done. Bringing concerns to the target risks the target satisfactorily addressing them—and Nordaus don’t want that—they don’t want solutions, they want to profit from being angry.

Heh. Is he a Mefite?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:29 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: "Heh. Is he a Mefite?"

I don't think so, but I just had a polite interaction with him on Twitter about this thread.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:39 PM on January 8, 2015


Aw man I hope calling people Nordaus doesn't become a thing
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:46 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sebmojo: "I thought he was making a clear point around how an ideological stance can be weaponised."

He was, but it's obvious this was an idea-first essay, and writing about history idea-first constitutes an abuse of history. Such an error is theoretically orthogonal to the glibness on display here, but in practice neither vice tends to appear alone.
posted by invitapriore at 9:15 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thanks. And I agree about the idea-first nature of the essay, he's a thinker/ranter rather than a historian.

That said the historical facts (a vast swathe of art was deemed evil by the Nazis for ideological reasons using the intellectual heft of people like Nordau) seem unquestioned, so what exactly did Smith get wrong in your view?
posted by Sebmojo at 10:11 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


"When, therefore, an Oscar Wilde goes, about in ’ aesthetic costume ’ among gazing Philistines, exciting either their ridicule or their wrath, it is no indication of independence of character, but rather from a purely anti-socialistic, ego-maniacal recklessness and hysterical longing to make a sensation, justified by no exalted aim ; nor is it from a strong desire for beauty, but from a malevolent mania for contradiction.”

But you say that like it's a bad thing...
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:38 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


He has also been part of an ongoing and rather poisonous kerfuffle about whether or not the art in roleplaying games could and ought to do better by women than it has historically. People who say that you know, it'd be nice to have a smaller fraction of women in RPG art be highly sexualized have come under ruthless harassment.

Worthwhile reading on that very topic. Admittedly, the post is geared more toward SF/F book covers, but the author has done considerable RPG artwork (and art directing) as well, and the problems are very much the same.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:11 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not that Nordau is worth actually defending, or worth reading in the first place for anyone but cultural historians, but it's pretty clear from this post that Smith doesn't understand 19th-Century psychology or aesthetics, or (especially) moral philosophy, well enough to do anything but guffaw discomprehendingly at the "gibberish" and then congratulate himself on his righteousness.

Yeah, it's a simple reading of Nordau motivated by a wish to make him a synecdoche for an attitude Smith finds disagreeable. And while I don't actually disagree with Smith that censoriousness is bad, mmkay? and probably wouldn't disagree with him on the particulars of what Nordau got wrong, his piece is a glib collection of pull quotes in service of a thesis that doesn't really need its villain. Max Nordau wasn't the only censorious critic of his day, not the only one who feared "degeneration," and not the only one who feared and disliked modern art.

And furthermore, wrong as Nordau might have been, drawing a direct line between Degeneration and the Nazi campaign against "degenerate art" is like drawing a line between The Communist Manifesto and Soviet terror. Rhetorically effective but historically pretty suspect.

Still, the pictures are pretty and this is probably the first time Max Nordau's been conscripted into a nerd fight, so there's that.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:24 AM on January 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


A product’s badness is decided before the fact and the product is then evaluated afterward for “errors”—Richard Wagner is the enemy therefore his ”philanthropy” and “punning” must also be bad. The hated faction is owed a sort of reverse-loyalty which attacks even its most irrelevant eccentricities and shibboleths.
Nordau School criticism categorizes and judges the general, with an outward appearance of conscientiousness, responsibility, and seriousness combined with, in reality, a total lack of any evidence of interhuman curiosity about the artist, product, or its audience and a willingness to assume the worst based on nothing but difference.


This is basically the entire ethos of Fox News. A "liberal" does something, therefore it is bad, even if that thing is something we all celebrate when done by conservatives. (Remember when Hilary Clinton was excited about being a grandma and Fox went nuclear?)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:52 AM on January 9, 2015


And furthermore, wrong as Nordau might have been, drawing a direct line between Degeneration and the Nazi campaign against "degenerate art" is like drawing a line between The Communist Manifesto and Soviet terror. Rhetorically effective but historically pretty suspect.

Reviews of the show all seem to mention Nordau as an (admittedly ironic) progenitor of the Nazi attitude to degenerate art, so it's not a huge reach.

Nordau, seeing himself as a standard-bearer of Enlightenment ideals, believed, not entirely without reason, the rise in continental anti-Semitism was a product of the new modern world; a part of the degeneration he decried. Nevertheless, as Mario-Andreas Von Luttichau argues in the exhibition catalog, Adolf Hitler was aware of Nordau’s contribution to the concept of a degenerate art: “Many of Nordau’s theories on degeneration can be found in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, although he avoids at all costs citing his source”

posted by Sebmojo at 11:51 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you read this and disagree and run off to Metafilter or Reddit or Twitter or Facebook and complain there rather than bringing concerns directly to me—you are doing exactly what Max Nordau would’ve done.
If I disagree but don't restrict myself to Smith's kiddie-version of debate, wherein he controls the rules, the refereeing, the venue, the audience, the distribution, the presentation, and in which he has the opportunity to dominate the conversation with his considerable verbosity, then I'm basically a Nazi, philosophically speaking, or at least, I have something in common with the man who "spawned the Nazi concept of Degenerate Art."

You don't have to dig into Smith's history to find this line of reasoning wanting, it is utterly ridiculous. There is not, there never has been, there never will be any obligation - moral, legal, ethical or otherwise - to "bring concerns directly to" the subject being criticized. Smith hasn't brought his criticisms directly to Nordau, has he? Are the dead beyond ethical criticism? What about the difficult-to-get-on-the-phone? Should Thomas Paine have been content to send the King of England a strongly-worded letter?

Smith doesn't like certain types of debate and discourse (basically the ones he can't control to some degree) so he's written this huge screed that concludes those types are degenerate, more or less. Is the whole thing just an elaborate joke?

Let me summarize:

1) Nordau was a philosophical midget and a self-important asshole.
2) I, Zak Smith, will now show you how likable I can be, by wittily and entertainingly pummeling this soft target at some length.
3) You, dear reader, will now uncrtitically swallow any bullshit I, Zak Smith, shovel onto your plate, because I'm so likeable and because we've beat up mean old Nordau together.

Entertainment is a great way to persuade people, a great way to paper over logical leaps and lapses, contradictions, etc.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:04 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Reviews of the show all seem to mention Nordau as an (admittedly ironic) progenitor of the Nazi attitude to degenerate art, so it's not a huge reach.

It's not a huge reach, no, but no less incoherent for that. It's a fine distinction, but there's a difference between the proposition that Nazi arguments against "degenerate art" leaned on ideas cribbed, to varying degrees, from Nordau's Degeneration and similar works—a proposition that seems demonstrably true to me—and the proposition that Nordau was a "progenitor" of the Nazi attitude toward art. The latter is misleading because A) at the time Nordau wasn't by any means the only one preoccupied with decadence and degeneration and the Nazi attitude has more than one source and B) because however absurd Degeneration is, Nordau was a progressive Jew and casting him as some kind of proto-Nazi or Nazi avant la lettre does a real disservice not just to him but to the complexity of the period.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:22 PM on January 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


…not to mention that "the period" is in fact two different periods, and, you know, some important shit happened in cultural history between 1892* and 1937.

* Smith actually got the date of Nordau's Entartung wrong, as well; 1895 is the English translation
posted by RogerB at 1:39 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nordau was a progressive Jew and casting him as some kind of proto-Nazi or Nazi avant la lettre does a real disservice not just to him but to the complexity of the period.

Smith doesnt do that, though.

What Hitler recognized in Nordau was not a similarity of world-view—Nordau would not have signed himself and his family up for state-assisted suicide in ovens. What linked them was a style of thought—or, rather, of nonthought. It’s essentially a contempt for thought, even when engaging areas of human experience where there’s nothing to do but think. Stalin was to adopt precisely the same attitude toward modernism in 1934.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:58 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Great link, thanks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:29 PM on January 9, 2015


[Folks, the links to this guy's history are here, we've discussed them before, and it does not need to become the focus of this thread. Thanks. ]

Sadly, it's the focus of the linked article. I'm not sure how discussion is avoidable. It's pointless, but also inevitable.
posted by howfar at 1:41 AM on January 10, 2015


I found the art history and the discussion of Nordeau's work in the post interesting, but it completely lost me at the same point Western Infidels mentioned. I don't know Zak S. and have no interest in, or reason for, going to him directly to discuss his essay. In fact, if taking part in the Very Important process of colliding ideas against one another, etc, is such a priority, it seems that I'd get more out of discussing such things with the reasonably diverse group of people here, rather than with one guy who seems like a bit of a crankypants.

Having clicked desultorily on a few of the links about the drama Zak S. and his girlfriend are/have been involved with, I'm tempted to guess that his actual message is more like, "Don't gossip about me on forums," but it seems unnecessarily extreme to call that gossip, "the only line of thought that can lead to censorship."

Anyway, thanks for posting this, Joakim Ziegler. I had heard of the concept of Degenerate Art before, of course, but I had no idea the term could be traced back to one person. (I suppose you could call him the Thomas Midgley, Jr. of art criticism.) Thanks also, RogerB, for the link to the Baldwin paper, which I'll read some time this weekend.
posted by daisyk at 4:55 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


As an aside: this article is the last in a series he did on art history for people who play D&D. It originally appeared in a slightly different form as d30 ways to be the worst art critic in the world. He originally posted it on his D&D blog back in September. Clearly his art blog has a bit more cachet.

The rest of the series is quite good:

- Art History For D&D People, Course Overview
- Ancient Art Is Basically Monsters
- Medieval Art: 1000 Years Of Bad Ideas
- The Other Renaissance, or There Is No Ninja Turtle Named Claus Sluter
- Secrets of an Eminently D&Dable Subcontinent
- The World That Fit In Scheherezade's Head
- The Art of Europe in the Piratey Era
- Eight Persimmons Beneath a Severed Arm
- The Known Unknowns
- D30 Ways To Be the Worst Critic in the History of the World
posted by chunking express at 8:57 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had no idea the term could be traced back to one person

But it can't, that's the whole point! Theories of degeneracy and decadence were a dime a dozen by the fin-de-siecle. Nordau's book is just a memorably vituperative example — arguably an influential one, but not the origin either of the term or of anything much else.
posted by RogerB at 9:41 AM on January 10, 2015


But afaict Nordau is name checked as a primary influence on Nazi theories of degenerative art in every single review of the show he describes.

So if he's made a mistake in citing him then so did the NYT and the Guardian.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:01 AM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you still can't see the difference between on the one hand saying that Nordau's a prominent and influential example of a prevalent fin-de-siecle idea, so that he ends up serving as a convenient waypoint in everybody's thumbnail historical sketch, and on the other hand claiming that he originated a term that he didn't and had a strong causal influence on a political movement formed decades later that was strongly opposed to his actual politics, I don't really know what to tell you at this point. Like Smith, you seem to be mistaking the name-checks and the handwaves about "influence" for much stronger historical claims than they actually make.
posted by RogerB at 11:13 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


*golf clap*
posted by octobersurprise at 12:45 PM on January 10, 2015


I don't share your read of the article at all. Besides, there's nothing inconsistent whatsoever about the fact that many ideologies, including Nazism, draw from influences which are not in complete alignment with them, or even flatly contradict them in some ways.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:25 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you still can't see the difference between on the one hand saying that Nordau's a prominent and influential example of a prevalent fin-de-siecle idea, so that he ends up serving as a convenient waypoint in everybody's thumbnail historical sketch, and on the other hand claiming that he originated a term that he didn't and had a strong causal influence on a political movement formed decades later that was strongly opposed to his actual politics, I don't really know what to tell you at this point. Like Smith, you seem to be mistaking the name-checks and the handwaves about "influence" for much stronger historical claims than they actually make.

Well with the best will in the world I see minimal difference. What is contradictory about someone having a strong causal influence on a political movement they don't approve of? You don't control your ideas once they leave you.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:52 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


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