Blog Post 2 Ungraded (This was for a university class)

When reading Žižek’s ideas on snuff films being the ultimate virtual reality, and the paranoia of a contrived reality of Californian cities, I immediately thought of Brett Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. The line, “We have retired to live in our advertisements” reminded me of the repeated advertisement in the novel, “Disappear here.” The narrator of Ellis’ novel is constantly trying to find a way back into a palpable reality for fear of disappearing amongst his commodities. Clay often reminisces of a time when he could feel things, thinking back to days spent with his grandparents or with his on again, off again girlfriend, Blair.

The other characters, all versions of one another, choose to escape reality through the use of drugs or prostitution, while constructing a version of their lives through consumerist product: expensive cars, clothes, and houses. These characters are copies of their parents, who before them also depended on drugs and money to maintain a façade of perfection.

Since their lives have become so immoral and stagnant, so without reason or direction, Ellis’ characters attempt to feel anything through extreme realities: snuff films, poking dead bodies, and eventually raping an underage girl.  Clay constantly wishes to witness the worst, because maybe then he’ll feel something, something with sharp edges that haven’t been dulled by narcotics and wealth.

Ultimately, though, the narrator leaves LA, taking with him any hope of a positive, progressive reality. Instead, the characters of the novel presumably continue numbing themselves with drugs and privilege and Clay successfully disappears to somewhere else, leaving the reader to wonder what was the point of such a bleak novel, if not to serve as a warning against the effects of overindulgence in commodity.


Blog Entry #1 (This was for a university class)

A common theme of debate seen throughout Benjamin, Horkeimer and Adorno, and Bazin’s work is the question of the value of art, and whether this value is diminished by its reproduction. In order to appraise this, one must decide what they define value as. Benjamin’s argument suggests that there are two types of value: cult, and exhibition. Cult value is the worth of art raised by its exclusivity. Exhibition value holds its worth in the opposite: the value of a piece in relation to its ability to be viewed by a mass audience. Depending on which assessment you consider, a piece of art can be valuable or worthless, though I might argue that all art needs at least some exhibition value if it is to be seen or heard by human senses. Take Indie music, for example: the listeners of this genre often pride themselves on enjoying a music they see as exclusive, as if they were the first to discover it. In this way, it has high cult value. However, if no one was listening to it, or in other words, it had no exhibition value, I might argue that it would be impossible for it to have cult value either.

Horkeimer and Adorno address this need for exhibition value, but they seem to argue that it lessons the authenticity and overall worth of a piece of art. According to them, the accessibility and structure of art is constructed to serve a capitalist motive. When what Benjamin would call “exhibition value” is raised, Horkiemer and Adorno argue that this is achieved by a watering down of original art. Successful song riffs and themes are repeated as far as plagiarism laws will allow, and movie plots are varied slightly. Even original, authentic art can be diluted on the movie screen. Take, for example, Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey. The book itself is complex, hedonistic, and mesmerizing, while the on screen adaptation is a simplified, bastardized version of the original. But it could be argued that this simplified version is better suited for mass culture.

This is where Bazin’s argument comes in. Where Horkiemer and Adorno would argue that a novel is being artistically molested when being transferred to popular cinema, Bazin argues that it is simply being transferred to another form that, though different, can be equal in its own right. The simplification of a novel is not necessarily a bad thing, because it makes a complex narrative accessible. Its main goal is to condense the work, and “retain only the main characters and situations.”  If this is achieved, it makes a written work available to the public, as opposed to just the intellectual, which doesn’t hurt the original. He strengthens this argument by pointing out that there has never been an original novel that hasn’t gone up in sales after being transferred to the silver screen. An example of this could be the adaptation of Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. In transferring the novel to film, one loses the character complexities of the original, but it is made more striking by the visual aspect. Seeing the blood after April’s abortion/suicide makes it more real than reading about it.

So which of these arguments holds true? It is possible that none, or even all of them are correct. In the end, I might argue that it comes down to the audience’s preference. All art is in some sense, created for an audience, and as the potential audience for the artistic is constantly changing, so too does the right or wrong appraisal of its value and authenticity.