"Referring all questions on this to Salvador Dali." – Obama Campaign Press Secretary, responding to Clint Eastwood's speech at the Republican Convention, 8/30/2012:

I don’t know if Clint Eastwood’s performance last night was the greatest of his life – he’s got a lot to live up to. I do know last night’s was the greatest piece of performance art I’ve ever seen.

What’s the difference? Actors perform what they have to, with the sure knowledge that every part of their mind and psyche gets recycled into the machine. Performance artists believe they can recycle the machine to their own use, like a cultural Mario Savio sticking his psyche into the grinder in order to stop it: “You can’t even passively take part.” Which means you have to actively take part; take your part and tear it apart. I once heard Dustin Hoffman speaking at a rally against the Vietnam War. His was much the same logic as Eastwoods': that political courage does not consist in telling your audience what it wants to hear, but in saying what you need to say; and like Eastwood's his speech flew right over his audience: tearing the machine apart is not something you plan to do, or have others do, it has to be a part and parcel of your participation; otherwise you're just an actor mouthing somebody else's words.

Much like a wondrous story by Donald Barthelme, in which a starving artist with ambivalent feelings about the President is forced to appear on a tell-all talk show:

He had always felt close to the President but felt now that he had, in agreeing to appear on the television program, done something slightly disgraceful, of which the President would not approve.

But then, when confronted with the horror of what's expected of him the artist turns it around and sabotages his tormentors by sabotaging himself:

A man on the floor in front of Peterson was waving a piece of cardboard on which something threatening was written but Peterson ignored him and concentrated on the camera with the little red light. The little red light jumped from camera to camera in an attempt to throw him off balance but Peterson was too smart for it and followed wherever it went. "My mother was a royal virgin," Peterson said, "and my father a shower of gold. My childhood was pastoral and energetic and rich in experiences which developed my character. As a young man I was noble in reason, infinite in faculty, in form express and admirable, and in apprehension..." Peterson went on and on and although he was, in a sense, lying, in a sense he was not.

Last night, Eastwood was off the wall, and in the sense that he was, he was not: As Theodor Adorno pointed out,

Whether art becomes politically relevant or indifferent...depends on the extent to which art's constructions and montages are at the same time de-montages, i.e. dismantlements that appropriate elements of reality by destroying them, thus freely shaping them into something else... Art that succeeds in doing this has a prerogative: it may dismiss the question posed by political practitioners as to what it is up to and what its "message" is.

Democrats, of course, would like to believe that Eastwood's denunciation of Obama for refusing to close the Guantánamo jail and delaying the withdrawal from Afghanistan are mere aberrations. In fact, Eastwood deftly shapes these elements of reality into something else, a critique of both parties, a restructuring of the political dialogue around a subject neither party wants to discuss. This is Surrealism in the best sense of the term, the willful conflation of two apparently conflicting aspects (the critique of Guantánamo and its improbable endorsement by a Republican audience) in order to reveal the repressed truth beneath, the collusion of both parties. Likewise, when Eastwood proclaims "we own this country," the cameras dutifully pan across a sea of beefy white faces, underscoring the objective dynamics of the race.

Was this all an embarrassing fluke? Advanced old age does not change a man's character, it accentuates it. From the outset, Clint Eastwood took on roles that performed the same function for white men that blackface did for African Americans: Early on black actors found that they could take up the parodistic roles assigned to them, subtly twisting them into forms of protest and defiance. Eastwood, likewise, was the white man in whiteface, the "Good" white man forced to take on the "Ugly" role and taking it on with a deep sense of irony and distance; he was Dirty Harry to his Latino sidekick, the man who must walk down those mean streets lined with white picket fences. Like Solon the Legislator, Eastwood played the "wolf at bay among a pack of hounds, defending himself against attacks on every side." In nineteenth-century France an artist was required to get the permission of his subject before publishing a caricature. When the actor Frédéric Lemaître was approached he graciously wrote: "Caricature the young; Time takes care of the old." It's the same Clint Eastwood, only this time, like Lear, he's turned on his would-be handlers and destroyed them.

- Wölfflin Jack.





lgmcp writes:
Dali supported Francisco Franco... Just sayin'. ..

The Wölfflin responds:
Kind of proves my point, doesn't it?