Monday, December 05, 2011

Down In The Mall: Schmaltz & Legitimacy

Schmaltz legitimizes from the bottom up, not the top down. So-called “legitimacy” as it currently exists, is a sham. Schmaltz, I suggest, is an attempt to reclaim what Fredric Jameson called “totality” though “global cognitive mapping” by using the atomized tools of our present condition:
“A new totalizing political art – if it is indeed possible at all – will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is to say its fundamental object- the space of multinational capital - at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin to grasp our positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spatial as well as our social confusion."

Schmaltz is actually a food, a rendered pâté. The verb "to render" is central to the Schmaltz aesthetic. Schmaltz renders art from the elite to the collective and mashes genres together to create its own accessible taste.

"Legitimate" art as Pierre Bourdieu would define it, supports the taste preferences of the dominant class, or what he called, "The Aristocracy of Culture." Legitimate art is endowed with the privilege of speaking for humanity, for expressing the soul of our time. In this way artists are, in Shelley’s famous phrase, "the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

Schmaltz rejects this view as hubris, vanity and snobbery masking as universality. Schmaltz is the great leveler – it’s only assumption is if one person can do it, then so can I. It collapses all hierarchies, flattens authority, and reverses the flow of justice from a transcendent domain to an immanent one. The defining attributes of Schmaltz are that it is sincere and earnest – essentially kitsch without irony.

I got the idea to pursue this work-in-progress from Carl Wilson's book on Celine Dion, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. He identifies Schmaltz as a kind of recurring ephemeral phenomenon:
"Schmaltz is an unprivate portrait of how private feeling is currently conceived, which social change can pitilessly revise."
I'm not sure I'd agree that Schmaltz is exclusively "private feeling" - most art originates from a "private" space, essentially. Schmaltz differentiates itself through its fearless approach to sentimentality. Schmaltz replaces the notion of cool with genuine feeling. That it sometimes appears drippy or sappy is not only worth embracing because it offends Bourdieu's aristocracy, but because humans are sometimes naturally inclined this way. When it comes to the realm of feeling, Schmaltz exclaims, "No shame!"

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